Hot funk, cool punk, even if it’s old junk
It’s still rock and roll to me
– Billy Joel
“I’ve got another confession to make…” I’m not the greatest Billy Joel fan. But then, when I was growing up, about the only major hit of his that really struck me was “We Didn’t Start the Fire.” At that impressionable young age, I was far more enthralled by the synthetic sounds of the 80’s mixed in with some old school rock n’ roll like the Bruce and his E Street Band, Bryan Adams, Dire Straits and Tom Petty.
Whether I was aware of it at the time, I was being trained in what would be the standard of delivery for years and years to come. It was very subtle training, but it was training nonetheless. So the question is just how was I being trained? And more importantly, for what?
For my intake of rock and roll.
Radio is received passively. Sure, we may react to it – I mean, when the first blast of full band music blares at the beginning of “Born to Run,” you’d have to have the responsiveness of a stone not to give in to that – but usually, that’s just the music talking. “Bohemian Rhapsody” is that tune that we cannot survive without singing along, but that’s the songwriting brilliance of Freddie Mercury and his boys. Same with “Billie Jean.” You know how that starts.
When you take your mind off “the one” and realize that that that kid really isn’t his son, we can get back on track. So put on some Collective Soul. You know the song. The one with the whiny-ass guitar riff and its grunge-wrapped positivity. It’s a poor man’s “Dissident” with the same whiny guitar, yet celebrating a far a greater range of commercial success than the track from Pear Jam’s “Vs.”
Maybe I am the only one who can’t stand that song (both of them, actually). Maybe I’m also the only one who can only listen to Van Halen when I’m tripping balls because I’ve smoked so much dope as to be brain dead.
Did I take that too far? Maybe.
Not to say that Van Halen is a bad band. Just the opposite. The boys are slagging legends. Sorry. I wrote that wrong. They are Legends. In the late 70’s and 80’s, these guys revolutionized rock and roll with every single single. To say nothing of their albums. They spewed sex, and fucked our ears with their cymbals and the best guitar work since Jimi Hendrix (I welcome debates on that last one). Best of all, they didn’t even warn us before they fucked our faces with their guitars.
But just because they’re legends doesn’t mean I can listen to them. Joplin is another. Gods, do I respect her, but just about the only song of hers that I can both name and listen to with pleasure is “Me and Bobby McGee.” Sorry Dylan. Couldn’t save this one.
Come to think of it, there’s not a whole lot that you’ve done that I can actually listen to either.
“What’s with this American idiot? How can he shit on all these great musicians?”
I’m not. I swear I’m not. Or not wholly…
So where does this negativity all come from?
Back at the top of this page, I mentioned that radio was a passive thing, right? The reason I said that is because it is. If we get into a car, or turn on the radio, what are we doing? The same thing a baby in a high chair does: fuck all. The only reason a baby gets any food is because their parent (or nanny, or momma wolf, or whatever it is that feeds human babies) actually bothers to scoop up their preserves-like food and slide it into that baby’s mouth. And what does a baby do while all this goes on?
A whole lot that Collective Soul sings about in their song “December.” Miss that one? Let me help: when faced with a certain body part for a specific type of job, a potential fellator has three choices: spit, swallow, or turn away.
What? You say “December” is really about faith ? Right.
And Led Zeppelin didn’t appreciate Tolkien.
And Jerry Lee Lewis’s family didn’t mortgage their home to get him a piano .
Well, whatever is and what should never be.
I guess one of those things is radio. Nowadays, sure, audience is given a whole lot more in the way of options, what with satellite radio and being able to jack our portable flash drives (aka phones) into our vehicular consoles, but until recently, the only way to prevent the radio stations from assaulting our ears with the same 4 songs from the same 15 bands day in and day out was by going out and buying albums to listen as cassettes, CD’s, MP3’s, or as bootlegs of the above.
And then we could rock and roll hootchie coo!
Yet still, radio would spew out the same annoying shit.
When I came out to the Seattle area, I was thinking “Homeland of Jimi, Heart, the fucking Highway to the Danger Zone, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, among probably a bunch of others.” I was thinking it wouldn’t suck. I was thinking I would be inundated with the best rdio stations on Earth.
For three years, I was. I enjoyed the brilliant harmonizing of Jerry Cantrell and Layne Staley. I rocked out to Pearl Jam’s odes to crappy parents and shittier classmates. I sang along (privately) with the late Chris Cornell’s haunting voice.
Then the unthinkable happened. I got sick of it.
I got really fucking sick of it.
I was so tempted to burn that bridge to rock and roll that for a moment or two, I even considered switching over to the modern… compositions?… that they play on the pop stations.
In case you’re wondering why I don’t just go out and spend money on great music, well, because I’m a bit of a luddite. My phone has all of 4 gigabytes on it, and 97% of that is full of generic programming. Plus, I haven’t figured out how to hook music into my car’s radio. So that’s on me.
What’s not on me is the fact that stations out here – strike that – EVERYWHERE, are forced to play the trickle-down music that their supporters tell them to play. It’s like there’s a set monthly quota of Metallica and Ozzy. If a “Classic Rock” or “Rock” or “Alternative” station doesn’t meet their quota of these bands, then their sponsors will pull out. Since rock and roll isn’t about pulling out, these stations have no choice but to press on. Same old, same old. Over the course of a week, you will hear their entire catalogue of music.
And then you’ll want to cut your ears off every time you hear Ozzy’s mumblings carry over their airwaves. Kind of like I want to do every time Phish pulls “Bold as Love” into a show. Sorry, guys, even Jimi could barely do that song justice . I love you to death, but that’s a stinker. It always has been. It always will be. Give it a rest.
Recently, I got in the habit of getting into the car, flipping through the set channels, and… Oh. Ozzy. Skip. Van Halen. Pass. Beastie Boys. Yeah, it’s my right to press this button. Pearl Jam. I’m not lying and I’m telling you there might be a better song. Nirva- No! Kill me. And so it went.
Wait… Beatles? “Yellow Submarine”? When the hell was the last time I heard this on the radio?
That was followed by Parliament’s “Flashlight.”
Then REO Speedwagon’s “Keep on Rolling” (a song that I admittedly don’t like, but listening to it this time, I gave it another chance. I get it now.)
Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m Going Down.” Which caused me to turn to my wife and remark on how long it had been since I last heard that song on the radio. The 80’s.
Then Van Morrison’s “Oh, Domino.”
Followed by Roy Orbison’s “Domino.” Not really. But it was his excellent hit from the 80’s “You Got It.”
That’s when the rug was pulled out from under me. I was given a song I had never heard before. It mind-fucked me right to my heart and soul, and like a certain Who song that you will never ever hear on the radio, it took hold, much like Linkin Park’s “Crawling” did when I was in college. It was just one of those songs that gave me everything – Everything – that I could possibly ask for in a great song: great rhythm, great beat, great musicianship, and a fun jam where everyone was in there to just make really good music.
I was not expecting to find a classic rock station with such an emphasis on “Classic” that could and did also really draw from the deep variety of songs that has entertained people for the past 60 years.
With my introduction to this station, I was reminded that radio could transcend the simple barriers of what their audience could expect. Howard Stern was a shock jock that pioneered the variety and madness that a talk show could create. Where were the shock jocks who had the balls to actually teach us about how much an era actually had to offer?
Apparently they’re hanging out in Olympia, Washington. Keep on rocking, and for you all at the station, keep making the songs you play my favorite tunes.