jon_chaisson: (Tunage)
As you may have noticed from a few of my tweets today, this is the first Record Store Day where I left the store after less than twenty minutes with nothing at all to show for it. More to the point, I walked out of Amoeba pissed off and annoyed. Not because there were a lot of people there, which was a given. And not because I just couldn't find anything that I was looking for (granted, I forgot my list, but I usually end up finding a lot of good stuff regardless, though all the specific things I was looking for weren't there).

It was a couple of things, really. One was that the checkout line was backed up from the register area near the front doors, going along the east wall, across the back (southern) wall, and up the west wall. Mind you, Amoeba San Francisco is in a former bowling alley, so picture a line against all the far walls and reaching back to the vantage point of this picture:

I wasn't about to stand in line for a good hour after finding what I wanted to buy. It just wasn't worth it.

There was also the fact that the Haight was packed with people, most of them making their way to Hippie Hill (it being 4/20 and all), and I hit the trifecta of breathing in secondhand pot, nearly stepping in dogshit and smelling pee all in one block. There are days I don't mind the Haight, but there are also days I wish it would join the 21st century and take a shower while it's at it.

But that wasn't the main thing. The main thing that bothered me was that nearly everyone in that ridiculously long line had all the Record Store Day Special Releases in their mitts, and the store had only been open for about an hour. Don't get me wrong, I'm totally fine with musicians releasing nifty collectibles for consumers to pick up while celebrating the awesomeness of a record store. But what cheesed me off--and this is something I've seen over the last few years with every Record Store Day I've been to--is that these are people who will line up outside the store a good half hour before it opens just so they can pick up these collectibles then flit on their merry way out of there. Sure, maybe I'm jumping to conclusions, but this was an insanely long checkout line a mere half hour after the store opened, and many people were carrying the same titles.

I think what bothered me most about this was that this is a store that just shortened their hours, closing an hour or two earlier and opening a half hour or so later. That's a good two hours they're not open now, and when this happens, it's usually due to the fact that they're not making as much as they used to, and the aisles are relatively quiet after dinnertime. I started thinking...yeah, it's great that you're all here, getting your collectibles that I have no interest in, but where are you on days other than Record Store Day? Do you frequent Amoeba or any other record store in the area on a semi-frequent basis? The more I thought about this, the more I was pretty certain that had I gone to the store at 4pm rather than when I did, the store would have been nearly out of its collectibles and navigating the store would be a hell of a lot easier. It just bothered me that Record Store Day, to most of these people here, was all about getting the collectibles and not what the day is really about--celebrating your favorite store where you're going to buy your favorite music.

I gave it my best, but after twenty minutes of this manufactured excitement, I'd had enough and walked out emptyhanded.

The really sad thing is that they just opened up a satellite store of Rasputin Records right down the street--the small chain that originally created Record Store Day in the first place--and it was nearly empty, partly due to the fact that this store is primarily a used shop and wouldn't be carrying most of the Special Titles. I personally have an issue with the chain, due to their "fuck it" attitude to stock and especially due to their habit of playing distasteful music over the speakers (I'm not talking personal tastes here, but bad as in 'may contain profanity, misogyny and violence')...but I digress. It was sad to see an empty record store on this day solely because they didn't have the collectibles.

In an ironic twist of fate, I did happen to get one cd today, and it happened to be an import I'd ordered through Amazon a few weeks ago. For the record, it's Bostin' Steve Austin (Splendiferous Edition) by We've Got a Fuzzbox and We're Gonna Use It!!, an influential and personal favorite of mine from 1986, and one that had never been on cd before. [Which just goes to show once again that a lot of my physical music purchases nowadays are reissues, box sets and older titles that I can't find on mp3.] I'd bought the cassette of that album (self-titled here in the US) I believe either at For the Record down in Amherst, or at Strawberries in Leominster, after reading about them in Smash Hits and thinking that their punky looks and silliness were right up my alley. This album and Sigue Sigue Sputnik's Flaunt It, which I bought the same year, were two big albums for me. They're both horribly dated and completely hilarious, but they were deeply influential in my deciding to do my own thing instead of fitting in as a teenager, and are some of my favorite record store purchases.

So all told, I wasn't terribly let down that I didn't buy a damn thing today and I'm not about to boycott anything--in fact, we're probably going to head over there again next week so A. can pick up something at a store that happened to be closed today, and I'll be bringing some of my cds over that I can sell. And the neighborhood will be a hell of a lot quieter and (hopefully) a bit less stinky.

I think if anything, there are two types of music collectors: there are those who are obsessed with music in general, want to try out all kinds of things, and just love the idea of music...and there are collectors, who buy the titles that they know are rare and/or could be worth something in the future. Me, I'm the former, I've never been the latter, and it may have just bothered me to see so many of the latter and hardly any of the former today at Amoeba.
jon_chaisson: (Tunage)
I know y'all have been waiting for this, and to be honest, I'm actually a bit early with it! Usually I wait until the very last week of the year before I build up this list, just for completeness' sake, but I figured it's safe enough to put out the list right about the same time everyone else is.

This has been quite an interesting year musically...this was the year in which [ profile] emmalyon and I continued to listen to a lot of bands on the Sirius alternative rock stations on the upper end of our TV dial, but we also found AOL's Spinner, which features a good dozen or so new albums every week that you can stream. From about June on, I picked up a hell of a lot of new music that I hadn't heard anywhere else--not on the radio and not on satellite stations either, and I was rarely let down. There's a lot of new stuff hiding out there that's worth checking out, and I believe that in the next year or so we'll be seeing a change in playlists because of it.

The year has definitely been one of change, of endings and beginnings. In the early summer we saw the demise of WFNX, a Boston radio station that had been around since 1983, and was New England's answer to KROQ in LA--it was the only station out there, for the longest time, that played alternative music early on, and also featured local music in its regular rotation rather than just on specialty shows. Three of its best-known DJs--Henry Santoro, Julie Kramer and Adam 12, as well as the stations music director Paul Driscoll, stayed until the bitter end...and resurrected the airwaves digitally at Radio, where they're still going and getting stronger. Again, a lot of changes in the air, but I'm sensing a move out of stasis and towards the positive.

This past year has been memorable musically for me, probably one of the best years in the past decade, and I'm looking forward to more.

SO! Without further ado...

All kinds of tunage and linky goodness below this here cut )

Catch you on the flip side, kids!
jon_chaisson: (Default)
Here's the last wave of great tracks from one of my favorite years in alt.rock. Enjoy!

Yet more tasty music goodness lies within )
jon_chaisson: (Default)
Continuing last night's music post, here's the middle third of a great year for music, May to August...

Another huge onslaught of videos for your enjoyment )

Coming up: September to December 1998
jon_chaisson: (Default)
I just realized I don't have an RTS playlist for 1998! Quite surprised at that, considering I think of that as a banner year for a lot of what was going on in my life. I was at a job I loved (record store), I was writing my first major SF novel (The Phoenix Effect), I'd moved on and disconnected from a lot of negative stuff, I was going on many roadtrips back to Boston, and I was getting a lot of work done down in the Belfry. It was the start of a nice string of five or six years of consistent writing work.

So let's see what awesomeness I can uncover for this year...?

Tons of videos from January to April 1998 )

Coming up: May to August 1998
jon_chaisson: (Tunage)
So my friend [ profile] head58 emailed me this morning with sad news: WFNX 101.7 out of Lynn MA has laid off nearly all its staff, pending a sale to Evil Radio Conglomerate Clear Channel. It saddens me that this has happened so suddenly, and my everpresent hate for Clear Channel's practices only magnifies these emotions. Realistically, it probably would have happened sooner or later as the radio universe is evolving and changing rapidly and unexpectedly, but it still bothers the hell out of me that it happened at all.

WFNX went on the air on April 11, 1983, just shy of thirty years ago. That item by itself might not be all that important. Besides, WBCN--its main rival in listenership--had been on the air since 1968. It was just one more rock station in the growing Metro Boston area. But that's the thing--these stations were all competing for the same demographic: the prized 18-34 year olds. And given Boston, there are a LOT of them--the Boston area has a ridiculously large amount of colleges, and where there are colleges, there are young, impressionable radio listeners. So how does a station differentiate itself from the other stations grabbing for the same brass ring? Well, in the late 70s and early 80s, that often meant hiring a big name deejay, or at least hire talent that makes you unique.

The other, far riskier way for a station to differentiate itself is to make its programming unique. For every adventurous deejay or music director who wants to change things up and be creative, there's going to be the station manager (and in some cases, the FCC) who is going to keep such creativity from going overboard. It's riskier in that it's not tried-and-true; you have no idea if it's going to work or fall flat. As a disk jockey and a music lover, you might love the music you're about to play, but you might have maybe three listeners tops who agree with you. And if you only have three listeners, you don't have much station presence; no presence, no advertisement; no advertisement, no money; no money, no station. Simple as that.

WFNX came into being as WLYN in the 40s and went through all kinds of programming until it was bought out by Phoenix Media--the company that puts out the Boston Phoenix alternative weekly paper--in 1983. This underground weekly was known for keeping tabs on what was going on in the area, what shows were being played, and what was upcoming. It's also known for its coverage of alternative lifestyles, sexual and otherwise; it favored the goings-on of the bar scenes, the LGBT community, the local blue-collar jobs, and everything in between.

Owner and Phoenix publisher Stephen Mindich wanted to bring new music to the Boston area, and obviously he knew that it wouldn't be the same rock being played at WBCN and WCOZ. He saw that there was a small but rabid following for the punk/post-punk/new wave sounds that were evolving out on the fringes, and he must have known that the college kids would love it. With his knowledge of what was going on in town, he chose that second, riskier way of being a unique station, and became the Boston area's first commercial station for underground/alternative music. It might not have been the cash cow one would expect, but it certainly didn't lose its direction, in the grander scheme of things. The sounds may have changed with the times--which is normal for any given station, regardless of its format--but it never gave up being the area's main alternative network.

I started listening to WFNX in the autumn of 1989, when I started my freshman year at Emerson College. Before that time, I only knew alternative rock through the college radio stations out of the Pioneer Valley. Living in a small town, anything out of the ordinary was pretty fucking awesome and radical to me, and I fell in love HARD with college rock. Finding out that the Boston area had a commercial station that played this kind of stuff 24/7 was absolute bliss. Despite my roommate deeming WFNX to be "a sellout" (he was part of the small but annoying hipster contingent who felt that any alt.rock on a commercial station, even if they had cred, had sold out), I listened to the station religiously. My ever-growing collection grew exponentially in the early 90s because of this station.

It was WFNX who introduced me to a metric cubic crapload ton of great bands that I love.

They introduced me to Britpop and shoegaze. In the few years before grunge became ubiquitous, WFNX prided itself on playing the latest and greatest from the UK, from Happy Mondays to Ride to Pop Will Eat Itself to Chapterhouse to The Charlatans UK to the Stone Roses. As a large number of 80s post-punk bands had come from overseas, they never forgot their roots. Even when the Seattle scene took over, they didn't oversaturate the scene. You'd hear Nirvana and Soundgarden and Tad, but you'd also hear Gang of Four and Depeche Mode and The Cure. You'd hear all kinds of subgenres from different years at any time of the day. Many of these are long-forgotten, but some of them have become significant bands in alt.rock history, and they played them all.

They also introduced me to the local scene--something WFNX excelled at for years. Their music rotation always featured the best regional bands, from Tribe to Buffalo Tom to Human Sexual Response to Mission of Burma to Think Tree to Pixies to Throwing Muses and beyond. In a true Boston fashion, they took care of their own, and took care of them well.

They introduced me--physically--to musicians via their Best Music Poll concerts, including one fateful time in 1993 when I got to go to a station-sponsored meet-and-greet at Boston Beer Works and met one of my alt.rock heroes, Robyn Hitchcock. I might not have gone to all their concerts, but I went to as many as I could. They would also host concerts on the Hatch Shell on the Esplanade, and I saw as many of those as I could as well.

They introduced me to a hell of a lot of bands, most of which I still have in my collection. They were my sound salvation, to borrow Elvis Costello's phrase. I listened to the station daily nearly all the time I was living in Boston, all the way up to when I moved back home in 1995. When they took over the old signal of WMDK in Peterborough NH (92.1) in 1999, I was even more ecstatic--I still had that connection to alternative radio, even out in the sticks. I listened to them while writing my novels and while driving to and from my jobs. Now that I'm out on the other coast, I haven't listened to the station that much, but I've listened to them streaming online every now and again, so they never quite went away for me.

It's a pity to see them go, and I'm hoping that they decide to resurrect themselves online as WBCN did a few years back, but no one really knows what's going to happen at this point. I only wish they'd have stayed longer. Henry Santoro, Julie Kramer, Angie C., Juanita the Scene Queen, Joanne Doody, Morning Guy Tai, Boy Troy, Nik Carter, Duane Bruce, Kurt St. Thomas, Neal Robert, Adam 12...thanks to all of you.

Thanks, WFNX. You inspired me, influenced me, and gave me life more times than you know.
jon_chaisson: (Athol sign)

There's a spot on Daniel Shays Highway in New Salem where, if you're heading south, you end up driving through a tiny wedge of neighboring Shutesbury for about two hundred feet before re-entering New Salem for about a mile and a half until you cross over into Shutesbury for good.

I don't remember when I first did it, but I know it was probably about 1985 or 1986, heading down to Amherst with my Dad to go see a movie. I was always amused by this tiny you're-in-you're-out stretch and somehow I was compelled to hold my breath in that stretch, just to say "I held my breath all the way through Shutesbury."

I brought this silly little habit to my circle of friends soon after. Our habit of "holding our breath" through the town was another silly pastime that would sometimes elicit giggles...sometimes the driver would slow down to a crawl (if no one was behind us), someone would start tickling someone else. Our road trips back then were often down to the Valley (Amherst/Hadley/Northampton) and the normal way to get down there was via Daniel Shays Highway (Rt 202) to Pelham and then cut over via Pelham Road. Later we'd take what we called Shutesbury Road (actually the stretch of Prescott/Cooleyville/Leverett Road--it's called Shutesbury Road once you're in Leverett), a twisty-windy back road that would take us through Leverett and into Amherst via the northern side of town. That was another road my Dad knew, but I think my friends knew it as well. That back road goes through the center of Shutesbury, which consists of a few small buildings--the library, the Town Hall, the fire station, and a few houses.

The majority of the town is woods. It's a quiet and unassuming drive, but you feel like you're driving through a cave of trees that seem to reach out over the road, nearly obscuring the sky. Shutesbury became sort of a running joke with us in high school--not in a mean-spirited way, more of a comment on how boring it can get growing up in a small New England town where there's really not much to do at all except go somewhere else.

I still hold my breath through Shutesbury, every year that we return to New England to visit my family and our friends. It's become habit, and it still makes me smile.
jon_chaisson: (Default)
List the tribes you belong to: cultural, personal, literary, you get the drift. Talk about the experience of being in your element with your tribes.

I admit this one was tough. The word "tribe" isn't one that I normally use to describe my circles of friends, nor is it something I would use to describe a generation movement (like Generation X, for instance). It doesn't seem to fit, at least on a personal level, when describing the group of writers I just seems to much of a buzzword to me, for some reason.

That said, howevever, I understand where the question is coming from. Added to that, the use of the word "tribe" immediately made me think of the Boston band Tribe, a band I loved back in the early 90s. That in turn made me think of the alternative music scene, and if anything could be called a "tribe", that there is it. I'm not really a part of the "scene" itself, though...I've never been much of one to go out to nightclubs and see bands, nor have I ever been really much of an insider who hobnobs with musicians. I know a few personally who are good friends of mine, but that's about it.

If anything, I'm part of the tribe of listeners. I'm the one who has the radio on or the cd playing or the music channel on the TV...something always playing in the background. I'm the one who, for four years straight, went to Newbury Comics nearly every single Tuesday of the year to pick up new releases. I'm the one who, after all these years, still makes mixtapes (albeit digitally in the form of playlists nowadays). I'm the character Rob Gordon in High Fidelity who makes music lists and can serve up a perfect song for any situation (and laughed hysterically when he described the perfect way to make a mixtape, because it was just so true!). There aren't too many of us who are as infatuated and obsessed with music as I am, but we're out there.

I think that's also something I treasure in my relationship with [ profile] emmalyon...she's a music nerd in her own way, having majored in it. I love our conversations when a song comes on and our response is not a generic "this is a neat song, I like it" but "I love how the melody goes downwards while the bass line goes up" or "I love the polyphonic effect of the vocals here". She gets why a song does what it does, and why I'd like it as much as I do.
jon_chaisson: (Default)
They said :

"You're just another person in the world
You're just another fool with radical views
You're just another who has maddening views
You want to turn it on its head
By staying in bed !"

I said : "I know I do"

--Morrissey, "He Knows I'd Love to See Him"

I had my own bedroom in the northwest corner of the house until I moved out to college. It was originally a faded pinkish color but in the early 80s my dad and I painted it the typical light blue of a boy's room. It was a relatively small squarish room with baseboard heating along the western side and an odd notch in the southeast corner where the chimney was, and I could only arrange the bed and other furniture in so many ways, so it's pretty much stayed the same way ever since. My older sister has since taken over the room, but you can still see a few telltale things of how I had it set up back then.

The bed was either up against the north wall and facing east, or up against the west wall and facing south. There was a closet in the northeast corner, and next to it was my bureau, and next to that (and up against the old chimney wall) was either a bookcase or a chair or a squat shelf that housed my cassette collection. Those three were pretty much constant. The south wall changed over the years, first from a few bookshelves and whatnot to a desk and a hand-me-down stereo, and lastly a bookshelf that held more cassettes and my radio on the top, and my turntable stereo next to it, on top of an old school desk. In front of the window on the north wall was my desk, once my grandmother's. There was usually nothing in front of the west window that looked out over our back yard, as there wasn't much space for anything there.

I of course think of my old bedroom as my cave, my fortress of solitude, my escape from the rest of the world or sometimes just from the town I grew up in. Once I became a teenager, the walls slowly started getting plastered with music and movie posters, album cover flats, pictures from magazines, and other random things. In 1987 or so my sister bought me an extremely large poster of the Cure which took up most of the west wall. It was obvious then how much of a music geek I was by the things I put up.

The first radio I had in there was an old crackly one that used to be in the kitchen, and was the one I used to discover all the music I would enjoy in the early 80s. In 1984 I got my first radio/cassette player (which I still have), which I then used to make all the mix tapes of things I heard (most of which I also still have). That radio got a lot of use in those years, first parked at my desk while I listened to Top 40 and classic rock, then on my bureau or on my bookcase when I listened to WMDK and the college radio stations. You can still see a strip of tape on the dial where I'd stuck a strip of paper that held notches of where my favorite stations were.

I spent quite a bit of time in that room hanging out by myself, thinking about what I wanted to do when I graduated, and working on my writing and my music. I'd park myself on the bed with notebook in hand and write all sorts of things while music played from one of the radios, or I'd be playing my dad's keyboard or my bass. As I got older I'd also stay up late, listening to music with my headphones, with just a dim lamp next to my bed rather than the bright overhead light. Back then I'd stay up until midnight or one in the morning, even on school nights. I loved the cavelike ambience of that room at that time, when everyone else was asleep. I felt like I was the only one in the world who was still awake. This ambience, along with the pains of being a teenager and the music I was listening to at the time, definitely influenced my writing at the time. I was your typical teenage rebel in his own mind, getting along with everyone but thinking I was a teenage nonconformist. I wrote Cure-like lyrics of anger and depression, weird and strange scenes in my novel, and introspective lines of poetry.

I think it was late 1988 when I pulled my bed apart. I'd had the same woodframe bed since I was a kid, and I'd started to outgrow it, not to mention that the support boards were starting to lose their hold. I took it apart one afternoon and put the mattress and boxspring down on the floor. The funny thing was that my parents didn't notice it until about a week or so later. My mom was concerned that I'd be cold, but considering my bed was right next to the heater, it would keep me warm enough. I even kept the bed made during the day, folding the comforter so it just touched the floor. It was another personal touch to the room that set it far apart from all the other rooms in the house.

Moving out of that room when I headed to college was kind of exciting and sad at the same time. I was looking forward to heading out into the world and making something of myself, but at the same time I was losing something deeply personal that I would never get back in the same way again. I would still create my own personal spaces in a succession of apartments and even when I moved back home, but it wouldn't be the same. I'd moved on and grown up.

Sometimes I kind of miss having that personal cave, even though I now have my writing nook in our spare bedroom (aka 'Spare Oom'). My old bedroom was a place for meditation and rest, and a place to hide from the rest of the world when things got too frustrating or overwhelming. We're all so plugged in to the internet and distracted with the rest of the world that I sometimes forget I can still do that.
jon_chaisson: (Default)
1. Talk about a memory triggered by a particular song.

As [ profile] emmalyon said, we're both certified music geeks, so today's prompt is not so much "can I do this one" as it is "how do I narrow it down". So instead, I'm going to pick various songs and give short vignettes of what memories are tied with them.

Violent Femmes, "Kiss Off".
Spring 1989. Chris and Ann and I driving down Route 32 towards Worcester. We're heading down to the Centrum to buy tickets for the REM/Indigo Girls show on the 9th of April. It's a wet spring day, having rained the night before, so the air is humid and cool. Ann and I are in the same Humanities class in high school, Chris is our friend who graduated last year. We're throwing in various tapes to listen to on the way down, including REM's Green, but it's when Ann puts in the Violent Femmes' self-titled album that the three of us go to town, belting out the songs, including this one.

Cocteau Twins, "Blue Bell Knoll".
Early autumn 1988. Early evening, listening to WMDK 92.1 out of Peterborough, NH, which at this point has become an AOR station and is playing the lighter 'modern rock' of the day. The deejay announces that Cocteau Twins are releasing a new album after a freshly-inked deal with Capitol Records. They preview the new album by playing the first side. I pretty much stop everything I'm doing and listen in, entranced by the sound. I end up buying the new album soon after, and teaching myself how to play the bass by playing along to it.

Nine Inch Nails, "Terrible Lie".
November 1989. Riding the commuter train out to Fitchburg on a dark Friday night, heading back to my parents' house for the weekend, frustrated and angry as hell. Two months into my college life and already it's bugging the hell out of me. I don't get along with my indie-hip roommate, I'm far away from my gf Tracey, and I'm not nearly as good in school as I hoped I'd be. I start hiding in the solace of music and writing, and NIN's Pretty Hate Machine becomes my de facto soundtrack.

Elvis Costello, "Alison".
Spring 1991. Working down in the basement of Emerson College Library (back when it was on 150 Beacon) in the Media Center. Hearing this song playing on WFNX nearly every morning, I'd sit at the front desk there, sipping coffee and trying to wake up. To this day I equate this song with morning coffee.

Duran Duran, "Ordinary World".
Spring 1993. Broken up with Tracey for the final time, lost connection with most of my friends, and have no friggin' idea what the hell I want to do with my life, feeling that I just wasted four years of college. Angry and pissed off at the world and myself, but I force myself to start thinking seriously about my future, even though it'll be derailed a few times. Still one of my all-time favorite Duran Duran songs, though.

White Zombie, "More Human Than Human".
Ned's Atomic Dustbin, "All I Ask of Myself is That I Hold Together".
U2, "Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me".
Summer 1995. Spending a free afternoon in my bedroom at the apartment in Brighton, listening to WBCN and writing on my gf Diana's PC, working on our co-written science fiction novel while she stays the summer down in Florida with her family. I have an index card taped to the wall above my desk that says "Just SHUT THE F**K UP and WRITE." The windows are open and a nice breeze is coming in off of Brighton Avenue. These songs are blaring out of the speakers. A lean yet productive summer.

Hooverphonic, "Dictionary".
Dishwalla, "Until I Wake Up".
Belle & Sebatian, "The Boy with the Arab Strap".
UNKLE, "Bloodstain".
Autumn 1998. Listening to cds I recently bought from HMV, the record store in Marlborough that I'd been working at for the past few years. Sitting down in the basement of my family's house in what I would soon dub "the Belfry" (due to a few errant bats flying over my head one summer evening), my dedicated writing nook. At this point I've finished The Phoenix Effect and am currently revising it for submission. All of these songs point to this time when I'd started my ritual of writing nearly every single evening down there.

Beck, "Little One".
Spring 2003. Hearing the album playing softly in the background while walking through Wordsworth Bookstore in Cambridge MA, one of my favorite places to stop during my frequent road trips to Boston during that time. They had a great (and quirky) selection of books and I rarely if ever left emptyhanded.

Boards of Canada, "Dayvan Cowboy".
Autumn 2005. Wasting time at my temp job of scanning paperwork, goofing off online, and listening to streaming radio or cds. [ profile] emmalyon has been offered a managerial position in San Francisco, which she accepts. We'll take a trip out west in November to scout apartments, and will move in December. At this point I'm just counting down the days until that point, and enjoy the relaxing pace. An interesting way to end a year where I move out of my parents' house after ten years, move to New Jersey, ride a commercial airline for the first time, go to Europe (Scotland) for the first time, and get married.

Mutemath, "Blood Pressure".
Autumn 2011. Frustration with work and lack of progress in writing is winding me up, and I finally make the decision that I need to do something about it. This becomes sort of my theme song in the process. It's slow going, but it's going.
jon_chaisson: (Default)
Yesterday while I was perusing the web for research info on my Walk in Silence project, I found an interesting tidbit that took me back: the music magazine Star Hits premiered in the US in February of 1984. It was the American offshoot of the UK teen magazine Smash Hits which started in November 1978 (the US version would briefly change its name to that near the end of its run), and looked like any other teen magazine: thin glossy pages filled with color photos, lyrics to the latest hit songs, a penpal page, and short and lightweight (and often snarky) articles about your favorite musicians. I started reading it around 1985 or 1986 when I found it at Norm's Smoker across from the YMCA downtown...I was fishing around for magazines to read at the time and that one caught my eye, since it was heavily music-oriented. I most likely stopped reading it around 1988 or so when I lost interest in it, and it folded around 1990.

It got me thinking about how I learned about new music back in the 1980s, compared to how easy it is to find new things in the age of internet and satellite radio and other places. Now I can go to any college radio station that's streaming, log onto Save Alternative, sample songs from Amazon and eMusic, read the various and sundry music blogs that clutter up the internet, and listen to whatever the Sirius XM stations are playing. Even the bands themselves will let you know via an emailing list or their website when they have something new in the works.

Back in the 80s, my primary reference for new releases was the music magazine. For the most part it was Rolling Stone. My family briefly had a subscription to that magazine, and later I would read the latest issue at the local library. For the most part I flipped past the political commentary and the non-music sections as they didn't excite me all that much, and went straight for the music reviews. I found a lot of really interesting releases that way, and I wouldn't have heard of the Sgt. Pepper Knew My Father compilation if I hadn't seen the article about it in a December 1987 issue.

By the mid-80s a few other magazines such as Spin had arrived to let readers know what was new and who was in the studio or on tour. Most of these were major publications that catered the largest amount of people possible, so of course the reviews and listings would be in the Top 40, rock, or classic rock/reissue category. While that covered a lot of ground, they still passed up many other titles in smaller subgenres, which of course gave rise to the DIY zines of the early 80s such as Cometbus and Maximum Rock & Roll, both created here in the Bay Area and covering the local punk scenes. There was also College Media Journal (aka CMJ New Music Report) which started sometime in 1978 and was mainly sent to college radio stations, and later had a public run in the 90s and 00s, which offered a music compilation with every issue.

Growing up in midwestern Massachusetts, though, I didn't have access to those (let alone heard of them), so I had to make do with whatever was available. For me, that was Star Hits, which being under a UK umbrella actually gave me information on imports and new wave stuff. There were a few others out there--there's one whose name I can't remember (I seem to remember it being called One or something like that) that was a semi-pro magazine focusing on college rock, and that one introduced me to The The, Minutemen, and New Order.

When I started listening to college radio in the mid-80s and couldn't find information, I was lucky to find a copy of Ira Robbins' Trouser Press Record Guide at the library and later bought my own copy. This is where I found out about older releases from The Cure, Depeche Mode, and other college rock bands I was into at the time. Parallel to that, I was lucky to find various college and commercial stations that would announce new releases every now and again. That's about the same time I started to carry a small pad in my back pocket (still do to this day!) and write down all the releases I was interested in so I knew what to look for when my family and I headed down to the mall.

As I'd said earlier, in the age of the internets, it's pretty quick and easy to look up new release info. My main reference is the All Music Guide and the Newbury Comics new release newsletter, but I've found info on . It's even easier nowadays to buy them online rather than tempting fate and hoping they had it at the record store (or more to the point, knowing which record stores would carry it or at least order it for you), especially when it may not be a popular title. It seems that the supposed exclusivity of the indie scene of today is much different in that it's much easier to access, and that made a lot of hipsters angry back in the day, and in a way, the Indie Rock Pete character in Diesel Sweeties captures that 'so-underground-it-hurts' attempt at being as alternative as possible.

Still, now that the sounds have morphed and grown older to the point that retro is hip again, and that the avalanche of hip indie bands has subsided somewhat, it seems we've come full circle. We may not be searching for new sounds in music magazines as much as we have been, but it's gotten to the point again where we look for music on our own rather than sampling everything from everyone all at once.
jon_chaisson: (Default)
As promised! This was a very interesting year for tastes were influenced by a lot of different things: listening to Save Alternative, WAMH online, KFOG (the more laid-back adult alternative to the punk/alternative Live 105) and checking out the albums that all the internet kids liked on the music blogs I follow. There was even a bit of watching VH1's weekly countdown as well, so I found myself liking a lot of the pop-friendly stuff too.

This past year seemed to be full of retro goodness as well. We saw a crazy amount of reissues and box sets (Pink Floyd, Rush, The Smiths, Editors, Smashing Pumpkins, The Church, The Kinks, U2), even a handful of retrospectives (Ben Folds, L'Arc~en~Ciel, REM). A handful of old-school artists reunited for albums (Jane's Addiction, Buffalo Tom, The Feelies) or came out of hibernation for unexpected releases (Lamb, Peter Murphy, The Cars(!!), Kate Bush, Gary Numan). There was also Duncan Sheik's wonderful and near-acoustic Covers 80s (expanding the EP from last year).

This retro sound also seeped into new stuff as well--M83, Washed Out and Cut Copy came out with albums that sounded distinctly like their early 80s synth ancestors, DJ Danger Mouse got together with Daniele Luppi to create an album of Ennio Morricone-esque soundscapes, Dum Dum Girls and Cults revived the lo-fi garage punk sound, and The Civil Wars brought back the old-school guitar-driven folk blues.

SO! In chronological order of release, here's my top twenty favorite albums of the year:

Wire, Red Barked Tree
The Decemberists, The King Is Dead
The Civil Wars, Barton Hollow
Cut Copy, Zonoscope**
Mogwai, Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will
Elbow, Build a Rocket, Boys!**
Low, C'mon
Foo Fighters, Wasting Light**
The Airborne Toxic Event, All At Once
Explosions in the Sky, Take Care, Take Care, Take Care
Fleet Foxes, Helplessness Blues
Lamb, 5
Moby, Destroyed
She Wants Revenge, Valleyheart**
Death Cab for Cutie, Codes and Keys
Duncan Sheik, Covers 80s
Gotye, Making Mirrors
Bombay Bicycle Club, A Different Kind of Fix**
Mutemath, Odd Soul
M83, Hurry Up, We're Dreaming**

It's tough to say which won top spot, but the ones marked ** got the most play for me.

And now for the videos of my favorite songs of the year! There's quite a few that made my list, so I'm posting the links instead of embedding, to save your browsers from self-immolation:

Wire, "Clay" from Red Barked Tree, rel. 1/10/11.
A great album from one of my all-time favorite bands. In a way this album was to 1988's A Bell is a Cup... as 2008's Object 47 was to 1987's Ideal Copy...less punkish and more melodic and atmospheric.

Social Distortion, "Machine Gun Blues" from Hard Times & Nursery Rhymes, rel. 1/18/11.
Social D tends to emulate Johnny Cash on all their songs, but damn it, they do a FINE job of it! This is a crazy video too, a 30's bank heist and beautifully filmed (if a bit violent).

The Decemberists, "This Is Why We Fight" from The King Is Dead, rel. 1/18/11.
Colin Meloy is a brilliant songwriter (and a great writer at that--I just finished his YA book Wildwood a few days ago) who writes deceptively smart songs--like this one, which I love because it sounds patriotic without being overzealous, which you don't see often in music.

Cold War Kids, "Bulldozer" from Mine Is Yours, rel. 1/25/11.
I'm still not exactly sure what it's about (homeless people? a shaky relationship?), but it's a great song from them that I heard a lot on Save Alternative.

The Civil Wars, "Barton Hollow" from Barton Hollow, rel. 2/7/11.
A damn fine folk blues song in the old school format. I have to keep an eye on this band.

Cut Copy, "Need You Now" from Zonoscope, rel. 2/8/11.
One of my top albums of the year, it's like a cross between OMD, Heaven 17, with maybe a little bit of early 90s Britpop as well.

Elbow, "Neat Little Rows" from Build a Rocket, Boys!, rel. 3/7/11.
Another of my favorite bands of this past decade, and this was a wonderfully personal album from the band, focusing on their childhood and growing up in the suburbs.

Low, "Especially Me" from C'mon, rel. 4/12/11.
A gorgeous album track from this usually quiet band, well worth picking up. Lovely video as well.

Foo Fighters, "Rope" from Wasting Light, rel. 4/12/11.
An album recorded in a basement? On analogue equipment? And a video made on VHS? (And a second video made as a parody of Falling Down?) How can you go wrong? Dave and Co. certainly passed with flying colors with this hard-driven RAWK album.

The Airborne Toxic Event, "The Kids Are Ready to Die" from All At Once, rel. 4/26/11.
Damn...I mean, damn, this is a good album. Unlike the first album full of tortured relationships, this new album is just frighteningly good, both musically and lyrically, including this Springsteen-esque track.

Fleet Foxes, "Helplessness Blues" from Helplessness Blues, rel. 5/3/11.
I admit this is in my Top 3 favorite songs of the year, even if it does have a bit of a tongue-in-cheek first verse. Very Simon & Garfunkel, this was a beautiful folk album worth downloading.

Lamb, "Build a Fire" from 5, rel. 5/5/11.
WOO! Lamb has returned!! Definitely a welcome return to one of my favorite bands of the late 90s-early 00s after a long hiatus.

She Wants Revenge, "Take the World" from Valleyheart, rel. 5/24/11.
I really don't like this video (I don't like music videos that are basically just shots of models and pretty girls doing very little but looking pretty for the camera--I like my videos to actually have movement, y'know?), but it's a great opening track for a surprisingly good album. I'd written this band off as a bit of a Interpol Division clone, but they've come a long way.

Death Cab for Cutie, "You are a Tourist" from Codes and Keys, rel. 5/31/11.
Ben Gibbard gets married (sort of briefly) and DCFC writes a happy song! Heh. Seriously, their last few albums have been quite entertaining and experimental, and this particular track got a lot of play on the radio.

Duncan Sheik, "What Is Love" from Covers 80s, rel. 6/7/11.
In an extension of his covers EP from 2010, Duncan created a great acoustic set of 80s tunes we all know and love, and made them his own. Here he pulls off a beautiful rendition of the Howard Jones song.

Washed Out, "Eyes Be Closed" from Within and Without, rel. 7/12/11.
Another doofy model video, but at least this one kinda sorta has movement--and I'm pretty sure this one was done as a parody. Another synth-laden album I got into late in the year, but it's quite good in an Air sort of way.

Gotye, "Somebody That I Used to Know" from Making Mirrors, rel. 8/19/11.
Okay, this ties with my favorite video of the year, and also in my Top 3 songs too. This track is like a cross between early Sting and something you'd hear in a musical. And yes, I'm pretty sure I've been in this relationship in the past. ;)

Bombay Bicycle Club, "Shuffle" from A Different Kind of Fix, rel. 8/29/11.
[ profile] emmalyon got me hooked on this track, and I love it because it's just so goldarn quirky! I love the use of delay for the keyboard bit--one of those things I wish I'd have thought of.

Kasabian, "Days Are Forgotten" from Velociraptor!, rel. 9/19/11.
Kasabian returns to form with a great rocking album of dirty British funk, but with the melodies of the last few albums. Love the artwork in this video.

Steven Wilson, "Index" from Grace for Drowning, rel. 9/27/11.
The Porcupine Tree lead singer's second solo album is another journey into the darker prog sounds he does so well. His stuff is always good to play during my more intense writing sessions!

Mutemath, "Blood Pressure" from Odd Soul, rel. 10/4/11.
Tied for both Song of the Year and Video of the Year for me. I've watched this on YouTube more times than I ought to have, even if it is a relatively simple stop-motion video, but it's got a killer hook and reminds me of Norman McLaren's Neighbours. The lyrics of this song definitely sum up 2011 for me as well, considering my stress levels earlier in the year.

M83, "Midnight City" from Hurry Up, We're Dreaming, rel. 10/18/11.
Yet another synth-laden band (man, listen to those 80s keyboard glissandos and that sax solo!) that I've liked for quite some time, this is an absolutely brilliant album (and a double one at that) that's been on repeat on my mp3 player for the last few months. Tied for album of the year for me.

The Black Keys, "Lonely Boy" from El Camino, rel. 12/6/11.
I put this here basically because it's a fun song, and a damn funny video that was probably made for about $50.

A few leftovers tomorrow, including songs from 2010 and earlier that were on my playlist this year!
jon_chaisson: (Default)
If anyone asks me how 2011 was for me, I'd really have to think about how I'd answer that. The short version is that I'd say it was a pretty good albeit stressful year. The slightly longer version? Personally, I think I've made some life decisions that were for the better (going to the Y, eating better, etc.). Creatively I got quite a bit done (the revision of A Division of Souls is about halfway done, and I've mapped out most of 1984 in Walk in Silence and also established a few contacts for said project), with room for more improvement. Workwise, well...I'll just say 'stressful but I'm dealing with it' and leave it at that. So yeah, I think for the most part the year was good to me.

I've really been thinking more about what I want to do with my "official" website (the WordPress one), and I have a few ideas. It's still in embryonic stage and I probably have one other reader aside from myself at the moment, but I have some good ideas of what I'd like to do with it in the new year. One of the things I was thinking about while off the radar is how serious I'd like my online footprint to be...I of course have my LJ, Facebook, Twitter, Dreamwidth, and Google+ accounts (and others that I keep forgetting about, of course), and it is fun to pop on and talk with coworkers and friends on those sites, but as a writer I don't have much to show professionally. I have a few excerpts at the WordPress site, and a few long RTS posts that are here at LJ (plus the older versions of the Bridgetown Trilogy at its own LJ), but nothing much else. I'm thinking that starting in the new year, I'll be posting my more serious writing over there and keeping the LJ for more personal and lightweight things. I'm also thinking of using LJ as a daily/weekly aggregator of links to my various writings--this makes sense as I can then have the link post mirrored at Twitter and Facebook.

As mentioned above and in previous posts, I spent most of this year revising A Division of Souls and not much else aside from Walk in Silence prep work and a bunch of poetry. I think that 2012 should contain at least one NEW project, though I'm not sure what yet. It could be one of the backburner ideas (I'm thinking either Angela Death or Can't Find My Way Home, or work on the next Eden Cycle story/stories, or perhaps even something completely new), just to keep the creative juices flowing. If anything, I proved to myself that I can multitask projects if I manage my time correctly. In addition to that, during the next year I should also make some serious submissions. Part of that decision is tied in with the SFWC, in that I will be talking with a few agents/publishers about the two major projects I want to push: the Bridgetown Trilogy and Walk in Silence. I would also like to look into submitting some poetry to various places, as I know I have more than enough that are worthy of submission.

The next year should also be creative musically. The last bit of new music I recorded had to be the next-to-last jeb! session back in 2005, six years ago. I've been picking up my guitar, bass and uke off and on over the past year, and I think it's time for me to start recording some of it. I have the software for it, I just need to sit down and do it. I'm not sure where I'll post it, but I think it's time. I may even do what all other old musicians are doing nowadays and do some rerecordings of Flying Bohemians tunes. Music has always been part of what I am, and I think it's time to share some of it.

So I'm pretty much coasting for the last week of this year...I'll be writing and whatnot, but I won't be too worried if I don't get much done. It's been a long year, and I'm just going to treat this last week as a Christmas vacation of sorts. I'll be posting my Best of 2011 list sometime over the next few days (which of course will include videos again) and adjusting my writing schedule to fit some of the new changes.

Hope everyone has a great holiday season!
jon_chaisson: (Default)
So let's this time twenty years ago, I was living sort-of offcampus with Lissa in an apartment on Beacon Street, just down the street from Emerson, back when its main campus was on the corner of Beacon and Berkeley. It was my junior hear in college, and things were...well, they were up and down for me. I was learning how to write a script, but I wasn't making any actual films. I was writing songs for the Flying Bohemians, but I wasn't really recording many of them. I was writing, but I was trying to revive the IWN for the umpteenth time. I was still going out with T., but our relationship was pretty strained by then. I was quite creative at the time, but I was pretty much told by my advisor that I probably should have gone to MA College of Art if I really wanted to make movies instead of just learn about theory. An emotional rollercoaster, to say the least.

But hey...that was twenty years ago, and I'm all over that. This is about the music.

It's kind of funny, listening to 1990-1991 again, because in Boston, alternative music was in the balance. WFNX was playing a great amount of Britpop and shoegaze, which I loved, but was of course tempering it with the emerging grunge sound from the opposite coast. With the Northeast being as collegiate as it is, it took awhile for the hard rock with dark lyrics to win over the bouncier, drug-infested dance rock. It really could have gone either way, if it wasn't for the prevailing mood of the Gen-X Slackers: ennui, frustration, and annoyance. Sure, it was nothing compared to nowadays, but at the time it was one of those times of assertion, much like the 50s, where the younger generation realized they could get away with it now.

So what have we learned, musically?

Children, I know, you deserve more than this world could ever give )

More tomorrow!
jon_chaisson: (Tunage)
I'd mentioned this over on Google+, but I may as well post it here: I've decided to retire my white Arbor Stiletto bass guitar (for those curious, it looks like this one, only mine was opaque white). I've had it since I believe late 1986 or early 1987 when I bought it for fifty bucks at a music store in Athol.

I loved the damn thing from the start, and definitely put it through a workout. The original jack had a ceramic covering that cracked and fell apart, and was later kludged together using a couple of cut-up squares of an Elmer's Glue bottle. It had quite a few dings and scratches from all the times I accidentally bashed it up against something or it fell over after leaning it up against the wall. I probably didn't change the strings nearly as many times as I should have. And the red leather cover has seen all kinds of weather. At this point, the tuning pegs are weatherbeaten, the pickups are rusty, and the jack is pretty much shot.

I taught myself how to play by listening to the multilayered sounds of Cocteau Twins, the blues of Led Zeppelin, the melodies of New Order and Joy Division, and the foundations of The Cure. I'm still not the best, but to this day these kinds of bass lines stick out whenever I listen to music.

I'll miss playing it, even though I have my acoustic bass now. It was the bass I played for The Flying Bohemians and jeb!, so all my personal music has that bass playing somewhere on nearly every track. I'm half-looking for a new electric bass, but I'm in no hurry.

Thanks, funky white bass! It was fun playing you all those years. :)
jon_chaisson: (Default)
Please talk me out of this, because I'm this close to buying this radio off eBay today. The price is a tad bit high ($110 plus S&H), but it's probably about the same amount it was sold for back in the day, and it's in good condition.

This is actually a half-step up from the Jonzbox model I posted previously. It's exactly the same except that the radio has SW1 and SW2 (shortwave 1 and 2) in addition to AM and FM. Everything else is the same, right down to that little funky square orange mute button on top.

Not that I'd ever get rid of the Jonzbox...just that I'd have a better-working version if I bought it.

What say you, dear LJ-ers and others?
jon_chaisson: (Default)

Ah yes...the NASA stock footage, the hand-colored MTV moon flag, the kick-ass guitar riff. Who knew that a simple top-of-the-hour station ID buffer would become so iconic?

I may be obsessing lately over the whole 'freeform' thing due to my Walk in Silence project, but given the recent research I've been doing about 1980s radio, I've come to the conclusion that MTV, at the outset, was definitely the visual equivalent of a freeform rock station. Given the playlist of that first broadcast day thirty years ago today, it's obvious that they weren't confining themselves to just one particular rock subgenre. In the space of one day, the playlist contained alternative rock (The Buggles, Split Enz, David Bowie), classic rock (The Who, REO Speedwagon, Styx), ska (The Specials), 70s pop (Rod Stewart, Cliff Richard), postpunk (Blondie, Talking Heads), and everything in between. Granted, most of this was due to the fledgling station asking anyone and everyone on labels big and small for videos and trying to sell up the fact that a music video channel could be a great publicity tool. Some videos were low tech--nothing more than an edit from a live longform video show (usually something from the King Biscuit or Midnight Special shows), or a simple non-audience performance video shot on film--but some were creative mini-movies, such as the tale of Chrissie Hynde's sad waitress in the Pretenders' "Brass in Pocket" video. Though the station definitely narrowed its focus over the years, I believe it was its freeform beginnings that helped cement its longevity.

It might have been a new outlet for music videos, but it certainly wasn't a new form of music publicity. The Beatles created their own videos back in the mid-60s primarily as an answer to the extreme number of stations that had been clamoring for an appearance on one of their shows. (This video for "Rain" is a great example of one.) In making these visual shorts, they could offer them not only to the British music shows but also to stations all over the world, and it would alleviate their already crazy schedule. By the late 60s other bands were doing the same thing, and by the 70s these videos were showing up on many and varied places: American Bandstand, local community stations, and video revue specials. It was MTV that saw the potential of putting them all in one place--the pop, the rock, the alternative, the post-punk, the ska, and even the 70s popsters--especially now that cable television was finally taking off. It was a gutsy and brilliant move, and it worked.

The first video I ever saw on MTV was .38 Special's "Hold On Loosely", and it was at the local fire station sometime around 1982. Warner Cable was relatively new in the Athol area, and they were one of the first places that signed up for it. I knew about the channel, but hadn't seen it until I visited the station with my dad for something completely unrelated. Still, by 1982 I was hooked on music, for good or ill. I was busy collecting Beatles records, listening to WAQY and WAAF, and borrowing albums from the library, anything to get a bigger music fix. Seeing videos for songs I already knew well from the radio only added to that addiction, and added yet another layer to the music I loved.

By 1982 and 1983, while still taping songs off the radio, I would also put a tape recorder up next to the small tv speaker and record things off MTV as well. There were songs I wouldn't have noticed otherwise, such as Thomas Dolby's "She Blinded Me with Science", Split Enz's "Dirty Creature", and Adam & the Ants' "Ant Rap". Songs that my local rock station was most definitely NOT playing. I fully admit that there was a day or so back then where I pretended to be sick so I could stay home from school and watch and record. And of course by 1984 and 1985, when the new wave of pop and rock music really came to the fore--Michael Jackson, Duran Duran, Wham!, The Cars, Bruce Springsteen, and so on--thanks to the channel, these bands skyrocketed to worldwide fame, something that might not have happened five years previous. The channel even helped revive the career of The Monkees, when they started showing their silly 60s TV show on the channel for its 20th anniversary in 1986. And in an odd parallel (and perhaps riffing on the retro and comedy themes that were prevalent then), they even introduced new fans to Monty Python's Flying Circus later that year.

And of course, there was the birth of a new show late on Sunday night, on March 10, 1986...a show that grew out of an earlier series that offered the best and latest of the loved and respected indie label IRS Records, The Cutting Edge. This new show was called 120 Minutes, created by one Dave Kendall, who chose to hide in the shadows (literally--you'd see him obscured when he did the record reviews) until 1989 when he took over the show from Kevin Seal. It expanded on the previous show by showcasing stuff that was deliberately not pop: they played the punk, the post-punk, and the alternative music that had only previously been played on college radio stations. By 1987 many alternative rock fans were in heaven with the three-hour Sunday block of Python, The Young Ones and 120. I started watching in late 1986, soon after I'd discovered college radio (and had been watching USA Network's Night Flight when it featured other strange things), and the show became a long-lasting inspiration for my musical tastes as well as my writing. By 1989 alternative was slowly becoming more mainstream (Love and Rockets' "So Alive" hit #3 on the Billboard Top 100 that year). By 1991, alternative eclipsed pop, thanks to Nirvana and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, to name but two bands that rode the tide change.

I admit I watched MTV less by 1991, considering that I was in college and was way too broke to have cable. I did watch it when I could, and for a few more years it continued to be a fun channel, if less freeform and more formatted. By then I was back to listening to music, creating mixtapes, taping stuff off the radio, and continuing to build my music collection. I'd come full circle and moved away from the visual and back to the aural, in the span of a decade. I haven't watched the channel much since, due to its preference for non-music video programming at this point.

But I won't complain about that...I've made my peace with it, and if I'm jonesing for music videos, there's always YouTube. Besides, in getting old I seem to have started listening to more pop stuff again, mostly the music that's played on VH1 and our local adult alternative station, KFOG.

Still--I have to say a public thank you to MTV for those ten formative years that expanded my musical tastes and knowledge, enthralled me with eagerly-awaited videos, and inspired my writing, both directly and indirectly. I would also thank MTV for its role in my friendships over those years (I might not have talked with my school's British exchange student in that typing class in 1987 if they hadn't been playing Python then). It may not be the same station it was then, but it made my teen years not only bearable but enjoyable and fun, and that's worth remembering.
jon_chaisson: (Default)
I somehow found this fascinating documentary on YouTube the other day, and it ties in quite nicely with my previous post about Richard Neer's book as well as my Walk in Silence project. It focuses on a typical broadcast day at the famous progressive radio station WNEW in New York City in the early 80s, when it was pretty much at the end of its peak but still going relatively strong. You'll see famous faces voices like Scott Muni and Dave Herman popping up.

I had no idea this existed until just a day or so's not even listed on IMDb. It's in two parts, check it out, it's pretty cool:

Part I

Part II
jon_chaisson: (Tunage)
I'm currently re-reading Richard Neer's excellent book FM: The Rise and Fall of Rock Radio, and I have to say that if you are in any way a fan of radio, and especially if you have a background in it, however small, you should definitely read this book. It reminds me why I love radio--both as an entertainment vehicle and as an industry I once briefly worked for. (Why I never followed up on it is another thing entirely, which I won't go into here.)

Specifically, the book follows the history of progressive radio, alternating between his own story of getting into the industry completely by chance (he'd originally gone to college to study acting), and the story of radio's evolution from a crackly AM entertainment to the rise of FM radio. Even more specifically, it delves into the fascinating history in which the radio industry and the FCC didn't quite know what to do with this newfangled frequency band or how to regulate it in its first years. This controlled chaos on the FM band in its infancy is the birth of progressive radio--the idea that instead of rigid Top 40, the playlist was more experimental and adventurous, giving knowledgeable deejays near-free reign in what they played...which in its own way created the art of mixes and segues. It's fascinating to watch as Top 40 remained on the AM band well into the 60s (and even the 70s) while FM was regarded as a curiosity and an experimental playground for disc jockeys and general managers. The "fall" of the title comes in the late 70s when FM finally takes hold on the public and becomes more commercial, stations change sounds to make more money, and the creativity of the deejays is stifled. [In an interesting parallel, I'm seeing the same exact thing happening now with satellite and internet radio--some stations are staying with the rigid playlists, but a number of internet/satellite stations are much more experimental. Note to self: see if Save Alternative is hiring!]

It's also fun to read about his initial thoughts about radio as a kid, thinking that all stations, as in the 30s and 40s, were large glamorous studios with big house bands and audiences, only to find out that most are tiny shoeboxes with extremely outdated equipment, crammed into dank basements of hotels and office buildings, and held together by tape and half-assed welding. Further along he describes how WNEW, in its 60s heyday, became a proving ground for the new type of rock music coming out of the woodwork.

I say all this because this book is very much a template for my Walk in Silence project. While I personally don't have much of a current radio industry perspective (two years at Athol's tiny local station and five semesters at Emerson College's stations), nor do I have the "scene" perspective as an insider or a clubgoer, I do have the obsessive love of a music fan and I'm utterly fascinated by the history of alternative radio--not just alt/indie rock, but its history and its outlets--and so does Neer, so this book is a great reference for me.

Definitely worth reading.


jon_chaisson: (Default)

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