The day the music died


I was going to write another scathing post about how Whole Foods isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, but the follow-through passion just wasn’t there tonight.

Instead, playing with my Mac all week (and through the weekend) got me thinking about Adobe Pagemaker, which took me back to the good ol’ days where I served as a deranged insomniac staffer of Tangents, my high school’s alternative literary magazine (the only after-school program that didn’t receive a lick of federal funding and yet turned out the highest-quality material you could imagine).  Although I never used Pagemaker myself, as I was never involved in the actual nitty-gritties of the layout, I got nostalgic anyway.

Of course, when our favorite neighborhood Mexican food haunt deviated from its usual character and started playing Fixx and the Cure last night, that clinched it.  There was no going back.

As excruciating as those troubled, awkward, and inwardly violent that time period was (think “teen angst” before there was teen angst), I still remember it fondly, for the most part.  I long for a time of quality movies and music made with the right blend of talent and creativity.

Ah, yes – the music.  It was a golden time period between the new wave of the ’80s and the commercialized alternative of the ’90s, long after Missing Persons and Men At Work and long before Green Day and Stone Temple Pilots, and it produced a magical bastard child of which to this day, I’m unaware of a name.

Artists like Jane’s Addiction served as an elixir that played to our primal, tribal energies.  The Cure provided orchestral enchantment in its layered songwriting in which the beauty of each layered track was in its simplicity, and they all came together with complicated precision.  Wonder Stuff taught us that happy-go-lucky parties could be penned skilfully into catchy singable songs.  Hoodoo Gurus and Redd Kross put the “rock” back in “alternative rock”.  Faith No More and Red Hot Chili Peppers added a sassy rebellion, beyond the prominent picked bass.  Charlatans UK gave us perplexing lyrics and a seamlessly added organ.  The Church added a mystique that made it shimmer. Smithereens added a jangle.  Voice of the Beehive proved beyond the shadow of a doubt that girls could do just as well.  And the Soup Dragons proved we could do it without our parents.

I think Joy Division, REM, Echo and the Bunnymen, Fixx, and New Order pioneered the whole thing. Depeche Mode and Berlin helped, too.  It wasn’t REM’s “Stand”; it was their “9-9”.  It wasn’t Fixx’s “One Thing Leads To Another”, it was their “Red Skies At Night”.  It wasn’t New Order’s “Blue Monday”, it was their “Paradise”.  It was not only Echo’s “Lips Like Sugar” (a slam dunk for this genre), it was also their “Bring On the Dancing Horses”.  It was not so much Smithereens’ “A Girl Like You” (although it counts), it was more “Now And Then”.  Midnight Oil’s “Beds Are Burning” was a mainstream one-hit; “Dead Heart” is what really got my attention.  And U2’s “With Or Without You” doesn’t count; “Till The End of the World” does.

The scene was also made up of artists that did not get much spotlight at all. Colin Newman’s “Alone” is a beautiful, haunting masterpiece, but you missed it if you didn’t pay attention in Silence of the Lambs. Along the same vein (in fact, from the same movie), Q Lazzarus’s “Goodbye Horses” illustrates another solid example.  Dreams So Real’s “Rough Night In Jericho”, and Power of Dreams’s “100 Ways To Kill a Love” are enjoyable to the bone…but hardly any stations played them.

From the summer of 1990 until sometime in 1993, a daring, innovative radio station played it all.  They even included Depeche Mode (“Master & Servant” of course), Berlin (not “Take My Breath Away” but rather “The Metro”), Eurythmics, Enya, and the B-52’s (not “Love Shack” but rather “Bad Influence”) for good measure.  When Soundgarden and Nirvana came out, they played them, too–right after Pink Floyd’s “One Slip”.  I was in heaven.  Pardon the pun, but it was a chronic insomniac’s dream: a radio station exploring the vastest of its library deep in the wee hours.

And then I turned to the station one day and I heard country and western coming out of the speakers.  I damn near threw things around the room.  You see, country music was the genre I saved the purest of my hatred for.  For the Christians reading this, it’s like going to church on Sunday and instead of your regular beloved priest or pastor giving the sermon, who is at the podium but the devil himself.  Seriously.

Part of me died right along with that radio station.  I had made me part of who I am, and it validated my tastes, introducing me to a galaxy of wonderful sounds and showing me that I was not alone in my appreciation of them.  Almost 18 years later, I’m still mourning.

Although I enjoyed the following full moon tide of artists that suddenly found themselves signed to major labels by the dozen (no doubt in that rush to fill what had been a serious void), it hardly filled the void inside me that had been created in part by this same commercialized alternative wave.  It was country that took over my radio station, but it was this new alternative that was eclipsing the former genre like an opportunistic digestive bacterium.

Yes, I liked Green Day and Stone Temple Pilots.  I adored Pearl Jam and Nirvana.  Oasis is not bigger than Jesus or the Beatles, but they’re quite talented just the same.  I was pleased to see that REM, New Order, and Dada survived the shift.  I was all too pleased to meet newcomers Luscious Jackson, Hole, and Letters To Cleo.  Beavis and Butthead faded into Daria, you know?  I got that.

These days, the closest I can find include Blueboy, Ivy, The Music, Lida Husik (although I’m not so sure she’s all that current), Go-Betweens, Interpol, Active Child, Autolux, Lostprophets, Snow Patrol, and Death Cab For Cutie.  It’s not perfect.  But hey, at least it’s something.


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