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andee's world: March 2006

andee's world

Hello and welcome to my blog. This space will be devoted to opinions, observations, lists, articles and whatever else I feel like posting. Subjects will include music, human nature, politics, life in NYC, etc. If I paste someone else's writing up here, it is because the author said something way better than I ever could. By the way, I don't claim to be a particularly smart guy; I'm just a musician with some opinions. If you disagree with me, that's cool -- but then, you're probably wrong.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Over My Head

We sure are living in a weird time.

I know I'm not the first person to weigh in on this subject and I realize that many scribes far more eloquent than me have already gotten their teeth into it, but I've gotta sound off just the same.

People in this country are embarrassing themselves with their infatuation with Fame. Fame has become the American Dream. Fame is the great validator. Celebrity gives you instant value in our culture. How else do you explain Paris Hilton? Here is a person with, as far as I can tell, absolutely nothing to offer -- talent, wisdom, virtue, not even extraordinary beauty -- she's merely famous for being famous. People will climb all over themselves to get a glimpse of that vapid bimbo. Why? I'll bet the girl who waits tables in your local diner has twice the sex appeal. But that's not what it's about. It's about FAME.

I'm sure I don't have to cite any of the other dubious luminaries who march in the pop culture parade of mediocrity; news organizations already waste enough time reporting on the lives of trivial celebrity types. There are weekly magazines devoted to dissecting the details of Brad and Jennifer's breakup and printing Britney Spears's bodega receipts. But here's the really creepy part -- people buy these magazines.

If you're a musician, your worth is judged by whether you are signed, have been on tv or on the covers of magazines. That's the first thing most people want to know about when they find out you are in a band. If you can say "yes" to any of the preceding, suddenly your interviewer's eyes light up and you've got a very interested audience. The subject of music itself? It's completely secondary.

I would have to think that there was once a time, maybe before the 1950s, when musicians played music for much purer reasons than they do now. It wasn't a business yet. Alot of people have noted that the term "music business" is an oxymoron. In many ways, the confluence of art and commerce is like that of oil and water. When making money is the overriding priority, how can great art be expected to follow?

Playing music is what makes me wake up in the morning. I enjoy sharing my music with people, which is why I play shows and put out records, but trust me, I would be here doing it all by myself either way. I have logged in thousands and thousands of hours in my apartment alone, playing music for my own benefit, music that nobody will ever hear. To me, that's what it's about -- immersing yourself in the creative process. It has nothing to do with soundscan reports or getting on the cover of Spin.

I've got relatives in the Midwest who look at me with undisguised confusion, trying to imagine why I live in the Big City playing music that hasn't registered on VH-1 yet. They don't care that I write songs or spend time trying to reach new heights of achievement and ability on a musical instrument; they just wanna see the big tv payoff. If I just decided one day to throw in the towel and become the house guitarist on Rock Star, my cousins would weep with pride and give me a homecoming hero's welcome at Christmas time.

There are many phenomenal musicians who have become rich and successful and kudos to them. Prince deserves every penny and all the adoration he's earned. But there are alot of pretenders out there who are in it for notoriety, ego-validation, money and other bullshit motivators. There are plenty of well-intentioned but unoriginal and semi-talented acts who somehow become giant stars thanks to canny marketing and a good stylist.

The music business has been exploiting music and musicians for decades now. But nowadays, fame and recognition and hero-worship are the dangling carrot that lures so many in. Sign your life away, compromise yourself and give most of your earnings to smarmy executives, and what you get in return is the gratification of being Famous.

And this is the problem -- fame is a priceless commodity in America. People will do anything to get a piece of it. Think of how many suckers throw out whatever dignity they once owned for the opportunity to humiliate themselves on some ridiculous reality tv show. Sure, they've proven themselves shameless and completely lacking in integrity, but the important thing is that they got on tv.

The general public is hopelessly obsessed with celebrity, in all of its grotesque permutations. It is an amazing thing to see. People will freak out whenever any famous person walks into the room. Even if it's Jack Osbourne. It matters not that the man has no apparent talent or notable intelligence. He is responsible for no achievement more impressive than drawing oxygen. He's not a humanitarian or a great activist. He's not handsome. He's just been on tv. Now watch those strippers fall into his doughy lap!

I was leaving a club on Thursday night just as Debbie Harry was walking in. Suddenly everyone was saying, "you can't leave now, Debbie Harry just got here!!"

Hah?! I don't get it. I've seen Debbie Harry before and I've even met her but I can guarantee you the experience didn't change my life. I was still the same person when I woke up the next morning. Blondie was a good band a long time ago. Debbie Harry's a decent singer and they made a few great records. But what am I supposed to do, run back into the bar and stupidly watch her sip her vodka/cranberry? Will I be famous by association for being there?

The people who told me I was crazy for leaving -- I wonder if they really were big fans of Blondie's music. Did they own all the albums? Did they have any of Harry's solo records? Or did they just think that being in the same bar with a celebrity somehow made them more special?

The next night I was at a different bar and apparently the bass player from Interpol walked in. Instantly, the atmosphere in the room changed. Everyone's buzzing around, whispering to eachother, giggling nervously and texting their friends. Now here is a guy of very average talent. I don't mean to put him down, and I'm sure he is genuinely passionate about what he does, but the fact is this: if he and his band were exactly the same as we know them to be -- same songs, same sound, same haircuts -- but were unsigned and playing small clubs like Lit, I guarantee you nobody would give a rat's ass if any of them walked into the room. You know this.

In NYC, the landscape is littered with staggering talents and visionary artists. Look around you -- they're everywhere. They probably served you the drinks you giggled into while craning your neck to get a glimpse of the Strokes guy. They're hanging pieces of their art in tiny storefront galleries in south Williamsburg as you walk by, oblivious, chattering into your cell phone. They perform mind-blowing music in tiny coffeehouses for pocket change and pour every ounce of themselves into it, as if it's their last chance to play.

Find your new heroes -- chances are, they live right next door.

Monday, March 06, 2006

"Free Radio" Is Still Overpriced

So my big Christmas present from last year was a Sirius radio receiver and a year's subscription to Siruis. My friend Marty has had XM for some time now, and, after spending a weekend at his place last October, I got kind of smitten with the idea of getting satellite radio myself.

Thing is, I really like listening to the radio, when it's good. I grew up listening to the radio; it's how I got turned on to all my favorite bands early on. I had it on all the time in my room. Just like a million other misfit kids, I would sneak the radio under the covers at night and listen when I was supposed to be sleeping. The djs were like friends to me, as pathetic as that sounds.

But as we all know, commercial radio has gone to seed in the last ten years or so. It is unbearable. And I can't tell you how happy I am to see K-Rock and the other corporate-conglomerate-owned stations in America crumble to dust. Serves them right -- what do they expect, after force-feeding us Nickelback and Linkin Park all this time? Are you joking? Good riddance to all of you.

I had to laugh when I saw this weepy article on the demise of K-Rock in the new issue of SPIN -- all this crap about what a great loss it is. Some joker from Fall Out Boy is in there saying K-Rock was this "big supporter of alternative rock" and that its downfall "speaks volumes about the changes going on in music."

Are you for real? Have you ever listened to that rotten station even for a few minutes? If anything is harming the state of things in the music world, it is the narrow, unimaginative, corporate consultant-scripted, tight-assed radio play lists of K-Rock and other crap stations of its ilk. Hey, Fall Out Boy -- K-Rock is what's wrong with music. I don't care if they played your band.

People are defecting to satellite radio because they are desperate for quality music, variety and real djs. They're willing to pay for it because it is worth something. There are no commercials. It's a no-brainer.

And I just love how K-Rock are now desperately billing themselves as "free radio," as if that's going to stop people from paying for satellite radio. Nice try, assholes, but free bullshit is still bullshit. Now, please go away forever.

So anyway, after I told my mom I wanted satellite radio for Christmas, I poked around on the internet a little bit to see if I could find any evidence as to which of the two main providers, Sirius or XM, is superior. As far as I could tell, the programming was more or less the same for both; but of course Sirius had Howard Stern, and an Eminem channel.

Then I found the clincher: it seemed that XM were affiliated with Clear Channel. That tore it. I decided I'd go with Sirius.

My mom found a good receiver for me online and generously bought me a year's subscription to go with it. How great is that?! Unfortunately, she had to send me the hardware in the mail in early January (so it would arrive right around the time I returned from Berlin). If you've been reading my posts, you might remember my bitching about a package getting lost in the mail. Well, that was the package. Thanks to the retards at the Williamsburg Post Office, my "first month free" of the Sirius subscription was totally lost, as my receiver rotted in Post Office Limbo Land for four whole weeks. Ugh.

ANYWAY. I finally rescued my long-lost parcel from the big, dumb, clumsy mitts of the USPS one happy day around a month ago. I was so excited to get it fired up. I plugged everything in and went right for the heavy metal station. They were playing a live version of Iron Maiden's "Running Free." So far, so good.

For those of you who don't know, Sirius features around 100 channels of commercial-free music, plus all manner of sports, talk, comedy and news stations. There are classic rock stations, electronic music stations, country, hip hop, jazz, Latin and classical stations. There's CNN, FOX and NPR. They've got Talk for Truckers, Martha Stewart, even something called Maxim Radio, where I suspect they talk about chicks, beer and gadgets, or something. There's a 24-hour Elvis station. And of course, Howard Stern.

After spending a good month listening to music on Sirius, I must say, I'm enjoying it immensely, although it is far from perfect. There are some things I love about it and some things about it that annoy the hell out of me. But let's start with the good stuff:

First of all, no commercials!! Hallelujah, we are in radio xanadu. Commercials are the worst kind of noise pollution there is. Commercials rot your brain. No commercials on Sirius, and a big hooray for that.

Second, they have real djs, and some great ones, too. The Sirius Disorder channel features not only the great Meg Griffin (from WFUV) but also New York radio institution Vin Scelsa, who now broadcasts his Idiot's Delight show from Sirius.

There are weekly guest djs like the B-52s' Fred Schneider, Joan Jett, David Johansen and my former employer Handsome Dick Manitoba. They play what they want and have a good time. It's like, you know, REAL RADIO. The way it should be.

There are certain stations that have emerged as my favorites. The aforementioned Sirius Disorder, a truly free-form channel, is extremely eclectic and always good. Little Steven's Underground Garage, which plays everything from The Hollies to the New York Dolls to the White Stripes, is also pretty top-notch any time of day.

The Old Skool Rap station is a total kick; Kurtis Blow spins on weeknights and it's awesome. The Strobe plays classic disco full time -- how great is it to know that you can hear disco music whenever you feel like it? That makes me happy.

There's a classic rock station called The Vault, which proudly eschews all the overplayed songs that made you hate classic rock radio in the first place. It is a great station. They play tunes by the Rolling Stones I've never heard before. They play bands I've never heard before, like Cactus and Trapeze. They play deep cuts by Queen, Neil Young, Van Halen, Bowie, Springsteen, Zappa. Awesome. I can leave that one on for days.

There are other stations I visit alot. Left of Center, which serves up your basic Pavement/Death Cab/Flaming Lips/college/indie rock goodies, is cool but it sometimes gets a little precious for my tastes -- which is when I tune in to Hard Attack, a no-nonsense, all-metal station, that pummels you with everything from Priest and Sabbath to Children of Bodom and System of a Down. The Soul Town channel plays Motown, classic R&B, and songs with handclaps in every chorus. I live for that kind of thing.

Boombox, which spins "breakbeats and old skool" (why do they always have to spell "skool" like that?!) electronica, is decent but they have a tendency to play those awful mash-ups, which are complete garbage 95% of the time (although I do like the one with Radiohead's "Karma Police" and The Beatles' "A Day In the Life").

As for Howard Stern, I checked out the show one evening (they re-broadcast the program every night), and I'm happy to say that it is pretty much the same as I remembered it from years ago.

Now completely unhampered by the FCC, Howard and his crew are free to say whatever they want on the air, but that doesn't mean they're tossing four-letter-words around willy-nilly, just because they can. Part of what was always funny about Howard was how he worked around the censors, managing to be naughty and provocative and hilarious without using a lot of cheap language. It's still pretty much the same on satellite radio.

So those are the things I like the most about Sirius so far. But I have a few gripes, too:

My biggest complaint -- NO PUNK STATION??! What the hell is that? Sirius has at least four classic rock stations, four hip-hop stations and five dance stations; couldn't they find room for one punk channel? Punk's been around for longer than hip-hop or disco or electronica; it's not like there's a lack of material to draw from. I just don't get it. It's a huge, gaping hole in their programming, if you ask me.

The closest thing to a punk channel is Faction, whose format is a convoluted "Punk, Hip Hop and Hard Rock Mix" Huh?! Needless to say, it's terrible. It sounds like the kind of idea that was cooked up by some suits in a conference room. Bleecch. No thank you.

Then there's Marky Ramone's weekly show on Sirius Disorder, which, I'm sorry to say, is godawful. First of all, he pipes in about 17 Ramones songs per show (and never fails to mention that he was the drummer in the band). As for the rest of the program, it's mostly really weak, So-Cal shit from the 90s. Very weird. It's almost as if Marky doesn't even know that much punk rock. Could that be?

Another big disappointment for me is First Wave, whose format is billed as "classic alternative." I was drawn to this one immediately but I quickly discovered, to my dismay, that the station's playlist is depressingly conservative. Do we really need to hear the "Love Will Tear Us Apart"s, the "I Will Follow"s and the "White Weddings"s in heavy rotation? It's like Eighties Alternative Music for Dummies.

This same channel runs a Sunday night program called Dark Wave, which supposedly goes into the "darker side" of classic alternative music. Seems like a good idea, right? The first time I listened in, I heard Killing Joke, old Cocteaus, Bauhaus, Chameleons, Depeche Mode. Nothing wrong with any of that.

But then, later on in the same show, the dj played Killing Joke again. And Depeche Mode...again. And The Smiths...again!! What the hell? The show is only three hours long -- do they really need to repeat bands? That's Lame with a capital L, if you ask me.

When I listened to Dark Wave last Sunday, I heard stuff like "Blue Monday" and "Forever Young," songs that are already heavily played during regular programming hours. I wrote the dj, some guy named Freddy Snakeskin, an email.

I asked, was this as "dark" as he could get? Where's the Skinny Puppy, where's the Fields of the Nephilim, where's the Alien Sex Fiend? How about Samhain, Nina Hagen or The Cranes? The Damned? The Birthday Party? KMFDM? Eighties-era Nico? Dark Wave, my ass.

Some of the other channels on Sirius exhibit an equal lack of imagination, I'm sorry to report. Every time I pass by the "hair metal" station, they're either playing Bon Jovi, late-period Motley Crue, or the insufferable Great White.

And another thing -- do we really need to hear "Sweet Child O' Mine" on satellite radio? Haven't songs like that already gotten enough exposure for one lifetime? For the record, I vote for the permanent retirement of "Sweet Child O' Mine."

So there are some annoying aspects to Sirius, no doubt about it. But the good news is that you can pretty much always find something good. It needs to be improved, but it's still a great thing, and I recommend it to anyone looking for an antidote to the constipating musical diet offered up by the diabolical cretins running (and ruining) American commercial radio.

But if Sirius doesn't get a punk station by the end of the year, I'm quitting. I'm serious!