Posts Tagged ‘music’
Full marks for this iteration go to the networks of Radio U, that little radio station that saved my life in grad school and that became a lot more than that, which I still check every now and again just so that I can know Where Music Is Going.
See, musical waypoints were always very easy to find when I was young. I spent almost the entirety of the ages between childhood and 21 hearing new things; going from my parents’ taste in music (on albums, on 8-track, and on the old, old reel-to-reel) to discovering country radio to discovering pop radio to discovering all the possible different formats in between to wondering why I never heard any of the songs that Donnie Simpson played on Video Soul on the radio to discovering this little thing called “college rock” or “alternative” to going to college and being immersed in that to a pair of albums that changed how I thought not just about music, but about life.
Musical waypoints became much more difficult to find after I left college. In fact, for the first few years after I landed in Columbus and I wasn’t around many people with similar musical tastes initially, I found a little bit of static in my listening. Old friends kept up with electronically helped (hooray, rec.music.christian!) and new friends found…electronically helped (hooray, rec.music.christian!). There’s something of a gap in my library between 1993 and 1996, when on a fateful February morning, Radio U came on the air.
Radio U was exactly the radio this not-entirely-mature-but-entirely-too-earnest doctoral student needed in 1996. I loved the rock, and I did listen to CD 101 and 99.7 The Blitz as I moved, but I was still a very young Jesus-seekin’ Christian and I wasn’t getting to Cornerstone Festival after ’93 and I wanted more of that kind of music in my life. Radio U delivered it, and then some.
I’m going to spare you all the waypoints that intervened, except to say that there were more than a few earnest Christian kids in Columbus, Ohio in 1996 who, twenty years on, probably still get a bit emotional when they hear the guitars that open Stavesacre’s “At The Moment”. But I’m always grateful to that station that became this Christian-broadcasting multimedia thing that gave me confidence that Christians weren’t merely interested in making shiny happy music for the masses, but actual art.
Twenty years later, without even thinking that the radio station was twenty years old, while I was figuring out how to make a Roku box work on a TV, I installed a Radio U Roku app.
And I figured I could watch and see what was Most Wanted.
I have no clue what the first song I listened to was. It was kinda pounding and kinda Klingon and I just can’t get behind that sound no matter how much I give it a chance.
Now, the second song…well.
See, there’s a formulaic Christian song structure that I get used to, even in rock styles. That track resists every template. It resists it sonically, and it resists it lyrically. Every time I think I know what I’m about to hear, the song turns left and does something just a TINY bit different.
I enjoy that.
That sticks around for a couple of days and then I can’t get the track out of my mind and in 2016 when you can’t get a track out of your mind you take to the YouTubes.
Now, there IS a traditional music video for this song, and you should listen to it and watch it and stuff. But that lyric video is unlike anything I have ever seen. And it implants words into my head.
I wrote a short thing about Jimmy Eat World’s “I Will Steal You Back” and the fight of the last two-plus years – losing an institution, regaining status (for whatever that status means), and vocalizing what is lost. That song spoke to motivation, and to ambition – perhaps a dumb motivation, perhaps a foolhardy ambition, but the hope that I could contribute to change, and that change will be for the better.
So, of course, the very first song on this album has the refrain “Things don’t seem to change; they move in place, they stay the same.” And “People never change; they move in place, they stay the same.” You make the commitment, you take action, and then…nothing.
And then, as the first song dissolves into the second, the finger goes from pointing to other people to pointing at the self.
I was always out in front of it
Waging war against the storms when I felt overwhelmed and withheld
You and I were like a pair of thieves
Stealing from rich and giving to whoever we saw fit
Now you’re over it
I’ve been wrong a thousand different times
But I don’t know, I don’t know this time
You were there through every single lie and crime
What do you think of your son now?
The title of the song is “Birds Will Never Fly”, and the resignation behind the words is VERY heavy. And the doubt.
These are the left turns I hear in the words. Who is he singing to? God? His father on earth? The next lyric is “Wait a minute, I was here for you/Now you’re sick, you’re sick/I’m sick of it too” which frustrates me as much as ANY lyric I’ve heard in forever. I suppose it works both ways; disgust in the human relationship, projecting exasperation in the heavenly relationship. I really don’t know – except the frustration mirrors my own frustration at my own ineptitude.
Frustration isn’t good. It’s a result of not living in the world that isn’t what it can be. But frustration is good in that we have that picture of a better world, and we’re not content, and we’re motivated towards greater things.
The songs that open Move In Place put voice to frustration as beautifully as I have EVER heard from popular music.
And I feel that frustration more and more pointedly by the day. I know I have purpose here (and I have moments where I get, ahem, “clarity” regarding that purpose). But I also know intellectually how hard it is to make the world better, how to encourage people to cooperate. And even with knowing that intellectually, the emotions that surround that reality are heavy.
In the time between when I started writing this and now, I started a new job, learned a new city, moved into a new house (a full month and change after starting the job), and flailed in a new laboratory with experiments that worked sometimes (and they were experiments of my own design so it’s mostly my fault; in fact I’m finishing this while I’m trying to figure out how to salvage one of ’em). It’s felt like nothing’s gone right this fall, and often.
I have needed the first half of Move In Place. A lot. And I have a series of songs that are now waypoints to me, in same way I’ve gotten waypoints for other times in my life.
It’s reassuring, y’know? I’m nearly 45 years old. I’m in all likelihood over halfway through my life. And I can still find rock songs that speak to my season and that revitalize me.
And I need that song that laments how people never change to transition itself – into a song that speaks to a thing that remains the same.
Thanks to the men of Come Wind for the soundtrack to a new era in my life.
This is probably going to be a series I work on literally for the rest of my life, at this point. I’m averaging six months per post.
But, because it’s July 4th, a story came to mind.
My first Cornerstone Festival (RIP) was 22 years ago this year. It may not be what you think of when you think “bachelor party”, getting together with old friends and driving to a Christian rock festival, but it was mine, and I enjoyed the music more than a small bit. And I enjoyed the company more. Some of my favorite people from my just-completed undergrad (and a couple of dear friends from Franklin College) came along with me for the trip, we camped on the grounds, we saw more people with piercings and punk hair and tattoos for Jesus than we had ever seen in our lives; it was a moment in time I’ll always be grateful for.
The debate of the week had to do with John Austin’s debut record, recorded for Myrrh/Glasshouse Records – one of the new major Christian imprints of the moment that was going to be all about the artistic singer-songwriter, but artistic with INTEGRITY because after all it’s a Christian label. Austin had recorded a couple of demo tracks that my friend Dave got when he went to Cornerstone in ’91, “The Embarrassing Young” and “Island Girl” – and he couldn’t stop raving about those tracks, and he was excited for the full album. But when he got it, he was deeply disappointed because of the overproduction that went into several of the tracks, most notably “Island Girl”, which he loved.
At the end of the day, it’s hard to shake the feeling that Glasshouse was still too beholden to the Christian music apparatus of the era, which lacked any sort of creative edge whatsoever. There were creative artists on Glasshouse, but precious little of what was recorded registered – and what did register with the ears of people like me got too little love from everybody else. Glasshouse Records didn’t last nearly long enough, nor did John Austin’s major label deal.
But a bunch of kids who were bound for grad school and advanced degrees (and one who was bound to find his car battery had gone dead over the weekend) still enjoyed a show on July 4, 1993, one of the last sets of the festival. And Austin brought the goods. I know I’m a nerd who likes cheesy stuff, but lines like “Could’ve been a legend if I’d died in my prime/Could’ve been a poet if I’d known how to make the words sound alike” and “I don’t know the language, but I’ve got the accent down” have a permanent place in my brain; Austin’s witty songwriting and the tight music made me a fan.
And while I’d listened to the demo tracks Dave had and REALLY enjoyed them, when I heard the fully-produced stuff, I never really found myself missing the stripped-down quality. I’ve kept the album – and those songs – front and center in my CD rack, and then on my mp3 player, and then in iTunes, for a couple of decades now. Austin never has gotten the attention he merits, and it’s a shame.
“It’s the Fourth of July”, John Austin said towards the end of that set in Bushnell, Illinois 22 years ago. “Here’s our national anthem.”
Forever not knowing the language; forever having the accent down. Thanks for the tunes, John.
(I started writing this in June. Lawd, what a summer. This may yet turn into a series; in case you missed it, here is part 1.)
I would like to start this second installment by apologizing to the continent of Australia. For many, many of you, the title of this post does not apply to you.
But it does apply to the overwhelming majority of people in the United States, and it certainly applied to me as I began my college radio career.
I honestly don’t know what I expected when I heard that Rose-Hulman had a college radio station. I know that I had discovered “alternative music” (you know, R.E.M., the B-52’s, 10,000 Maniacs, Midnight Oil, and all those other important bands that MTV played…I was even really hip and had the Smithereens’ cassette tape) and there was a radio station at Baldwin-Wallace College, across the street from my grandparents’ house, that played some REALLY exotic sounds, like the Sugarcubes (from Iceland! how exotic! who had this lead singer named Björk! how exotic!) and Siouxsie and the Banshees (see? not Susie, but Siouxsie! see, I’m hip!). I was absolutely certain, I guess, that I would find even more exotic stuff, and the music I would listen to would be SO elite and would blow SO many minds and I would just be the coolest person on the planet.
I was kind of bummed when, on my arrival, that old WMHD program director tried to impress on me the importance of the blues and of this other old guy named Elvis Costello. Old folks. I wasn’t up for the old folks. I was up for the new and the cool.
But as I went through my DJ training, one thing that the station manager  impressed upon all of us new DJ’s, and the thing that was so much of the ethos of college radio in the 80’s and 90’s, was always listening and playing something new. People wouldn’t tune in to WMHD to listen to “Pinball Wizard” or “Love In An Elevator” (or even “Blister In The Sun” or “What I Am”) for the hundred thousandth time. They would listen expecting something they didn’t hear every day, and what you should do is look for the best of the stuff that other radio wouldn’t play.
It was in that season of my life that I flipped through the old College Music Journal and read a writeup on a new album by a band I’d never heard of with a name I thought was cool – Hunters and Collectors. And I had just noted the album Ghost Nation in the new music stacks.
Let’s give this a spin, shall we?
Here is track 1.
It wasn’t terribly exotic. There was a bit there that satisfied the nascent Midnight Oil fan in me, which made sense because Australia. But it was, at its core, a unique take on straight-ahead rock and roll.
I liked it. I liked it a lot.
It wasn’t something ABSOFREAKINLUTELY INCREDIBLE THAT EVERYBODY MUST BUY NOW, or anything like that, mind. This isn’t a story of a song that radically changed my life. It is a story of a song that gently, but consistently, nudged how I approached music.
I quit seeking the newest, freshest, most exotic sounds. I wouldn’t run away from them if they turned up, mind. But what I wanted was the best songs. Even in 1989, there were so many different artists doing things that didn’t get major radio play or any serious notoriety. We were there, in part, to be the champions for the best of those.
Of course, I soon found out that Hunters and Collectors had a great deal of notoriety halfway around the world. I discovered their back catalog (and much of the best of it is on Soundcloud – if I wanted to talk to you about songs that will change your life, I would totally be talking to you about “Holy Grail” right now), and discovered just how big of a deal they were.
And that’s a whole NEW layer on how the young mind develops – that your experience of the world is not everybody’s experience of the world, and music that is completely new to you is famous somewhere else, and what is old, dry and boring to you is revelatory to someone else.
This is obvious stuff, but these are the lessons that 18-year-old minds need to learn.
I’ve had an idea brewing for ages and ages now, and for reasons I’ll get into shortly, if I’ve ever going to unleash that idea on the public now.
Humans who have known me for any length of time know that I’m a music nerd. I tend to know it if it’s been released recently. I know it well if it was released ten years ago, even more if it was released twenty, and if it was released sometime between the late 70’s and the early 90’s it’s been seared onto my consciousness. And it’s not just top-40 that I know, either. I grew up on modern country, so much so that what I consider modern country most folks throw into the “classic” bin. Because of both my presence in church culture in my childhood and my collegiate (re-)discovery of Christianity, I’m far more familiar than most with Contemporary Christian music, of all kinds. Because I spent most of my undergraduate years playing around with college radio, I knew what alternative music was before alternative became mainstream. I have over 10,000 songs on my iTunes playlist, from million-sellers to hundred-sellers. Literally.
I feel like a lot of these tracks should be a lot better known than they are. And what’s more, my brain-dead habit – linking to tracks of songs on YouTube, because music video has always been YouTube’s killer app (even if that video just becomes the album cover just sitting there static) – isn’t possible with a lot of these songs, because they’re buried enough underneath the weight of all the other good (and not-so-good, and overhyped) music out there that nobody thinks that somebody might want to hear that song. Or simply because, for one reason or another, nobody has thought to migrate to that part of the country and listen to what that artist has to say.
Hence, Famous Songs You’ve Never Heard. Because I am not literary or original, I’ve stolen the title. (One of the chapters of Lewis Grizzard’s collections of columns Kathy Sue Loudermilk, I Love You was called “Famous People You’ve Never Heard Of.” It was put together in the same vein – human interest columns about people who should have been important, for one reason or another.)
I’m going to put some effort in making this a series and drawing some songs from both my youth and my recent history out, and making this as much of a variety of music as I possibly can.
But I have an academic history. And so I’m going to draw from that first.
I’m pretty sure it was Fall 2008 when Katrina Barclay wound up in my physics classroom at Shorter. She was a transfer from Northeast Alabama Community College, a common pre-med chemistry major with an uncommon kindness and grace. Over two years, she came through both physics and physical chemistry, and she was a really solid student, and an even better classmate – somebody who you always wanted in your lab group, who would always show good cheer and better work. And at the same time, I always had a sense her passion was elsewhere.
I had heard that Katrina could strum a guitar pretty good, and did a pretty good job of leading worship when she was called upon (and she and I figured out very early on that we were equal parts music nerd and had a LOT of good notes to trade with one another). It didn’t really sink in, however, until sometime during her senior year when she sat down in my office and decided I was a person worth opening up to. She had an EP’s worth of songs together, she said. She was going to continue to be serious about performing – she wasn’t going to slack on study, by any stretch, but she was very serious about performing and making something work in music. There were certain things she knew. She had something to say, and she had the voice to say it.
And here is what I will tell you for certain:
If there is something to be said, Katrina has the voice to say it.
Three years or so on, here’s a transcript of Katrina and I chatting about making career moves (and me misspelling “no end” right off the bat):
I wish I was talking to you about careers in chemistry this creatively, because you are dang smart and I wish I had you employable in the major. Please know that I am annoyed to know end about this.
But if you have the pipes to make music work, you should take advantage.
(And holy cow I have played the crap out of “Time Machine”. That song. That VOICE. Dear heart.)
I literally just vocalized to mom what you typed about “Time Machine”. It seems you’re the only one who cares much about it.The song is literally the sound of my heart breaking.
Austen only made me sing it twice and he was like, “I’m not making you do it again.”
I kind of get it. It’s a bit more of my technical side, I suppose. I mean, you put all the emotion into the song into it, and I get that. But you also paced it BRILLIANTLY; the timing of every note you sing, and how long you hold them – you TIMED the song to best communicate your emotions. And then you TAGGED EVERY LAST NOTE at the emotional climax. Not oversung, not undersung. IMMACULATE.Recorded, I don’t think you’ve ever *sung* better than that one.
And with that much emotion, if it was me, I’d be oversinging the crap out of that.
All I can say to you is thank you and I needed to hear that about it.
I thought I’d said stuff like that before. But yes. “Time Machine” connected, and connected immediately, and connected like whoa.
I think the timing of your review is what made it so special. I almost threw in the “Time Machine” towel because it has been getting not even poor response but ZERO response. Maybe it has just been shocking people a bit. I mean, I was overwhelmed by it when I wrote it, in the studio, and listening to the finished product.
Well, like I said, having hung out with a vocal performance/musical theatre kid, I’ve been much more in tune with the technical performance stuff than the pure pop song impact. I don’t know how Time Machine relates to everybody else. I can’t QUITE say I can’t get enough of hearing it, because it it an incredibly emotional song. But I can say I play it a lot.
Look, there are a ton of stories that can be told about music from all sorts of different spaces that hasn’t had enough attention paid to it, the songs that the artist felt most deeply that never got an ounce of attention while the throwaway afterthought becomes The Great American Pop Song. So here’s one example. And, in particular, an example that is as breathtakingly sung as anything I’ve ever heard by somebody I actually know in real life.
Give it a couple of listens. You will not be sorry.
Now, if I was going to start this project anything remotely soon, I had to start it now, and I had to start it with Katrina. Here’s why.
Katrina is overdue to record a full album – her first since “In Your Shoes” in 2010. She has the songs ready, and she’s pursuing the funding to make the work happen. (I have heard a couple of these songs. I am being entirely selfish here. I desperately, desperately want to hear them recorded professionally.) There is an IndieGoGo fundraising page for this purpose. She’s not quite halfway to her (relatively modest, IMO) goal, and there’s a week left in the campaign.
I’ve tossed a few pennies into the project. I really wish you’d do the same. I believe in what Katrina’s doing, and I think given a listen, you’ll believe in what she’s doing as well.
I think there’s a ton of music that’s worth unearthing out there. Each of us have local independent artists in our universe who deserve far, far greater exposure, and deserve to get some of our disposable income as well. May we all do better in giving artists the capacity to do art, and to get paid for it.
And in the meantime, Katrina, please keep singing. That VOICE, dear heart. That. Voice.
I completed a full year of Songs for Sunday Morning back in March, and I think I only missed one Sunday early on in the process. If you want to check up on me, you can see that archive of links for yourself.
I’ve kept up the discipline without updating the link archive, so I’ll actually transition this to a new page. The rules remain the same: the target is a reflective song appropriate for the day, regardless of whether it’s modern music, old-school CCM or Jesus Music, or a pop song that I’ve coopted for spiritual purposes. The post will be made on Facebook and Twitter every Sunday morning, with the #forSundaymorning hashtag (so you can search for ’em too!), and links to the songs will be stored here.
I expect you’ll find in this list hints of my year of transition in what I’ve selected, too.
November 16, 2014: Big Head Todd and the Monsters – “Resignation Superman”
November 9, 2014: Randy Stonehill – “Keep Me Runnin'”
November 2, 2014: Anberlin – “Breathe”
October 26, 2014: Phil Wickham – “This Is Amazing Grace”
October 19, 2014: Stavesacre – “At The Moment”
October 12, 2014: Andrew Osenga – “No Heart Beats Alone”
October 5, 2014: Charlie Peacock – “How The Work Gets Done”
September 28, 2014: Rich Mullins – “While The Nations Rage”
September 21, 2014: The Choir – “Mercy Will Prevail”
September 14, 2014: Josh Garrels – “The Resistance”
September 7, 2014: Rosanne Cash – “What We Really Want”
August 31, 2014: Hillsong UNITED – “From The Inside Out”
August 24, 2014: Idle Cure – “So Many Faces”
August 17, 2014: Propaganda – “Excellent”
August 10, 2014: The Hooters – “All You Zombies”
August 3, 2014: Rick Elias – “Stripped”
July 27, 2014: (total collapse, deliberate disappearance and hiding, forgot to seed the buffer)
July 20, 2014: Michael Card – “Who Can Abide?”
July 13, 2014: Mr. Mister – “Healing Waters”
July 6, 2014: Rich Mullins – “Land of My Sojourn”
June 29, 2014: Christy Nockels – “Into The Glorious”
June 22, 2014: Daniel Amos – “If You Want To”
June 15, 2014: Christy Nockels – “Sing Along”
June 8, 2014: Rich Mullins – “Brother’s Keeper”
June 1, 2014: Five Iron Frenzy – “Every New Day”
May 25, 2014: Ralph Stanley featuring Judy and David Marshall – “When I Wake Up To Sleep No More”
May 18, 2014: Steven Curtis Chapman – “The Great Adventure”
May 11, 2014: Sixpence None The Richer – “Sister, Mother”
May 4, 2014: John Farnham – “You’re The Voice”
April 27, 2014: Vigilantes of Love – “Resplendent”
April 20, 2014: Matthew Ward – “Easter Song”
April 18, 2014 (Good Friday): Marty McCall – “Why Have You Forsaken Me?”
April 13, 2014: The Choir – “Merciful Eyes”
April 6, 2014: Andrew Osenga – “Until You Provide”
Others’ songs, with link to relevant tweet:
As I have gotten the Buffer set up for my social media, one of the things that I’ve started trying to make a habit is a song post every Sunday morning that is reflective. It might be a modern worship song, it might be an old Jesus-music piece, or it might come out of God-haunted left field. But it’s something I’m going to try to make work.
Social media is lousy at archiving, though, so I will try to keep an archive around here.
March 30, 2014: Jesus Culture – “You Won’t Relent”
March 23, 2014: The Echoing Green – “The Story Of Our Lives”
March 16, 2014: Kate Campbell – “10,000 Lures”
March 9, 2014: Michael Card – “Know You In The Know”/”Could It Be”
March 2, 2014: The Prayer Chain – “Some Love”
February 23, 2014: Jars of Clay – “Worlds Apart”
February 16, 2014: Mark Heard – “Satellite Sky”
February 9, 2014: Charlie Hall – “King of Heaven (Isaiah 61)”
February 2, 2014: The Violet Burning – “Rise Like the Lion”
January 26, 2014: All Sons and Daughters – “Wake Up”
January 19, 2014: The Classic Crime – “Salt In The Snow”
January 12, 2014: Rich Mullins – “Peace (A Communion Blessing from St. Joseph’s Square)”
January 5, 2014: Somethin’ Else – “We Three Kings”
December 29, 2013: Lincoln Brewster – “Everlasting God”
December 22, 2013: Florence Baptist Temple Little Gospel Quartet – “Christmas Carols”
December 15, 2013: Rich Mullins – comments on Christianity
December 8, 2013: U2 – “Magnificent”
December 1, 2013: Hillsong Chapel – “Hosanna”
November 24, 2013: Lacey Sturm – “Mercy Tree”
November 17, 2013: Hillsong United – “Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)”
November 10, 2013: Charlie Peacock – “Psalm 51”
November 3, 2013: The Violet Burning – “There Is Nowhere Else”
October 27, 2013: Whiteheart – “Unchain”
October 20, 2013: Christy Nockels – “Healing Is In Your Hands”
October 13, 2013: Michael Card – “Come To The Table”
October 6, 2013: Stavesacre – “Keep Waiting”
September 29, 2013: Michael W. Smith – “Restless Heart”
September 22, 2013: Mark Heard – “Tip Of My Tongue”
September 15, 2013: Rich Mullins – “Hold Me Jesus”
September 8, 2013: Phil Keaggy/Glass Harp – “Do Lord”
September 1, 2013: Kim Walker-Smith/Jesus Culture – “Rooftops”
August 25, 2013: Richard Page – “Kyrie”
August 18, 2013: Katrina Barclay – “New” (no link currently live)
August 11, 2013: Hillsong – “With Everything”
August 4, 2013: Randy Stonehill – “Your Love Broke Through”
July 28, 2013: Jon Foreman – “Equally Skilled”
July 21, 2013: Sixpence None The Richer – “Melody of You”
July 14, 2013: Vineyard Music – “Dwell”
July 7, 2013: Kim Walker-Smith/Jesus Culture – “Walk With Me”
June 30, 2013: Resurrection Band – “Every Time It Rains”
June 23, 2013: Rich Mullins – “Save Me”
June 16, 2013: Extreme – “Our Father”
May 26, 2013: Julie Miller, David Mullen, and Gene Eugene – “Forgive Us”
May 19, 2013: Michael W. Smith and Amy Grant – “Lead Me On”
May 12, 2013: All Sons and Daughters – “Brokenness Aside”
May 5, 2013: Chris Tomlin – “God Of This City”
April 28, 2013: Christy Nockels – “Waiting Here For You”
April 21, 2013: Rich Mullins – “I See You / Step By Step”
April 7, 2013: Chris Quilala/Jesus Culture – “Your Love Never Fails”
March 31, 2013: Rich Mullins – “52:10”
March 29, 2013 (Good Friday): Marty McCall – “Why Have You Forsaken Me?”
This was originally published on February 12, 2009 on Blogcritics.org; Eric Olsen (who founded the site) let me back into the “sinister cabal” so I could make sure the piece found the wider readership that LAUNCHcast merited.
Of course, the official version was edited likewhoa, and didn’t have all the normal tics of my writing – so I posted this “de-edited” version on the Moveable Type chuck-pearson.org blog on that February 15.
I’m sitting at my computer. It’s about 11:00 in the morning.
I’m listening to my streaming LAUNCHcast when I hear a familiar tune. It’s the tune to “Dig” by the stalwart of early ’90s alternative Christian music, Adam Again. However, it’s not the dark acoustic and reverb and nasal voice of Gene Eugene – it’s lighter acoustics and Dan Haseltine’s gentler voice leading the harmonies of Jars of Clay.
I suddenly stare at my computer with a start – I didn’t know they covered that!
And I have something to look up later.
Just as I did when I heard a Jimmy Eat World song I hadn’t heard before last week – “Dizzy”, from the Chase ThisLight album – and was so affected by the song that I just went out that night and – shock, horror – paid money at the record store for the album.
Just as I did nearly ten years ago when the song was a set of snare drums ahead of some thin electric guitars that heralded the start of Sarge’s “Charms and Feigns”, and I simply had to know who that woman singing that song WAS.
LAUNCHcast has been a wonderful old friend. And it’s going away. By the time you read this, it may already be gone.
The guys who started up LAUNCH Media in Santa Monica in 1999 had quite a few good ideas. Iremember hitting up their website several times in the formative days, watching music videos and reading music news. God knows how many people they sucked in – or nearly repelled away – with ads featuring a new video by a new starlet, Britney Spears (those were the days), but there were plenty of music-based content to keep your eyes trained.
And then there was LAUNCHcast.
Start rating your favorite artists, your favorite songs, your favorite genres. The scale goes from 0 to 100. Your station is then compared to other stations, especially those who rated similar songs high, and there would be an electronic hunt for songs that you might like. “Music that listens to you” is the promise.
Even if it had been a false promise, I might have still been hooked at the mere concept. It wasn’t a false promise. The station began to figure out my favorite styles of music immediately, and select new stuff that I had never heard of and immediately loved. The programming of the widget was simply AMAZING. (I think we frequently overlook the kind of talent it requires to code an app like LAUNCHcast, and to make it work broadly for so many people. So many people whose names we’ll never know deserve a rich, deep round of applause for this one. For my part: Todd Beaupre, Jeff Boulter, and every coder around you two who hacked the thing together, SAAA-LUTE.)
It’s hard to continue the story too far beyond this point without mentioning the raging battle between LAUNCH and the recording industry. Lawsuits began to crop up, using phrases like “unlicensed use of music” and “unapproved level of interactivity.” I simply can’t understand the threat behind allowing listeners of music to choose the music they listen to when they listen to a radio station, and the volumes written about the RIAA’s control-freak nature are simply too overwhelming for me to add anything of value to them. This isn’t for them, anyway; too many people see the commodity and miss the riff, the groove, the killer lyric, the joy of listening to music.
The small community that grew up around LAUNCH – and I especially remember Todd Beaupre’s simple username, “hitsman”, and the wonderful adult alternative station he assembled that was a pretty essential “influencer” station – had no part of this. There were just a ton of really cool people who had wonderful and interesting tastes in music. As a late 20-something who was in a music-listening rut, so many of those stations were absolute revelations. I discovered Sunny Day Real Estate on LAUNCHcast. The Frames and Glen Hansard. The Promise Ring. Lincoln. American Football. Coheed & Cambria. I rediscovered many of my loves from college radio – Animal Logic, Poole, Kirsty MacColl, Hüsker Dü, and Roseanne Cash’s amazing Interiors album.
Of course, when LAUNCH Media got bought out by Yahoo! in 2001, the small community was no longer small, and the attention paid wasn’t small either. The paid subscriptions to listen to the station without ads and with an unlimited ability to skip songs you didn’t want to hear was necessary – and, honestly, a small price to pay. And if I have one regret about my time on LAUNCH, it was holding out on the subscriptions as long as I did. It probably wouldn’t have made a difference in the long haul, but cheapskates like me need to be less cheap-skatey in this economy – nothing proves a concept like the money it can make, and LAUNCHcast never really made enough.
I think a large part of the problem here can be summarized in who I am, who the majority of the American music-consuming public is, and why LAUNCHcast was so suited for me and not for them.
I’m a music geek.
The example at the front of this piece (unless you are one of my brothers who cut his fandom teeth on early ’90s alternative Christian music – and if you are, I want to talk to you, desperately) very likely means nothing to you. You listen to music because it can form the background of your workday or your drive home. There may be a few specific artists who you really enjoy deeply, who you’re a fan of, but you don’t listen to individual songs that intently. That’s not a value judgement. That don’t make me a better fan than you. Most people are content, if they like one Promise Ring song, with listening to any Promise Ring song, and vice-versa. They don’t concern themselves with the subtle differences that make me adore Kelly Clarkson’s “Low”, not really care about “Irvine”, melt over “Sober”, get tired of “Since U Been Gone”, swoon over “Behind These Hazel Eyes”, and just say “eh” over “My Life Would Suck Without You”. A monolithic Kelly fan, I am not.
So when Yahoo! Music gets swallowed up by CBS Radio, and it’s advertised as an exciting time for music fans because a host of pre-programmed stations are going to become available and the streaming quality will improve and you’ll be able to listen to everything on Firefox, I can see where a garden variety music fan would buy in.
But I’m going to hate all those stations. They’ll play a song that I love, and then they’ll play a song that I hate, and this won’t change. There was one thing, and only one thing on LAUNCHcast that was worth the price of admission for me, and that’s precisely the thing that’s going away – a programmable player on which I could rate stuff on a sliding scale and control not only which songs turned up, but HOW OFTEN they turned up.
A radio station, that you could program to play the songs you like.
I know, I keep coming back to it. It’s still revolutionary in 2009. In 1999, it completely fractured my brain.
Pandora is nice, as far as it goes, but it won’t fill the need for me. The algorithm isn’t as good. I DON’T just either like a song or hate it – thumbs up or thumbs down is no good. I have shades of gray. I will listen to “Cowboys” by Counting Crows (another song I heard for the first time on LAUNCHcast, and completely fell for) any time it comes up. I’ll listen to Big Head Todd and the Monsters’ “Broken-Hearted Savior”, but I don’t want to hear it every day. I can take a Wilco song once every other month at most. And so on.
And I have an mp3 player, but I know all those songs already. I’d like to discover new music, too.
Of course, there’s the great irony. Because of LAUNCHcast, I now have CD’s by Sunny Day Real Estate and The Promise Ring and Coheed & Cambria and The Reputation (because I finally found out who that woman fronting Sarge was, and because LAUNCH helped me find Elizabeth Elmore’s other band, too) and so many of the rest – to say nothing of that Jimmy Eat World album. See, because of LAUNCHcast, I did something unheard of in the year 2009.
I actually bought CD’s. More CD’s. Real, physical CD’s.
You can tell me I don’t get the new media revolution all you want. I don’t care. I found my own way through it. I’m not a revolutionary by any stretch. I’m just a guy who likes music and wants to support the good stuff.
And I’m losing one of my best tools, a tool so familiar that I call it a wonderful old friend. It’s just really, really sad.
I just heard one more new song that impressed me – a band called World Wide Spies, a song called “Philosophy.” I rated it 90. There’s no chance I’ll see it come back around on this station before it dies, so the rating was in vain, but it was completely automatic, just like it has been for so much of the past ten years.
I suppose I can always visit their MySpace page.