I remember how I listened to music in my youth.
No, I didn’t exactly seek out the alternative – I had no real idea of an alternative before late 1984. I did, however, react in various ways to what was considered popular radio in the late seventies.
First off, I made a point of not exactly giving myself over to the zeitgeist of what was considered popular “teen-ager” music in the late seventies. I was never much of a fan of “Rock Music” back in the days of Pink Floyd, Styx, Foreigner and Kiss. I liked the more angular stuff that was allowed on the radio, but that was about as far as it seemed to go.
I also remember I would come up with “smart-aleck” (try smart-ass by lame folks) comebacks to stupid lyrics. I don’t remember many of them, but they were there.
I also shifted what I liked. Instead of liking the “teen-ager” stuff, I actually hunted down the Adult Contemporary station in Flint (where I lived). And when that wasn’t enough, I hunted down 99.1 FM (WFMK, from Okemos) and listened to that for a while.
Then I discovered Flat Black and Circular, discovered Zimmerkampf, and by the summer of 1985 life for me was never the same. Radio no longer had anything to drag me to it – other than Classic Rock, which was readily eclipsed when WDBM finally made it on the air.
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And if things had stayed the same, I wouldn’t be writing this.
Of course, things pretty much stayed the same for years after that. I mined Flint and Lansing (and even a bit of Knoxville, TN) for local groups for years, all the while experimenting with stuff and finding new stuff worth getting.
This continued after school, after coming back to Lansing after some time trying to start again in Flint, and after getting my own place and a job and a sense of stability. I even started going out into the world and making a new set of friends and launching myself into what one could call my “Salad Days.”
Meanwhile there was a bomb getting set up in the music world that went by the name of “Nevermind.”
I never got too much into Nirvana; however the musical invasion they spawned made it seem safe for me to listen to popular music – after all, it WAS the popular music now. And I must admit that I liked that stations were either incorporating the alternative music into their playlists or falling apart in trying to answer. I remember “92.1 the Edge” causing the Top Hits Station to literally fall apart in their attempts to try to answer.
However, next thing I knew (say, around 2002, when I began to notice this) was that what I was buying had changed. Get a load of what I was adding to my collection during much of the decade:
- Saint Etienne
- Sarah Cracknell (solo stuff)
- The Cardigans
- Kylie Minogue (early, High NRG stuff)
- Sally Shapiro
Notice the link? Cute girls who sing what passes as alt-pop in the United States.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with that. The problem (as I see it now) is that this was all there was.
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So what happened?
Part of it is simply that I grew older. Part of it was also that what passed as alternative had turned into a sludge that could turn off whole audiences in two minutes flat – assuming the songs lasted that long. Another part of it was that I found myself isolated as to what else was going on elsewhere.
There was also a general turning away from the alternative, partly based on the audience growing older, the music growing uglier, and the radio sticking with what sold in the music stores. Probably the biggest example of the last point is what happened to WTMX. When I first listened to it it was pretty much lower-key alternative. However, as time has gone by they went from what the mothers listened to to what the daughters forced their mothers to listen to.
So I’ve found myself presently going back to earlier habits. Listening, but making a point of resisting. And I’m also coming up with smart-ass lyrics in response to the lame lyrics in the songs.
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Will I be able to find new stuff, like before?
I should be able to. It’s not like it’s not out there, and I’m already pretty much doing it.
There’s one problem: With growing older you’re also stuck with responsibilities. Which eats up time that one can use to find new music, or to listen to it.
That’s probably the big reason why oldies formats are forever popular – there’s only so many hours in the day, and once your responsibilities take over there’s only so many brain cells you can dedicate to finding new sounds.
So you slide around picking up stuff that sounds like stuff you’ve heard before…or old stuff which you haven’t heard before but happens to sound like what you’ve liked before.
It’s a box which can be hard to get out of…in part because of the effort needed to start looking for a way out.
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Anyway, that’s where I find myself today. I get moments out, but no real dedicated escape.
Maybe I’ll find the time. Who knows….