Radio sucks here, the way it does everywhere else. We had less than a year of Nirvana after moving here; our public radio station spun those adult-album-alternative platters during the day, broke for NPR news at 4 p.m., went to jazz in the evenings and played various amusing niche shows on the weekends.
That’s no longer the case, alas.
But what of commercial radio, you ask? The usual — right-wing talk, hip-hop, soccer-mom lite rok (it’s not hard enough to deserve a C), bleah. All my life I’ve wanted a car radio with enough presets to accommodate my many moods of musical preferences, and I finally got one in 2003, just in time for there to be no radio stations worth listening to. I think I have four buttons programmed in FM, three in AM, and I mostly listen to NPR, CDs or my own thoughts.
But. There’s one bright spot — WGPR, which at 10 a.m. on Saturday kicks off Old-School Saturday, a full day of you-know-what. I’m usually running errands on Saturday, after which I jump onto iTunes and download all the great tracks I heard that day and thought were lost in the mists of time.
I’m talking, ohhh, Tyrone Davis, “If I Could Turn Back the Hands of Time.” Bloodstone, “Natural High.” L.T.D., “(Every Time I Turn Around) Back in Love Again,” which has this great bass hook that sounds sort of like a funky fart. This week I grabbed Lakeside’s “Fantastic Voyage,” later dismantled and reassembled by Coolio.
Googling around, I see Lakeside was yet another funk band out of Dayton, Ohio. Yes, Dayton. You thought of it as the home of National Cash Register, but it also gave the world the Ohio Players and Heatwave, among others. There’s a pop-culture master’s thesis in regional pop music, I think, and not just the obvious candidates — cajun/zydeco, mariachi. I’m thinking of, oh, Carolina beach music, exemplifed by the Chairmen of the Board. (Note their birthplace: Detroit. Heh.) Also, go-go, known to all in Washington D.C. and not so much elsewhere. Guess what the kick-off track was last week on Old-School Saturday? E.U.’s “Da Butt,” the one and only go-go song I could name.
(In its everlasting quest to be the world’s most authentic urban-procedural TV show, there was a go-go reference in an episode of “The Wire” a couple seasons back. A D.C. gangster tells Stringer Bell he ought to come up to Drama City sometime. Stringer: “I hate that go-go shit.” Gangster: “That’s cuz you never heard it live. I know a club in Oxon Hill? That’ll wreck y’all.” Let me see the hands of all who knew what they were talking about. Yes, I thought so.)
Anyway, what drove regional sounds, regional records? The same forces that keep the regional potato-chip business afloat in the age of Lay’s and Ruffles — freshness, tradition, salt and grease. We saw “Walk the Line” the other night, and I was struck by the lost relic of the Sun Records storefront, where Sam Phillips tells a young Johnny Cash that it costs $4 to cut a record, and he can call the secretary for an appointment. Motown started life as a regional studio, and while it was surely an unstoppable force, it probably didn’t hurt that it was in the same metro area as CKLW, which broke dozens of records with its Bigfoot signal.
It’s at this point that I usually pause, read back what I’ve just read and ask, “What the hell am I talking about, anyway?” The question seems particularly acute at the moment. I think I’m trying to talk myself into getting XM radio. Is it worth the money? Because I’m thinking I need to cut costs, but jeez, radio stinks like week-old fish.
I am streaming an internet go-go channel as I write, however. I bet this stuff is good, live.
Charles Madigan wants to know if journalism was really so good back in the day, so he holds a seance. An amusing column that should have ended one paragraph before it did.
The Freep offers a classic of the insecure-city genre, the look-look-at-all-the-stars-who-love-our-local-sports-team story. Among the stars who root for the Tigers: a “Dateline” correspondent, a senator from freakin’ Delaware and my personal favorite, Kevin Saunderson. Who is?
“One of the founding fathers of Detroit techno music.” Ohhh-kay.
And since I’ve just achieved the miracle of semi-closing this half-assed circle, I think I’d better duck out now. A swell day to all.