Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Radio Blah Blah

"I'm well past the age where I'm acceptable. You get to a certain age and you are forbidden access. You're not going to get the kind of coverage that you would like in music magazines, you're not going to get played on radio and you're not going to get played on television. I have to survive on word of mouth".

"Music itself is going to become like running water or electricity".
-David Bowie

I do not get too bent out of shape when celebrities die. There’s no way I could feel emotion for someone I never knew.  

 I may momentarily pause, and, if I was a fan of their body of work, if they were some sort of artist, I take note and acknowledge that they have performed their last.  There’s no grief involved; perhaps a touch of nostalgia as I recall the period in my life that coincided with whatever it was they were famous for.  If I do mourn at all, it will be for death of all that is, or was, original.

 David Bowie’ death will be the constant hot topic of conversation for the Twitterati for about 5 minutes, then everyone will share someone else's something about it on Facebook.  
Again, I don’t really care.  I liked David Bowie. I would consider myself a fan.  I liked several of his songs, I owned several LP’s, but I have never been someone who idolized celebrities.

Why should I? Why should anyone?

Even David Bowie himself mocked celebrity worship in his music.  “The papers all want(ed) to know which shirts…” Major Tom wore, but in the end, he rode that spaceship away from all the insanity on earth. 

Everyone will say all the appropriate things, there will be numerous tributes about what a great artist he was, how he was so important for reasons x, y, and z,  and then everyone goes back to the silence.  It will serve as historical back fill for millennials because they weren't yet born during the years when he'd released a great deal of his music.

I am old enough to remember the day Elvis died.  Almost every radio station in New York City switched over to playing his music, talking about him, reminiscing.  I managed to record nearly 3 hours worth of Elvis music and memories on to some 8 track tapes during this time.  I also remember the death of John Lennon.  Same thing happened.  Many radio stations played only Beatles music for days, indulged us with some concert and interview memories and it all seemed appropriate, whether you were a big fan or not.  We all commiserated together, or so it seemed.

Now?  “The circuit’s dead, there’s something wrong…”

“All we hear is “Radio Gaga”, as Freddy Mercury predicted.

Only since the news of David Bowie’s death did I also hear it mentioned that he had a new album out.
Where was it?  I guess it was available on some trendy satellite or internet station, but I was not in that loop. 

When was the last time anyone heard or played one of those influential, groundbreaking David Bowie songs on a local radio station?
When was the last time anyone heard a DJ actually mention the name of the song that had just played?  

Do we even have DJ’s anymore?

I’m sure I could conjure up a Pandora station consisting exclusively of David Bowie music, but who else would be listening along with me? 

People experience music in isolation now.  Everything is so compartmentalized.  It's even getting harder to share a freaking pot of coffee because most of it now comes in individually wrapped, single serve pods.  This leaves us little choice in how we may prepare it. 

What if I like mine stronger, damn it?

Now, I’m surrounded by zombies with head phones, tuning out the world, as they pick and choose every song.  We possess the power to create our own personal radio stations, with endless options and a million choices. We don't own any of it and we listen to it all, in perfectly noise canceled silence.


Who is really doing the programming?

The few radio stations remaining are so tightly formatted and predetermined, that other than a mention of David Bowie’s death on the news, you’d never know a pop star had died.

I don't "Heart" radio.

Then there’s the matter of which format he would fit into now. Which station would play his new album? The old AOR format was quite broad, but now…there are a thousand shades and flavors of “rock”.

Classic Rock?  Modern Rock? Genuine Classic Rock? Top 40? Soft Rock? Hard Rock?  Adult rock and roll? Adult contemporary music? Adult oriented pop music? Progressive rock? 

The options are mind boggling and I have no idea how to figure out what music would be played on which station. 

 Words and time are twisted and bent. 

Would Bowie's old song, “Modern Love” be played on the Modern Rock format?  

How old is too old to be modern? How old is “oldie”?

Are oldies classic? Are classic hits oldies?

There’s a code here, where's the key?

What’s the alternative? Oh, Alt Rock? Adult Alternative?

Alternative to what? 

How did that happen anyway?

 In the early 1980’s, pirate and college radio stations played a wide variety of music by artists that were relatively unknown, not yet successful, as an “alternative” to what was commercially available.  
The whole point of “alternative” was that there...WAS NO FORMAT.

The DJ’s were free to play anything they wanted.

Now, nothing breaks through the airwaves that is not first filtered by a rigidly constrained, deliberately designed, marketing demographic that satisfies the database masters.

Radio is dead.

We are not free.

Can you hear us Major Tom?

We can’t hear you.

"And there goes the last DJ
Who plays what he wants to play
And says what he wants to say
Hey, hey, hey
And there goes your freedom of choice
There goes the last human voice
And there goes the last DJ"
-Tom Petty

Apologies to Freddy Mercury for the title.
I know he'd agree.


Packer said...

When a musician dies I sometimes buy an album on I Tunes and listen, just so I can know. Etta James died a year or so ago and I bought. I am glad I did, because I never knew of her. David Bowie was only a name to me, so maybe I will buy that album.
It is my way of saying thank you for their art.

Stacey Gordon said...

I had a bunch of his stuff 30 years ago.... I can recommend a few albums. To be honest, I didn't know much of anything of his from the 90's on...

ehowton said...

Just got around to reading this. EXCELLENT as always. I agree wholeheartedly about the reaction/lack of tangible emotion which seems to grip those around me. And that's a nice way to put it without sounding like the resident psychopath.

And while I also agree about the canned music, I've been thinking A LOT about not teaching my children to conform to the same paradigm that my great-grandparents taught my grandparents who taught my parents who raised me to fit into polite society. I'm beginning to believe future generations aren't doomed because they do everything so differently than we do (how many generations before ours thought radio DJs were "the devil" and all that youth socialization would lead to the demise of civilization). So I endeavor to let my children set the tone - they're far more in touch with pop culture than I've ever been - and I try to help them innovate within their new paradigm.

Be said...

Great stuff! Same things I've expressed while reluctantly "voice tracking" radio programs days in advance or selecting from a list of pre-chosen music & of course the awkward "request line hour" which only includes selections from the pre-chosen playlist. These are reasons why, in the broadcasting industry, I try to work as independently as possible--without starving. "I'm just an individual who doesn't feel that I need to have somebody qualify my work in any particular way. I'm working for me." Bowie. We are all too busy multitasking & counting likes to notice that there is a glitch in the system & it's quite challenging when your profession requires you to ignore the glitch & maintain a number of likes, comments, shares & hashtags.