Crimes against Humanity: Clear Channel

During an exchange with the good Historian over Twitter a few years back, I learned that the flagship alternative rock station of Boston MA, WFNX, has been sold to the media conglomerate Clear Channel. While much of WFNX’s ‘identity’ (its catalogue, call letters, etc.) remained the property of the local media company Boston Phoenix, it is a sad day when one of the better radio stations in the country goes the way of the evil empire.

Why is Clear Channel Evil? First, let’s be clear about what Clear Channel is: it is a media corporation that not only includes billboards (sight pollution) and hundreds of radio stations across the country (noise pollution), but it has also dabbled in television, live events and news. Its modus operandi is to buy a station, strip it down to bare bones, and deliver one of its common formats like Kiss or Magic or some other anodyne and boring fare.

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The Worst Concert Ever

“Why should I change? He’s the one who sucks.” Michael Bolton (Office Space)


While many of our comments on and anecdotes about music have to do with music merely as sound, as the score for charged moments in our lives or the cue to dial up vivid memories, music also surrounds us in tactile and physical ways. The Younger J and I have, at different points in our lives, attended many and varied concerts (and too few together). Seeing an artist live and as part of a community of listeners can drastically change the way you engage with music. The live performance returns music to the breathing pulse of the living from the frozen state of recorded sound.

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Odi et Amo: On the iPod

“….Never change, Never Change, Never change / This is why I fell in love…”
–“I Can Change” LCD Sound System
“Sweetheart, darling, bear in mind all the time
that a constant friend is hard to find
But when you find one that is good and kind
Never you change, never you change”
–“Never You Change” Toots and the Maytals

In an earlier post, I lamented the deleterious effect that the digitalization of music along with technology like the iPod has had on the way we produce, consume and categorize music. Indeed, it is fairly easy to come up with a list of evils perpetuated by the iPod. We listen to (and purchase) individual songs rather than albums; the sonic fidelity (depending on the compression rate) is actually quite poor; the Apple headphones aren’t nearly as high-quality (or durable) as they claim; the ease of carrying around so much music trivializes it even more; and, to join other doomsday criers, the personal music player makes it almost necessary that we will listen to music alone rather than with others.
I Hate My Machine Overlord

Now, there are answers to each of these complaints. The album, for instance, has probably always been an unstable art form; for another, digital recording has long been compressing sound and altering fidelity (but so few people can actually tell the difference that this is negligible). Despite all of these complaints (especially about those damn white shitty headphones) I don’t want to present a jeremiad against the iPod. I’d rather sing its praises.

See, the iPod changed my life. Really.

And here’s where I will come too close to sounding like some a corporate puppet or parrot. Let me, then, first preface my effusive praise with a disclaimer. I really f**king hate Apple as a company. I hate their oh-so-aesthetically pleasing designs. I hate their emphasis on form and function. I really hate the implicit elitism of the cost difference between Macs and PCs and the overt elitism of Apple in the 80’s and 90’s when only certain stores could sell them. (My wife has a Macbook; I burn through a PC laptop every other year. I will not change.)

I also really hate Apple advertising campaigns. When they aren’t winking at you about their own cleverness, they are self-assured and self-righteous to the point of distorting reality. I hate the entire history of iPod commercials for trying so damn hard to look and sound cool. I hate the fact that I find myself liking 99% of the songs they use in these commercials.

I hate the iPad (I have a Kindle). I hate the iPhone (I have an android). I hate Apps for the iPhone. I hate people who have iPhones. I hate people who constantly check iPhones when they are at a restaurant, a movie, a meeting, a class etc. I know that my cell phones (which I change too often due to clumsiness) aren’t as easy to use or as aesthetically pleasing, but I will not change! So much of this is envy, but a good deal is revulsion at having a company try so hard to appeal to me and succeed right up to the point that I can only reject its overtures because I am by nature (and nurture, I suppose) a contrarian.

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Radio on the Internet: Pandora’s ‘Newstalgia’

So, I was listening to Pandora again at the gym and enjoying a station a created based off of the Pixies when I heard an

You know what clung to the box? Hope.

You know what clung to the box? Hope.

advertisement for the genre channel called “Cover Songs Radio. There were two things that made me continue to think about this channel over the next day.

First, as some might remember, I have sort of an embarrassing obsession with cover songs. I have theorized about them (twice), I have gone through an intense period of watching amateurs perform them on youtube, I have fantasized about impossible cover songs and I have objected to particularly bad ones.

But what really go me going was the advertisement selling “Newstalgia”, claiming that this is the feeling that a cover song inspires you with because it is both something new and something old. This neologism freaks me the hell out because (1) the Greek compound nost-algia is one of my favorite words and this new word reveals absolute ignorance about the root words “homecoming-grief”) and, more pedantically, new is not a Greek root. The Greek word for ‘new’ would create a perfectly acceptable word “Nealgia”.

(I know. I know. A silly thing to get angry about. And just do a google search for “newstalgia” and see how many others have committed the same unforgivable barbarism.)

So, the idea of a station dedicated to pop songs stayed in my head for a day and a night. The next day I returned to my office and committed myself to listening to the first five songs on the station and writing them down. Here’s what happened: I got excited, I got sad and then I got angry.

Here we go:

1. Van Halen, “You really Got me” (Cover of The Kink’s 1964 hit)

In classic and typical Van Halen stlye, the vocals are sufficient but forgettable and there is way too much guitar soloing. The simplicity and the masculine directness that make the original so powerful are lost on this one. I am sure that the different style was really fascinating in the hoary year of 1978, but years later, it just seems obnoxious

2. Nirvana, “The Man Who Sold the World” (Cover of David Bowie’s 1972 release)

I was surprised when this song came on because I still think of it as a such a revelatory moment for Nirvana. For one, I actually heard this song for the first time when Nirvana covered it in the unplugged show. In this version, the bass is so beautifully and simply played, the guitar-line is like some type of call-to-arms, and Cobain’s voice works well with its under-played presentation of the song. By contrast, when I listen to Bowie’s version, it seems almost cheesy. This cover, then, shows the power of a song translated from one style and time to another with the potential to characterize artist and song alike.

3. Israel Kamakawiwo’ole, “Over the Rainbow” (do you need to ask?)

I wasn’t at all upset to have this song show up. For one, I have heard it about a thousand times but I didn’t know who sang it or really helped to redefine (for me and for a generation at least) what can happen when you transform a song from one genre to another. The ukulele is simple and his voice is a little thread-bare, but every time I have ever heard this song I have gotten a little sad.

Maybe it is the memory of this song and my youth. When I was a small child CBS or one of the networks used to play the Wizard of Oz one night a year. My mom and dad made popcorn, opened the sleeper sofa, and let me stay up late to watch it. I don’t know what inspired that, but I can’t think of or hear of Wizard of Oz without that thought. Even as I type this out, I am blinking away tears–the song is just too sad, to filled with that sense of the ephemeral nature of life.

And this is even more messed up. Israel Kamakawiwo’ole died at the young age of 38 in 1997 after fighting obesity his entire life. Is there a foreboding tone in this song? What is the song about but the desire for transformative change, for the release from this life to a better one.

Shit, I am getting weepy again.

4. Johnny Cash, “Hurt” (cover of Nine Inch Nails’ 1994 release)

When this song came on after the first one, I decided that I should just stop doing anything for the rest of the day. “Hurt” is a powerfully harrowing song in its original high goth form. When Cash sings this song at the end of his life and after the passing of his wife, it is just way too much to process emotionally. Poignant doesn’t even begin to describe this shit.

I didn’t skip the song, though. I don’t pay for Pandora!

5. Aerosmith, “Come Together” (Cover of The Beatles’ 1969 release)

I did not know that Aerosmith covered this song. I can be quite honest about this. It is terrible. Tyler has such a unique voice that it does not meld well into other peoples’ songs–and this range is quite wrong for it. The over all tone of the song is really ill-fit for Aerosmith and the time period. I really don’t care that much for The Beatles, but after hearing this abomination I listened to the original as a type of soul cleansing. This is the worst type of a cover song: it reveals the weaknesses of the the band performing and makes you want to hear something else.

So that ended my day with Pandora’s cover songs. Anything new to you hear my brother?

(Songs for) Debt Servitude

I have read a lot lately about the spiraling forces of income inequality: student-loan debt, new possible mortgage fears, and the breakdown in the basic social compact of which education is a central and collapsing piece (Thomas Frank, why do you have to make me so sad?). During my sister’s recent visit when we got to celebrate the Red Sox’ most recent World Series win and even during the good news of my brother landing a real teaching job, discussions have been sobered by the reality of crushing student loan debt.

So, before the pretty lights of the holidays distract us, here’s a re-post and reminder that we live off tomorrow’s wages today.

My brother recently wrote about one of the influences on the pervasive depression–the seasonal affective disorder–in our hometown and similar regions. I think there is more to be said about it. But I want to warn you before you start reading: this post is one of those times when I am going to start ranting. I will definitely get political and personal.

Yeah, I am getting up on it

Yeah, I am getting up on it

I will talk about music, but I will mostly talk about something that should concern all of us: the widening gap in prosperity in our country, the broken promises of the American dream and a system that really can bear no better name than debt servitude.

(Ok, ok. I originally wrote “debt slavery” but the younger j thought that this was historically insensitive. In my mind, I countered that this is a big deal too, but words mean a lot. I’ll save the histrionics for the end.)

What does this have to with music? A relatively small amount, if you think about the issue directly—yet, it has to do with the hopes and fears that fuel our music and give it its themes (both high and low), the twisted values that dominate the commercial end of music in this country, and the real-life effects that send many of us rushing to our headphones for escape or with the fragile hope that someone else may communicate what we’re feeling in a better way.

Here’s the dramatic pitch. There is something really, really wrong about our system. We all buy into a series of values and promises that turn out to be worse than empty–they are filled with negative space.

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Fall Recent Acquisitions, Part 1

Over the past few  months I have purchased many new albums but I haven’t had the time or inspiration to write any new album reviews. And yet, my tremendous sense of self importance leads me to share my opinions with the world. Here, the first of two posts about my musical acquisitions.

 

The Dunwells, Blind Sighted Faith

I may have been hungover or especially weak, or experiencing some temporal rift or suffering some sort of mind/body crisis. I heard this song on the TV and thought it sounded really great. In honesty, I think that the cooking fan was on, the kids were screaming, and I had a cold. I downloaded the album, started it the next morning in the car, and lasted about two minutes before I shut it off. This is so plastic I can hear the creaking and smell the cellophane. Needless to say, I have not been listening to this album

Caribou, Up In Flames

I love this band, this guy, and these songs. I actually can listen to this album while running and so I do. This is great music to get lost to and there really isn’t that much else out there that is the same. Thank you, Caribou. Thank you.

 

Jaimeo Brown, Transcendence

I loved this album when I heard it on the radio. Here’s the problem: I don’t really listen to jazz albums when I am (1) at the gym or (2) running. So, to be honest, I haven’t listened to this nearly as much as it deserves. I may return, I may not. Whatever the case, I was really excited when I downloaded it.

 

They Might Be Giants, Nanobots

Oh, TMBG, I can’t stop loving you even though we’ve grown our separate ways. It has been a full decade since I really liked a TMBG album and, yet, I dutifully purchase each one with the irrational hope that this one will turn back the clock and reunite us. Unfortunately, this one doesn’t. The songs, when they don’t seem formulaic, are small and uninteresting. I think that the band needs a long break or some type of epiphany.

 

City and Colour, Bring Me Your Love

I heard this song at the gym while listening to Pandora and was a little overtired and depressed. I thought I really liked it. The song is just fine. The album? Glitzy, overproduced and shallow. The songs are more fit to a top-40 pop artist than a rock-band. There is some real shmaltz here. Beware.

 

Biffy Clyro, The Vertigo of Bliss

This band was suggested to me by iTunes. I don’t know why I keep falling for that, but I actually think this crew has some potential. The sound is a little too polished–another indie band that’s a bit overproduced–but it does seem creative enough that I will actually listen to this album a few times. There is some Superdrag and Eels-lite aura to the sound that makes me think I may end up liking it.

 

Typhoon, Hunger and Thirst

This song is so sad. This album is so sad it makes me want to die. But the artist has some shades of a less egotistical Bright Eyes and really has some creative ideas about music. Listen to the background instrumentals in this song. Then consider the almost perfect and effortless vocals. This guy made me immediately buy almost everything he has published.

 

Typhoon, White Lighter

If Hunger and Thirst is sad and creative, White Lighter  brilliant and manic. It is the better album in every way. But it still makes me want to die, Of course, I have listened to this record almost every day since I acquired it.

This song makes me think that the artist, should he be able to deal with his health issues, should produce for other artists as well. Just think about the choices made with this song. The basic music and lyrics are maudlin and better thanaverage, but the musical choices made at every juncture make it stronger and more memorable. I really, really like this album.

 

The Dodos, Visiter

I have no idea why I haven’t listened to this album more. The lyrical and musical combination strikes me as something somewhere between the best stuff of Of Monsters and Men and the least emo Ben Gibbard solo material with some Grizzly and Bon Iver thrown in for good measure.

On the Radio: November Rain

So, recently my car, that blue 2008 Prius that makes me such a badass on the road, betrayed me. I live in a rather warm state and after only 141,000 miles, the air conditioning just gave up on the world and checked out. When I arrived at the dealership (angry because the local garage claimed that servicing an AC on a prius was beyond its capacities), I was skeptical when the service salesman said that AC units never go on Priuses (should it be Prii?). Guess what? The whole damn car had to be taken apart to fix. The repair bill was, well, sobering.

Cool enough for Larry David. And the chick in Weeds.

Cool enough for Larry David. And the chick on Weeds.

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