For a few glorious years in the mid 90’s, the music I liked was considered popular music. I had no trouble finding out about new bands because they were actually being played on the radio. It was a golden age, but as Ponyboy once said, “Nothing Gold Can Stay”. (Man, those Greasers sure knew their Frost poems).
Slowly things began to change. I didn’t notice at first but there were warning signs. Eventually in the late ’90s and early 2000s radio stations were only playing carbon copied pop stars and awful post grunge rock bands. So I turned off the radio and wandered aimlessly through a period I called “The New Music Wasteland”. Good new music was so hard to find that I just gave up.
I spent my time rediscovering music that I already loved or did my homework on bands that I had always wanted to listen to. This would usually send me into 3-4 month obsessive periods where I would listen only to one artist or band. That meant all works by the band, including all side projects and solo recordings. It was a grueling effort and people within earshot of me tended to get a bit irritated. (By month 2 of my obsession with The Clash, my wife answered their question of ”Should I Stay or Should I Go?” with a resounding “Get the hell out and take Big Audio Dynamite I and II with you”.)
Of course, this cycle can only go on for so long. I was deep into a Pixies overdose and about to cook up a gigantic Frank Black speedball when I looked at myself in the mirror and thought, “There’s got to be a better way!” So I went cold turkey. There just had to be some decent new music out there and I would have to force myself to find it.
After a few days of Pixies detox, I went to my upstairs office PC. We’d had the computer for a year or more but it had mostly been used for email and checking porn scores…I mean sports porn…I mean…well, you know what I mean. So I sat down at the computer and brought up Windows Media Player. It instantly brought up the last thing I had listened to which just happened to be a Pixies/Frank Black/Breeders playlist. Not wanting to fall back into old habits I quickly deleted the playlist. Easy, Todd! One step at time.
Next I tried to find some completely innocuous music to play. Something entertaining but something that wouldn’t send me into another 3 month tailspin of research and investigation. That’s when I saw the Media Guide tab on the Windows player. I’d never noticed the tab before so I clicked on it. One of the options in the media guide was “Internet Radio”. Interesting. Radio on the Internet? How futuristic. There was a list of stations with any genre of music you could think of from Adult Contemporary to Urban/R&B and stuck in the middle was Indie Rock.
I clicked on one of the channels and was blown away. The artist and song title were listed on the screen. You didn’t have sit around and wait for a DJ to come on and recap the playlist. The first song I heard was by a band unknown to me at the time The Shins. The song was “Girl on the Wing”.
Needless to say I was hooked in right there. I spent the next few hours bouncing between radio stations and Napster (FYI, I only used Napster to preview music. I totally went out and bought the material later. Seriously, I’m not lying. What? OK, fine. SOMETIMES I just downloaded the music for free and didn’t go out and buy it. Sue me. Oh shit! No. Please don’t sue me)
I found plenty of other great songs like The Flaming Lips “Race for the Prize”. I was aware of The Flaming Lips mainly from their odd little song “She Don’t Use Jelly” from the early 90’s. Check out their bizarre appearance on 90210. They sing “She Don’t Use Jelly” at the world famous Beverly Hills hot spot The Peach Pit After Dark. Make sure you hang in until the 50 second mark so you can see Steve Sanders awkwardly rocking out. Cracks me up every time.
The Lips completely changed their musical direction with the album The Soft Bulletin featuring “Race for the Prize” and I loved it.
The album I ran across that got the most air time afterwards was probably Ben Folds’ 1st solo album Rockin’ the Suburbs. Like the Flaming Lips I was familiar with his previous work. The Ben Folds 5 (The name gets extra cool points since there was only 3 of them) had a few records out in the 90’s but I was never a big fan. I kind of got burned out on their song “Brick”. The new solo record was different. It was one of those rare albums that I could just play the whole way through and never have to skip over any sucky songs. Rockin’ the Suburbs didn’t have a single stinker on it.
I liked it so much that I dragged my wife with me to Kansas City where we stood outside in the rain for hours to watch him perform. We came home with walking pneumonia and a sweet Rockin’ the Suburbs concert T-Shirt.
So I must give thanks to Bill Gates and technology in general for giving me new hope and showing me the path to escape “The New Music Wasteland”. Since then I’ve discovered many other new music sources and haven’t had any major Pixies or Clash related music relapses. That’s right. Clash free. I just got my 10 year chip. One day at a time.