for 5 December 2000. Updated every WEEKDAY.
Long Live Rock
Dear Big Four Oh:
Of course, maybe it's all just rock and roll. Maybe the best of the 60s is no better or worse than the best of the 70s or the 80s or the 90s...and maybe even the best is no better than it has to be. Maybe it all speaks when it can be heard over all those teenage girls screaming to teenage angst; and given the age, experience, and musical sophistication of those creating it...maybe it doesn't age all that well.
Perhaps, just perhaps, you never outgrow your childhood but your taste matures. In such a case, you might be willing to listen to the music of your youth more because it reminds you of how you felt when you first heard that music than because you really still admire either the music or the feeling behind it. In such a case, you might consider whatever is current as rock and roll mostly pretty thin gruel and tune it out...while accepting similarly thin gruel if it's YOUR gruel.
In such a case, we need not hypothesize any complex programming plots. The problem is inherent in the idea of radios and rock and roll.
We can imagine, in theory, a radio playlist that truly did try to present the best rock and roll of all time...a complex mix of music with little in common other than quality. Who would listen to it, though? The same demographics that now listen to the one or two classic or jazz stations that still survive? My truthful word, I think I've just reinvented late-night college radio.
Not to worry. It's got a good beat and I can dance to it. I'd give it an 8.
You know, if I correctly remember the range of scores on the old American Bandstand segment, you just punked me out big time.
Yeah, I think the nostalgia comes into play exactly the way you describe. The creepy thing is as a kid growing up in central Indiana, the songs I was encouraged to listen to as a rebellious act were the same ones many of my teachers listened to, a crude prefiguring of the kind of Thomas Frank-described nightmare that's become very familiar these days.
I imagine that college radio in the mid- to late-'80s not only got a huge bump out of its relatively hip outsider status, but also because college students wanted to celebrate their "own music," being at that age when their self-absorption drives them to read all sorts of generation-defining magazine articles, and calculate the age of tennis champions in relation to their own.
40th Street Black
Much better than usual, Black. I think you've struck upon the right formula for success: find something to say, start writing, get really worked up about it...then really start writing. I didn't really get the point in the final analysis, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Lester Bangs never made much of a point either, but you got the basic idea anyway. Long live mock!
Since I've given up hope of anything interesting happening while I'm still alive, I dream nightly of post-death notoriety like Bangs'. Sustained poetic incoherence sounds like a much better plan than my current strategy of doling out friendly advice to 13-year-old wannabe Web filmmakers and e-mailing Greil Marcus.
40th Street Black
How on earth do you know so much stuff? Hell.
Once I type in all the adverbs and references to Welcome Back Kotter, I only have to fake it for 400 words.
40th Street Black
I agree that Classic Rock programmers and fans can be reactionary. That was the group that coined and popularized the "Disco Sucks" movement, which was brilliantly examined in a two-part episode of "WKRP In Cincinnati," with Johnny Fever taking a job as a disco TV dance show host and becoming filled with self-loathing.
So the Classic Rock folks then railed, to a lesser extent, against the grunge movement in the 1990s. It's no coincidence that Adam Sandler's "Billy Madison" character kept listening to the same old REO Speedwagon and Billy Squier tunes he'd heard since 1980.
Will the "oldies" radio format eventually change its name to "classics"? That way, folks like me can pretend we're still "with it" long after the operatic, swooping, melismatic voices of Christina Aguilera, Mariah Carey, and the Destiny's Child girls become standard musical fare in the coming decades. Until the next thing comes along.
I wish I had thought of mentioning WKRP as the video diary of classic rock and roll impulses, complete with well-positioned attacks on disco and punk rock. I'm pretty sure in a previous Suck essay I extolled the virtues of Gordon Jump defending John Lennon's lyrics, the videotape of which, as far as I'm concerned, should go on the next satellite fired from the solar system as evidence of all that's pure and wonderful about 20th Century America.
As far as finding a format on which to make a personal stand, I'm certain from years of crappy temp job that every radio format has its defenders, both sincere and insincere, no matter how obscure or widely available.
40th Street Black
40th Street Black:
After a long admiration for your seemingly bottomless reservoir of historical savvy and cultural insight, I am driven to respond to your Classic Rock piece because I might have something to add. You see, I work for a company that makes syndicated radio programs, and last year I was the producer/editor of a Classic Rock show hosted by Ray Manzarek (of the Doors...you know, the keyboard player who wore glasses, not that other guy in leather pants). Not being a fan of the genre, I had a professional imperative to shake off my attitude regarding Rick Derringer, Bob Seger, John Kay, et al.
The curious thing about Ray, considering the cash cow re-release licensing rights he's got under his belt, is that he was envious of REAL classic rockers, who make REAL money off their once-feverish posturing: Ray once told me he doesn't own a Kandinksy, but Gene Simmons of KISS does own a Kandinsky. As popular as the Doors were, they didn't hold a candle to KISS's mythic juvenalia. (And isn't it creepy to think that there's an original Kandinsky in Simmons' home?)
I particularly liked the way your wrapped up your essay, with:
"In a certain sense, the scorn one heaps upon the simplicity of music and presentation in what's known as Classic Rock turns into a reluctant admiration for breaking everything down into a rhythm-driven prayer for blissful excess and self-aggrandizement so painfully simple every single person can understand it."
The playlists of most AOL stations consists of about two dozen artists and about 75 songs, an amazingly efficient programming strategy with no room for flashbacking DJs to fuck up and and get "creative." My experience with Classic Rock (now canceled) did not bring me to an admiration for BTO or the Moody Blues, but the stranglehold the dinosaurs of radio have on the musical appreciation of the 20th century's most populous generation is as awesome as any T. Rex power chord.
Thanks for your note. I don't have to much to say, but I'm hoping my reply means we can share with Suck readers your update on Gene Simmons' art collection.
I never thought about it before, but a lot of those really vocal '60s rock guys sound like 1950s-era baseball player, guestimating the contract value of a modern-age Mantle or Mays. Of course, the unique thing about Classic Rock is I'm sure there are bands that came of age in the 1990s that wish they had Kiss' enduring, happily exploitative appeal as much as Manzarek might.
40th Street Black
Geekquake, or, I Hear America Whining
Nice article. Another recent "upgrade" was migration of all my-deja.com email accounts to bigmailbox.com. The swap was less than flawless.
And you'd think they'd change that tagline to something more apropos than "Before you buy." Something like, "After we're gone."
Hope you weren't inconvenienced by the changeover. Now I'm worried about what's going to happen to all those Deja Communities like The Paper Clip Benders Club!, and Drink Your Way... To Real Estate Success.
Nice piece, but the aspect of the "misplaced" usenet archives that you sadly didn't mention is the gargantuan sigh of relief rattling through the nation as millions of us who said or did something stupid in a newsgroup way back when realize we may be off the hook. I strongly suspect that if the matter were put to a vote by everyone who was posting regularly on Usenet at that time, the vast majority would vote to keep the archives "lost." Even if it meant the loss of something particularly well composed, most would make that sacrifice if the particularly idiotic post was expunged as well. Just an observation.
The people for whom usenet is life are a sad minority. The majority would be happy to let that ugly record drift away into the ether.
I didn't mention any Big Sigh because I can't hear one. May I say, your sense of shame is remarkable, and well-earned, I'm sure. However in my experience people who make idiots of themselves in newsgroups are only too pleased to provide jollies for each other, now or in the future. They just don't care about what they once said.
They don't really care about what you once said, either, unless it was when you were recommending SCSI controllers or brothels in Hua-Hin (tsk, tsk, Peupli!) Speaking as a semi-recovering paranoid, one very upsetting realization was that the source of all my dread about someone finding out stuff about me was more of a sad little hope someone actually gave a crap about me or what I think than anything to do with reality.
The good part is that when someone actually does give a crap about what I say, it makes me even happier to reply.
Thanks for the note,