Doncha Ever Listen to the Radio? (tf)

I love music but I never ever listen to the radio. For me music is not something you hear in an elevator or mindlessly hum along to in traffic. It’s more like the air I breathe. Something to ponder….to be inspired by….to jump around like a pogo stick to… make sense out of a nonsensical situation….to sum up a time and a place and a feeling in 3 minutes flat. Music is made by human beings with guitars and drums and pianos and B3 organs…wailing vocals and great horn charts…and lots of sweat and tears and beer and smoke in the kind of places where you carve your name in the walls backstage. It’s not technically “perfect”. The beat can waver, the guitars can fight losing battles with each other. But as a cacophony of (mostly) teen angst, the greatest rock and roll is unrivaled. It is America’s greatest gift to the world, a melting pot of delta blues and mountain bluegrass amplified, black and white together before black and white were allowed together. It’s the only religion I know of that’s all-inclusive.

And people say it’s dying.

To listen to the radio you might think so. Rock and roll doesn’t get played on the radio anymore. I checked the billboard top 10 singles list and I’ve never heard of any of the songs or any of the artists. All I know is that none of them are rock and roll. It’s all processed drivel, a hodge-podge of studio trickery and image manipulation. Boardroom maneuvering and the right PR hacks can literally turn anybody into a star right now. Genuine talent is helpful but not required. When I’m in the car with my kids and the radio is on I long for the sound of a real guitar…or the snap of a real snare drum. Something that sounds human. It’s just not there. All I hear is interchangeable. The first song sounds like the next song, and the last song is as bad as the next to last song. It could all be the same song. There’s no attempt at melody, so there’s nothing memorable enough that would allow me to differentiate one song from another. It all sounds like it was created in a bank vault.

It’s certainly enough to kill the radio stone-dead as a viable place to become truly inspired.

Of course there’s the mind-set that because you don’t hear rock and roll on the radio anymore it means that rock and roll has shriveled up and died. For those not accustomed to digging past the top layer of soil….you don’t know what you’re missing. And I don’t feel bad for you. I feel kinda smug actually….like the kid with the secret.

There are scores… hundreds….of self-contained rock and roll bands out there who never sniff the radio yet continue to make thrilling noise. I won’t start listing names for I’d not know where to stop or start, but trust me, they’re out there. Snarling kids in garages and wily vets crisscrossing the country in vans, from California to the New York Islands, pounding stages in bars and clubs and theaters and backyards, railing against the dying of the light. There’s no gulf between these bands and their fans because the bands are fans too. It’s all the same community.

When punk rock exploded in the mid 1970s the great Pete Townshend said he felt too old to participate, but that he surely wanted to watch and listen. He was being disingenuous, since he and his band the Who largely created punk rock more than a decade earlier. It had taken this long for folks to catch on. But they did, and for a time the sheer energy and bile of reinvigorated, piss and vinegar rock and roll made everything around it sound so tired. You could hear the Clash on the radio, until it became de rigueur to try to re-create the Clash, which of course nobody else could do. It happened again in the early 90s. Kurt Cobain’s kicked and screamed his way out of his backwards, redneck town and took on the world. And until he decided it was too much work, he beat them at their own game. He became Elvis to a new generation. The dividing line between what came before and what came after.

But it hasn’t happened since.

Not for lack of trying. There are lots of guys with guitars out there, quietly changing lives, one fan at a time. You can find them if you look hard enough. When I locate yet another it gives my day a bounce. It’s therapeutic to know that loud noises can be peaceful too.

So that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. I’ve got a treasure trove of music that keeps growing. I’ve got music for all seasons. I’ve got music to attend to all the gremlins inside my head.

I’m glad music this vital is not on the radio. It might cheapen it. It might make me the same as everybody else.

That’s one thing I do not wish to be.

Long Live Rock.

–Tom Flannery

~ by admin on September 26, 2011.

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