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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Springtime? Nope. Winter is Coming: Game of Thrones is Back, A Song List

TyrionLast year around this time I confessed (ok, reiterated) my own geekiness when I was hyperbolically excited about the fact that Night Riots has a song named “Berelain” after a character from Robert Jordan’s recently (and posthumously) completed Wheel of Time series. I must add, however, that my geek credentials are the real-thing: I get paid to teach about mythology and to write about ancient poetry.

(Well, the credentials are spotty. I mentioned earlier that I actually played a bard to the 21st or 22nd level in a role-playing game. At one point, I actually tried to write music for the fictional character to perform. I am so ever grateful that I don’t remember it and that the internet did really exist to record my follies back then.)

This week? I have been eagerly awaiting the return of HBO’s Game of Thrones. Now, as readers of this blog know, my brother and I occasionally get excited about television, but not too often. We both used to like The Walking Dead. We both really loved Breaking Bad. He gets into things like Doomsday Preppers while I love Buffy the Vampire Slayer (which he will not watch). But Game of Thrones is something that we share. And there is an important reason.

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Bluegrass Covers of Non-Bluegrass Songs

I actually disliked this song at first because I thought it was Phish and I actively hated anything Phish-related when I first heard this over a decade ago.  I’ve softened my stance somewhat since, but I digress. This was my first exposure to the bluegrass cover of a non- bluegrass song and to this day, I pay the extra quarter at my dive bar to play this song on the juke box. Snoop ain’t no Biggy, but he can compose some feel good rhymes.

As a result of our biggest show of the year last week with the amazing Something With Strings, I’ve been on a bluegrass kick of epic proportions. I’ve alienated co-workers, scared my dog, and thoroughly driven my roommate crazy and it feels great. At one point in my life, probably right after my Dead kick in college, I listened to the music hard as Old Crow Medicine Show and other bands of their ilk became more prevalent. This is long before Mumford, the Lumineers, and what I generally think of as the “Bluegrass Lite” era we now are at the tail-end of living. My first favorite bluegrass group was obviously Old and in the Way which featured Jerry “Dawg” Garcia on banjo and specifically, their cover of “Wild Horses” which brings it all back together for the topic of this post.

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The Pixies: The Coolest Alternative Band

Top five of my favorite Pixies songs and classic example of the loud-soft dynamic.

Since we have covered multiple bands from the nineties recently, specifically Pearl Jam and Soul Coughing, I wanted to go back a little further before  writing on the latter band (because they are also one of my favorites). When “Smells like Teen Spirit” dropped back in the early 90’s, Kurt gave an interview saying he was trying to rip off the Pixies on that groundbreaking song. They were one of his favorite bands he said with a smile, with their loud to soft sound dynamics. Let’s be honest, that’s what made the song work, the juxtaposition of of the mumbled vocals with the loud and nearly grating crunchy guitar licks and shouts. This song will probably always represent the Gen X slackers and grunge sound and we have the Pixies to thank.

The dynamic here is almost all vocals, my favorite being when Frank Black screams “THEN GODDDDD IS SEVEN”. I have a good friend who only listens to Hip Hop, but for some reason, I got him into the Pixies and he routinely cites this as his favorite song. Also, I learned about this song via the Bloodhound Gang and their hit  “Fire Water Burn”.

After Bloodhound Gang, I stole the Elder J’s albums by the Pixies and became transfixed. I was already into Led Zeppelin, the Foo Fighters, Nirvana and The Beatles amongst all my other early musical influences. The Pixies fit right into this mold, even without a lot of guitar solos that I loved even at a young age.  They write interesting songs lyrically with a consistent unique sound that is never overbearing, which may be antithetical to my love of prog rock but I’ve always liked a variety of tunes. I didn’t know until recently that the band started at UMass at Amherst and that Kim Deal didn’t even own a bass when she answered lead singer/songwriter Frank Black’s ad for someone who liked both Peter, Paul and Mary and Husker Du. That’s funny stuff.

Kim Deal is not a crazily intricate bass player, but she is solid and inventive while also laying down some sweet backing vocals and the occasional lead like on this track supposedly dedicated to well endowed males. She left the band as of June 2013 which sucks because she was a driving force and  an inventive artist while not being the most musically trained individual. Hey, maybe it’s Breeders reunion time!

From the early touring years, after getting big in Europe, problems arose between Kim Deal and Frank Black with one incident where Frank threw a guitar at Kim while on stage. They butted heads due to musical/personal differences and what sounds like Frank’s desire to be the sole writing force. Kim was a headstrong woman and never fully warmed to the fact that Frank saw himself as the leader because he was the lead singer. They didn’t even talk for much of the last few years in the early 90’s before the hiatus and she quit for what sounds like forever last June. On one hand, this sucks. On the other, the tension helped to create some of my favorite music of the last thirty years and make a permanent mark on alternative music.

This was probably the closest they came to a pop song and another one of the first few that I heard by the band. It was this song and  “Monkey’s Gone to Heaven” that got me to delve into their albums further and discover tracks like “Caribou” and “Gigantic” amidst what is quality output pretty much throughout. A big selling point for me has been that you can listen to their albums all the way through and never need to skip a track. Few bands are like this anymore.

The Pixies never got huge, getting most of their airplay on college radio and alternative stations. They never to my knowledge got into heavy drug use, with Frank Black once saying the hardest stuff he ever got into was marijuana and it never allowed him to do anything more “creative than parallel parking.” They also never got big enough to become real conceited, except for a few things I’ve read about Frank Black. They don’t even take credit for creating anything new with sound dynamic, with Frank saying they didn’t know how to play any other way except for loud and soft, even calling it “dumbo dynamics”. Their uniqueness and a few other reasons is why they may be the coolest alternative band ever.

My brother wrote on this song before and it deserves another mention. The use of it in the end of  Fight Club may be my favorite use of a song in any movie ever. I’m thinking it’s right up there with “Born to be Wild” in Easy Rider and “Damn it feels good to be Gangsta” in Office Space. I believe Frank wrote the song about scuba diving in the Caribbean while abroad at UMass.

The Pixies are cool for a myriad of reasons. First, they seem to be very modest about their role in alternative music and I think that’s rare in a recording industry rife with arrogance and narcissism. They’ve been compared with the Velvet Underground in that they never had mainstream commercial success, yet they have influenced scores of other bands. Secondly. they have a very unique sound which is unlike any other band I’ve ever heard. As with Primus, progressive rock and most of the bands I really like, I think this is important above all else. Not just in their music, but also in their lyrics which often deal with Biblical themes and other topics atypical of traditional alternative music. Lastly, I have loved them since about elementary school and this can be said about very few bands for me, Zeppelin being the only band that comes quickly to mind. I haven’t seen them live but I hope to and I hope Kim comes back. Long live the Pixies!

This has always been high on my list of favorite Pixies jams. I love the “Buy me a soda” lyrics, even though it sounds like it has to do with a hands preacher when I read the song’s lyrics as a whole. What I’d do to be able to go back to 1987 and see them in their prime.

College Radio: The Dying Art of Quality Musical Programming

I heard this song on the college station at my alma mater, The University of Vermont. I heard it twice in one semester as I made the long trek from Burlington to Bristol where I did my teaching internship. The first time is etched in my brain because it was a very snowy morning and the wind was causing drifts of the white stuff to float across the road. I skidded a little at one point and as I slowed to nearly a stop, the music kicked into high gear towards the end of the song and my love affair with progressive rock began in earnest.

My brother’s post about college radio struck a chord with me and I had to write something further on the subject. Just last night, while coming home from dinner with an old friend from high school, I spent most of the car ride telling her why I listen to the college station from the University of Maine or the NPR rather than any of the major radio stations. First and foremost, after years of listening to the radio while landscaping, I feel as if I’ve heard all of the popular songs. If I  hear “Don’t Stop Believing” one more time, I’ll probably lose my mind.

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Celebrate College Radio Day, October 1st

In the 1990 Christian Slater vehicle, Pump Up the Volume, a wise urban kid moves to a podunk town and sets up his own pirate radio with which he educates and terrorizes the town about music from the Beastie Boys and the Pixies to Leonard Cohen and Ice-T.  IN this suburban Phoenix no-town, no threat has been greater since Kevin Bacon stopped dancing than this: the youth’s access to the edgy, alt-music scene that has been eating away at the edifice of corporate cock-rock for several years.

Today is College Radio Day, a day to celebrate and recognize the achievements and contributions of College Radio. While the threat posed by Christian Slater doesn’t really mean that much any more (who’s going to worry about FM Radio when the internet can bring you child-porn and bomb-making instructions?), College Radio is still providing essential and rare service in an increasingly homogeneous and confused radio world. (If not for Public Radio and College Radio, Clear Channel might have ruined everything already).

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Guster all Squared: Four Shows, Four Albums and….

It is funny how if something happened before google it almost doesn't exist

It is funny how if something happened before google it almost doesn’t exist

My sister recently wrote about the possible resuscitation of her faded love for the band Guster. I really identify with the phenomenon of hearing old music anew through the experience of her child because I have watched my daughter and son learn to love music bit by bit and have had my sense of wonder and mystery reborn through them.

But I also identify with my sister’s confession of perplexity, that something she once loved so much is now so distant and strange. I think that  the nostalgic fit of self-doubt that comes in such moments is in part a function of our own sense of aging and mortality. But there is something undeniably true about the band: their music has changed. But, then again, so have we.

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