Wednesday, December 2, 2015

The Problem With Radio Part XVIII

One of the things that old people who are seriously into music like to do is bitch about the state of commercial radio. We don't do this bitching as much as we used to, because, let's face it, radio is just about last on the list of places where people who care about music get it these days. The problem is just not as relevant as it used to be.

But, never fear, we still manage to bitch, on occasion, and this is one of those occasions.

A little background--and this is somewhat embarrassing to admit on a blog named after an iPod--but I don't currently have one. An iPod, that is.

About six months ago or so, my last Shuffle unit broke, and then Melanie and I had to move, and then there was fixing up stuff around the house to get to, and then the oven exploded*, and I had to fix that, and then Melanie was out of work for a little bit, and then my lawnmower died.

Plus, I put things off. I just last weekend got that haircut I needed four months ago, for example.

So I haven't had the needed combination of a decent chance and the required money to go down to the Brandsmart and get another iPod.

The good thing is that the car I'm driving now is old enough to have a CD player**. For a while there, I was in the habit of burning CD's of stuff I downloaded overnight in the morning as I got ready for work, and then bringing it along with me for the drive in. And I was also going through my library of you know, store-bought CD's, pretty well, also, including stuff that I've had for years, but had never really listened to. For example, I listened to Young Lions the other day. If you've forgotten or more likely never knew, Young Lions was Adrian Belew's 1990 LP. He covers "Heartbeat" on it, and David Bowie contributes a track. Otherwise pretty forgettable, which is why it was never in heavy rotation in the first place, but whatever, I listened to it, and stuff like it.

And of course, now and again, I buy a new CD release. Over the past six months, these have included the new High on Fire, the new Protomartyr, the new Deafheaven, the new Locrian, the new Deerhunter, the second Sannhet, etc, etc.

So, hopefully I've established, at home's never been an issue with the iTunes always running, and I've been listening to music on the way to and from work, in general.

But I don't know, over the last couple weeks I've been skipping the music on the way in, and at lunch, and I've just been listening to NPR. Maybe that's because of the Paris attacks, or because of the #Clowncar. Or maybe it's just because I've run out of blank CD-R's, but anyway, fair enough if I want to take a break from continuous free time music, except today they pre-empted their mid-day stuff and All Things Considered for a School Board meeting.


So off we hop to FM music radio, right? Turns out there's this fairly new commercial "alternative" station in town. 104.3 "The Shark" if you can deal with that, and I mostly can't. The blurb on their site says "The Shark plays alternative music that is modern and mainstream," which makes me think they are having troubles with the meaning of the word "alternative." But, anyway, they play QOTSA and The Offspring and Panic! At The Disco and Lenny Kravitz and I'm pretty sure Tame Impala, which is better than the "Rhiannon" they're probably playing on the classic rock station, so when the NPR thing goes sour, I move over to this "Shark" first.

Later, I'm heading home, negotiating the Toyota through the typical bullshit traffic, lightweight stuff on the radio unknown to me barely registering--no Queens tonight, folks. And then I recognize a song: "Can't Stop" by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Now, I don't hate the RHCP's. In general the funk-rock thing doesn't move me, but I like that "Give It Away" tune alright. I like "Catholic School Girls Rule." I even like "Under The Bridge." It's pretty, you know? But what I quickly come to realize is that this "Can't Stop" song--which I've heard a hundred times if I've heard it once, but for the first time this is really registering with me--"Can't Stop" is utterly and fantastically BOE-ring. It is totally the sound of a band going through the motions.

But no time to worry about that, because the next song is on, and it sounds like a heavy riff, and I turn it up a bit. And then the riff stops, and I have no idea of the name of the song, but the riff stops, and it becomes apparent, from the slow, turgid, stiff groove, that the band is in fact Sublime.

So I turned it back down.

To be honest until four or five years ago, I'd never heard Sublime. I'd read a story in Spin that was sort of about them, and sort of about their tribute band, Badfish; I'd seen people wearing T-shirts. I knew the lead singer had died of a smack overdose. But I'd never heard the music until the kid in the warehouse brought their compilation in for me.

And boy, was I unimpressed. Why would you want to play ska, or skacore, or whatever you want to call it, if you had no sense whatsoever of groove? If an actually somewhat decent band like the Chili Peppers were sleepwalking through "Can't Stop," Sublime seemed to me to be sleepwalking through their entire catalog, through all of the music that you'd guess would have been an inspiration to them.

Ska's never been a big thing with me, but I love "Mirror in the Bathroom." I don't love The Specials, but I like them. I *definitely* like The Specials. I like Operation Ivy. So I don't think it's anything like, well, I'm just unable to appreciate the style of music they play, as if Sublime had played, let's say, salsa. Which I just do not get.

No, I think it's that Sublime just weren't that good at music; they were stiff and had no feel for what they were doing. You usually think of bands as being experts at music. The other day, for example, I was reading about how Billy Gibbons was totally into Depeche Mode. Or maybe you remember how Ric Ocasek was a big fan of Suicide. Yet, Sublime do not come across as being experts in anything.

Enough already with the panning of Sublime. Back to the radio. So I had this horrible experience, these two horrible songs thrust at me back-to-back, and it occurred to me. To me, who'd twenty years ago done enough bitching about Classic Rock stations, about Dark Side of the Moon at 3:00 in the afternoon, and about REO Speedwagon anytime, to last me for the twenty still to come. To me, that the problem with radio is not with "format," per se. The issue is not with classic rock, or with the all-too-often cheesy bands who played it in the seventies. The origin timeframe of the music is immaterial. All you have to do is turn on a supposed "alternative" station, and you'll find the same thing: a much too casual relationship between what is played and what is actually any good.

* No, really, it did. (Return)
** This is what we in the biz call "backhanded praise." (Return)

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