Surviving the New Music Wasteland 3: A New Hope

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.

Surviving the New Music Wasteland

In the 90’s if you lived in the center of the country like me, it wasn’t always easy to find cool new music. Basically, I would go to the record store and hope to stumble across something good. Sometimes, when I could tune the station in, I could catch a radio show that was on from 10PM to 2AM on Sunday nights. It was called Off the Beaten Path and was hosted by chick DJ extraordinaire Mary of the Heartland. (I heard Smashing pumpkins Gish for the 1st time on her show. Thank you Mary) So, I was stuck in a sort of “New Music Black Out”.

That was until, for a glorious 3-4 year period in the mid 90’s, the music that I listened to stood up front and center. So called “Alterative Music” became so popular that there were actually radio stations playing alt music exclusively. This was a great time for me because I didn’t even have to try to find new music. It was thrust upon me. Back then it was normal to hear The Cure, Beck, The Jesus and Mary Chain and Jeff Buckley in the same block of music. That’s right! On the radio! Like my youth and my beautiful head of hair, I thought this era in music would go on forever. But as they say, “all good things come to an end”. And boy were “they” right. I should have seen it coming. There were signs that the end was near. I just chose to ignore them.

Sign #1. I’m King of the World! I was listening to a great alt station in Ames, Iowa. They had just wrapped up playing a Foo Fighters song and immediately ran into that iceberg of a song from Titanic.  My heart briefly stopped as “My Heart Will Go On” played over the stereo. Right there I should have grabbed onto anything that would float because this alt rock ship was sinking fast.

Sign #2. Lilith Fair and The Bare Naked Ladies. I was living in the Twin Cities area and found a great alt radio station. After enjoying a Ben Folds 5 song they announced that they have a new “house band”, The Bare Naked Ladies. They then announced that they were helping to sponsor a little estrogen fueled music fest called Lilith Fair. From then on you couldn’t go 20 minutes without hearing “Chickity China, a Chinese Chicken” or that song from Dawson’s Creek.  Yet, I still couldn’t bring myself to turn off the radio. I was still clinging on. Hoping things could go back. That is until…

Sign #3. Mandatory Metallica. When I moved back to Iowa the local alt channel had a gimmick called “Mandatory Metallica”. They had to play at least one song by Metallica once an hour. (Why? My theory was Lars had the DJs strung up by their balls above a pool of sharks. If they didn’t play a Metallica song once an hour they were slowly lowered into it)  I never really disliked Metallica but this mandate was a bit much. Try sitting through the “Mandatory Metallica” and “2 for 2sday” combo then see where your sanity lies. So this is where I flipped the radio off.

For a few years I wondered aimlessly through the aftermath of what I called “The New Music Wasteland”. Eventually technology rescued me with the invention of satellite and internet radio. But in the meantime I had to find alternate methods to satisfy my musical appetite. So, I did what everyone does in times of trouble… look back at a better time.  Here are a few examples of some artists I rediscovered during this time. Maybe this could serve as a guide if you ever find yourself stuck in your own “New Music Wasteland”.


Most of my friends are aware that for quite a long time my Prince listening habits bordered on compulsive. Not just Prince’s solo music either. All things Prince and Prince related. The Time, The Family, NPG, Martika, The Modernaires were all on heavy rotation. I always thought it was weird when guys would say “Prince? That dude’s gay”. He was linked to a different hot girl every week, his best songs were very sexual in nature, and his lyrics are clearly written from a hetero point of view. I recently ran across this picture.

Now I get the confusion. The outfit is so distractingly androgynous that you don’t even notice the scantily clad Kat and Sheila E standing beside him. So if you can get past the strange fashion do your musical homework on Prince. Anything from 1978-1995. Doesn’t matter, it’s all A plus material and there’s a lot of it. The Purple One released an album every fortnight back then. 1996-Present, don’t bother, pretty much crap.

Al Green

As soulful as it gets. This guy gets a lot of air time at my house in the fall and winter months. It is perfect for that time of year when it is either too cold or too wet to leave the house. Throw this album on when you want to stay in and hunker down with your significant other. Pssst… by hunker down I meant make “The Sex”.

The Beatles

Every music fan has gotten into the Beatles at some point along the way. I spent a lot of time in the “New Music Wasteland” re-listening to The Beatles catalog. My favorite Beatles song happens to be “Don’t Let Me Down” and it is on this record 1967-1970.

The reason I am showing it to you now is that I recently lost a wager involving that song. I bet a certain other pop culture blogger (Chris) who shall remain (Chris) nameless (A-hole) that “Don’t Let Me Down” was on the album Let It Be. The other nameless blogger claimed that it was never released on a major record but was instead the B side of “Get Back”. Now, I have heard that song a million times and was very confident in my knowledge that it was on one of my albums at home. So I brazenly offered up a recently purchased ticket to an M83 concert if I was wrong. Needless to say, bloggy blog man is getting a free ticket to M83. I had heard the song a million times but not on Let It Be. It was on this stupid fucking greatest hits record. Is there a moral here?

Know your Beatles Trivia?   No, that’s not it.

Always be 100% sure before you bet?   No, that’s not it.

F.U. Chris?   Yep, that’s it.