Column 76 — More than a feeling…

Category: Blog — @ 12:07 pm May 11, 2006

Let me just add that part of the reason why there seems to be no permanence to today’s music is because the days of three or four radio stations playing the same songs (other than retro songs, of course) are over. Today’s national hit radio station is the television. TV commercials are the equivalent of yesterday’s “heavy rotation.” Why do you think the horribly cheesy “Vertigo” by U2 got to be a hit? Because you couldn’t escape their awful iPod commercials when you turned on your TV. If you play any song to anyone enough times it’ll become a “hit” no matter how bad it is…

Column 76: Everything Old is Old Again
Retro rock is more than a feeling…
Have you listened to the radio lately?

It’s changed, sort of. Actually, it hasn’t changed. And maybe that’s the problem. Or maybe it isn’t a problem at all.

Look. I was buzzing through the dial the other day, CD-less and i-Podless in my little car, trying to find something/anything to listen to. Something new. Something exciting. Something that could CHANGE MY LIFE.

Here’s what I found: On one station Joe Walsh was singing about being an ordinary, average guy. On another station, Dennis DeYoung was boasting about being a blue collar man. On yet another station, Bono was crooning about the assassination of MLK. And on a fourth, Steve Miller was flying like an eagle — by now, an arthritic eagle with a growing prostate problem.

Radio has grown up, but at the same time, it never grew old. Not in a conventional sense. I turn on the radio now and I can still hear the same songs I heard in the basement of our family’s house on Hartman Ave., down in my big brothers’ bedrooms where the only stations played on our vintage Panasonic stereo were of the FM variety — Z-92, Rock 100 and KQ98. The hot song: “More Than a Feeling” by Boston. Brad Delp warbling incomprehensible lyrics above a wall of Tom Scholz’ studio-spawned, multi-layered guitar. It was 1976 and the only thing cooler than that song was the album cover that contained it.

Thirty freakin’ years later and you can still hear “More Than a Feeling” today — right now — somewhere on the FM dial.

I’ve heard it called “retro programming.” The experts say these radio stations — these electronic museums of an arena-rock past — are laser-targeting women in their 30s and 40s, the golden geese of leisure-suited radio admen because everyone knows 30-ish women are the leaders of this disposable-income-powered America. I have been told this by people “in the know.” But I don’t believe it. The appeal of retro programming goes beyond a specific demographic.

Seems like the only Omaha station playing new rock music these days is 89.7 The River, but even then, the programming is dominated by monster-voiced power-metal goon-rock bands that couldn’t find a melody if it snuck up and bit them on their powerchord. Yes, there are a couple hip-hop stations out there, too, along with car-sick inducing C&W stations. But where can I hear the new rock songs that will define the ’00 generation?

You have to remember, the first time I heard Styx, Foreigner and The Steve Miller Band, they were brand new! Z-92 was a new music station that prided itself on playing the hottest new arena rock music. They certainly didn’t play songs that were 30 years old. Not once did Otis 12 and Diver Dan throw on a Nat King Cole or Dinah Shore platter from 1946. Yet, 30-year-old music is now a staple on the Z, along with a half-dozen other local radio stations, and kids can’t get enough of it.

Again, where are the new rock “classics” that radio, in whatever form it takes, will be playing on retro stations in 2036? What songs from today will be used in hovercar commercials the way Led Zeppelin and Bob Seger are used to hock Cadillacs and Chevy trucks now? When was the last time you heard an “important” new rock song on commercial radio, one that will still be played in rotation 30 years from now?

Come on. Think.

The fact is, as fuddy-duddy as it sounds, they just don’t write music like that anymore. And they probably never will. Your youth may be defined by the latest angst-rock song by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs or indie ballad by Death Cab for Cutie, but the memory landmark stops with you and the handful of friends you hang out with at the mall. An entire generation will not be defined by The Arcade Fire, Flaming Lips and Belle and Sebastian the way arena-rock bands like Heart, Van Halen and ZZ Top so perfectly represent teen life for an entire nation in the ’70s, the way Jimi, Joni, Janis and The Beatles did a decade before that.

Even the music that defined my college years — The Smiths, Husker Du, The Cure, Depeche Mode — as good as it was, when was the last time you heard “How Soon is Now” on the radio?

But why even mention indie music? American Idol is what this country listens to. Along with hip-hop — the new rock music. That means that this generation will be defined by Eminem, Ghostface Killah, T.I. and Kelly Clarkson. Do you really believe that? I don’t, either.

I’ve got a strange, sick feeling that 30 years from now, as we’re boarding the afternoon space shuttle, as we’re flying in our saucer cars or waiting in line to buy another week’s worth of food cubes, we’ll still be hearing “More than a Feeling” on the Z.

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