Thursday, November 03, 2005


More Music Musing

I tend to reminisce about the “good ol’ days” of music once in a while (surely, anyone that knows me is questioning my definition of “once in a while” right now). That train of thought is derailed, however, once I realize that these so-called good times that I experienced listening to a particular album usually consisted of working my ass off on homework in my senior year, on a slow lonely slide towards insanity. Yea, there’s nothing like listening to Nothing’s Shocking while fighting with my EE453 homework for hours every night. I think it was sometime in May ’99 that I figured out why I slacked off during my first four years of college and spent that time mountain biking instead, and we won’t even go into what was going through my head as a EE who was designing wheels and hubs and doing frame fabrication on the university solar car. I digress somewhat, but I’m trying to frame things properly. For those that I lost somewhere, I’ll summarize by stating that most attempts to associate a particular piece of older music usually ends in the understanding that I should not be attaching any false sense of attachment to those bygone days, at least not on some larger whole-life basis. But this time around, it’s slightly different.

What brought about my latest music-related funk was reaching the “R” section of my CD collection in the ongoing effort to rip my CD collection (I think this is something like Week 10 of solid effort, although the project in its current form really goes back to April and is the continuation of an effort starting in June 2002 – but I digress, once again, because it’s my blog and and I can, dammit). This led me to WGRD’s RadioActiv collection of music from the southern Michigan area, circa 1997-1998.

Anyone reading to this point is probably saying “So fuckin’ what?” and thinking about going to something far more entertaining, like a personal-finance blog. Stick with me here. Or don’t. This post is for me and me alone, and if you find it interesting, that’s purely coincidental and management regrets the error.

First, the albums remind me of the influence that radio had on local music scenes around this time. Sure, grunge had come and gone, Rolling Stone had declared electronica to be the Next Big Thing (how’d that proclamation work out, dipshits?), and Seattle was now simply a place where rock stars went to die. All of that didn’t bring down GR’s music scene, which was hopping just about every night at locations like The Intersection, back when it was actually located at an intersection (the new venue is cool and everything, but it just ain’t the same). This, of course, was not the era of local radio ownership – that concept had been shot in the head a couple years earlier by the telecom bill that we thought was just about internet censorship, and Big Business had already stepped in and gobbled up every radio station they could – but modern-rock radio still gave a shit about local music.

In the GR area, it was WGRD and WKLQ who where giving big pushes to local bands, holding local-music shootouts, dedicating hour-long blocks to local stuff, and cutting discs like the ones that sparked this whole rant. Turn to either one of those stations nowadays, and you hear what a rock station sounds like when it sucks so bad that it’s only weeks away from switching to the Jack/shuffle format. The corporate fuckers can’t even manage to do a decent concert run-down once a day. And with the death of airplay and promotion, the local scene seems to have disappeared, with only a bit of a murmur when Brian Vanderark makes an acoustic appearance or Sponge comes around for a reunion show. Hitting the “R”s also brought me to Radford, a band that played down on the Grand River during WGRD’s 2000 free concert, which is the last time I recall a decent local show. Actually, that’s not correct – there was a cool streetparty sort of free show in September 2001 that involved Mustard Plug (embarrassingly, I can’t remember who else, even though I was sober), but that was only a couple weeks after a rather tramatic sequence of events and so I don’t recall it being as fun as it should have been.

Summary of the above first point – radios stations around here suck. 267 359 words distilled into four, but I think it misses something. And to add, radio stations elsewhere suck, too. I miss traveling around the country and getting a different flavor of modern rock everywhere I went. Nowadays, it’s the same 40 bands grouped into roughly the same ranking on roughly the same playlist.

So many bands “almost” made it. I seem to recall Milkhouse getting some good airplay during one of my downstate trips (rare and significant events when one is going to school 525 miles away in the Upper Peninsula, and music often served as a backdrop of sorts for these seemingly epic events). Mustard Plug never grew beyond cult status, even after covering the Verve Pipe’s “The Freshman”, who themselves couldn’t escape One Hit Wonder status outside of Michigan. Hell, the Pipes’ “Veneer” with it’s chorus of “13 miles on ‘31” makes for far better home-state song than Phantom Planet’s “California”, but then again we don’t get many prime-time soap operas based here in the Midwest. The live version of this song on RadioActiv II (it’s an unlisted track at the end of Disc 2) should be considered Michigan’s unofficial state song (houls of protest from “Fred Bear” fans notwithstanding). Domestic Problems coulda gone somewhere, and I that that 19 Wheels was as good as anything else on national radio in the late 90s (hmm, almost sounds like a backhanded compliment, but that’s not that I intended – they were good enough to open for Our Lady Peace and Matthew Sweet when the latter was going through his fat-and-stoned phase).

Going through my RadioActiv discs brought back memories of other bands that deserved to get a chance – the DTs, Nectar, Knee Deep Shag, Papa Vegas (heck, they got as far as to get signed to Madonna’s Maverick label and then things blew up with the death of a band member, if I remember things correctly), Troll For Trout (“Lost My Balance” has that freshness and sincerity that doesn’t come from big-label recordings), Daphne Blue (with a man/female lead vocal pairing that’s as unique as I’ve heard in rock music, making “Fly Away” a simply beautiful song), The Roswells, Pudgy Chuck, The Julia Set, Monkey Chuck, etc. What about Fat Amy? A great band, but was there a bigger insult to everything I stood for in the 90s than Bob’s appearance on “The Bachelor” a couple of years ago? So fuckin’ disgraceful, it makes me mad enough to spit blood. Hey Bob – your solo stuff sucked even if – or because – it got VH1 airplay, and your former band’s “Break The Ease” is Exhibit Fuckin’ A for that argument. “Temptation Eyes” is a damn fine song as well – affectionate, without being so mushy as to attract the sort of women who religiously watch reality TV. Yea, instead, we got The New Radicals, Hanson, the son of the Bachman dude from Bachman Turner Overdrive, and all sorts of other crap that’s still causing the slow death of radio and MTV to this day. Much of the “failing” of recordings from the above artists results in a post-ground sound that’s too heavy to get categorized into a pop mushy love song format, and yet has way too mature of a lyrical content and a real melody and thus couldn’t break though in the nu-metal crapfest that hit in the late-90s.

I’m not summarizing the above paragraphs and 400+ words, because if you made it this far, you don’t need it.

There’s supposed to be a third point here, in the standard intro-three-argument-points-conclusion style that was driven home in high school. But, uh, I seem to have run out of steam, so I’m not going to force it. I’m not even sure I can bring this train wreck to an appropriate conclusion.

It’s not like there’s a single event that caused the local scene to wither away and for local radio to suck so badly. The shuffling of the Rick/Darla/Scott show from KLQ to GRD pretty much destroyed local morning shows, causing KLQ to fumble around to this very day (this went down eight frickin’ years ago), and then the RDS thing eventually crumbled (Rick and Scott have now regrouped for a new show, but it’s a talk-only thing on a AM news station of all places) and left GRD with a show called “Free Beer and Hotwings”, which happens to be the handles of the hosts’ names (the real genius on the show, Eric Zane, can be identified by his use of a real name as a start, but there’s other reasons as well). There used to be great afternoon shows, like some dude (the name of who I wish I could remember) that was on GRD in the mid-90s who scored all sorts of great interviews with talent big and small that was playing in GR. It was through this show that I first heard Marry Me Jane, and upon seeing the band in concert later that night (opening for God Lives Underwater, who passed around the biggest sheet of acid I’d ever seen), the lead singer had me smitten for life. Bronson and Michael following up the nameless wonder and had a good thing going until Bronson left for parts unknown, and now Michael’s over at KLQ suckin’ it up like everyone else on that God-foresaken hellhole of FM bandwidth. I’m not even sure who’s on GRD afternoons now. Um, I don’t think I could name a single DJ on that station, and that’s true for KLQ as well. I tune in once every month or so (literally) to each station, here the same mix of six-month-old and six-year-old stuff that’s repeated a half-dozen times a day, and then I go back to NPR like the old fart I’m scared of turning into (aside from the fact that old farts don’t know how to properly pogo in a mosh pit when it comes time to do so).

If you’ve read here to the end, I am amazed and flattered, and I probably should send you a $5 gift certificate to Applebee’s or something, but that won’t happen because places like that suck. I doubt that too many folks would be able to take advantage of my offer of a fish n’ chips basket at Turks, so no food freebees with this post unless you’re coming over to help with a transmission swap or something.

Ever heard of "Goober and the Peas"? They never made it, but their drummer became the male half of White Stripes.

My favorite almost-made-the-bigtime band is probably Morphine.

I'm also a big fan of Fates Warning.
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