Back to the Future… of Rock and Roll

A long time ago (early 90s), in a galaxy far, far, away (Oxford, Ohio), I worked at a tiny radio station known as 97X.

It was one of the few indie rock/alternative/modern rock/college rock stations in the country. It was also, in my not-so-humble and completely biased opinion, the best. Because the DJs had a ton of leeway in what they played. Because everyone who worked there loved the music, and had as much fun off the air as on. And mainly because the listeners felt like friends, and were just as passionate about the music as we were. It was the least amount of money I ever made, and the most fun I ever had at a job.

Rain Man dug the station too…

(This scene was filmed in Cincinnati, on the road that my bus travels every weekday when I go to work .)

Several months ago, KEXP-FM in Seattle (the modern day equivalent of 97X) paid tribute, playing songs and even commercials that were on the 97X airwaves back in the day, and interviewing folks who worked there for a long time, including faithful dubbatrubba reader Dave “The Reuben Kincaid of Modern Rock” Tellmann. Here’s the intro to the 97X tribute – it’ll give you a good background on the station:

And here’s KEXP’s edited version of the terrestrial sign-off from station manager Steve Baker (also one of the best radio play-by-play sports announcers ever). It truly captures the passion and community feel of 97X:

It’s been nearly a quarter of a century since I worked there, but 97X truly will always be a part of who I am. It’s the reason I like “weirdo” bands to this day, much to my kids’ consternation and dismay (“Car Seat Headrest?”). It’s also the reason I always root for the underdogs, and relate to the rebels and outcasts. Those are my people; that’s my tribe.

(You can’t even view the entire song because Lorne Michaels and the corporate bigwigs don’t want you to. Typical!)

If you’d like to go way back in the time machine, you can stream 97X from 1985 here. My old pal John Fox also wrote a nice essay about the station back in 2004.

UPDATE 1/19 – Faithful dubbatrubba.com reader Matt Sledge, who spent a decade at 97X, commented on my original post and added a few interesting links:

Comment:
Of course I have to leave my two, three, or four cents on this topic… since that’s how much we got paid back then working at 97X.

As Bake said about 97X on the final broadcast: “It changed my life.” Truer words were never spoken.

As I sit here back in Oxford in the year 2018, if you had told me when I started as an intern at 97X back in 1994 that 24 years later I’d be commenting on a former coworkers blog about that station and how it changed my life as well, I would have asked you how drunk you were.

Alas, here we are.

Some YouTube links to pass along:

The last 30 “laps” of the 2003 Modern Rock 500, with songs edited out and some commercials intact. This would be the last 500 on the terrestrial airwaves: https://youtu.be/vv3-DWSeqF0

97X recorded from 1999 by a fan, with songs omitted: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BeCY-WfZalY

And of course, the final break from Bake on the final night of broadcast: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mvCyiNXTLuA

It’s almost 14 years after the last broadcast, and the memory of the station remains strong from all who worked there and the listeners.

We did some good work, didn’t we?

 

Play that Superchunky music…

Superchunk. Not just a type of peanut butter.

Also an amazing band.

Superchunk (the band) has a new album, What A Time To Be Alive, coming out on February 16th. A couple of tracks have already been posted, and they flat out rock. Superchunk started in 1989 as punk kids… they’re no longer kids, but they’re still punk. Here’s what lead singer/guitarist Mac McCaughan said about the new release:

“The album is about a lot of things of course, but mainly dealing with anxiety and worse in the face in incipient authoritarianism. It would be strange to be in a band, at least our band, and make a record that completely ignored the surrounding circumstances that we live in and that our kids are going to grow up in.” 

 

That anxiety (and anger) come across loud and clear on the title tune:

Here’s another Mac quote from an Onion A/V Club interview with him and bassist Laura Ballance:

I’m really wary of calling this record “political” because it implies that you are offering some solutions or that you’re writing a white paper, like, “Here’s what we should do about this.” Where it’s really more about how do you be a person in the world when all this is going on and still have a life, and I think a lot of people are learning that.

This song features Waxahatchee’s Katie Crutchfield and the Magnetic Fields’ Stephin Merritt:

I can’t wait for the entire album to come out. You can pre-order it here. If you’d rather have the peanut butter, try Aisle 2.

 

Secrets, revealed!

In true “new year, fresh start” fashion, I was cleaning the basement last night. But I didn’t make much progress because I stumbled across this:

I have no idea what Donald Junior was doing in our laundry room, but Robert Mueller, call me. I’ve got the goods.

 

 

The bestest albums of 2017

Yes, even Dubbatrubba is not immune to the year-end list frenzy that sweeps the media this time of year (“Top News Stories”… “Best Movies”… “Favorite Cat Memes”… )

But it’s worth noting that while most hacks stick to a Top 10, in true Spinal Tap fashion, this goes to 11.

 

Not that you asked, not that you care, but here are my favorite albums of 2017, in no particular order, with a video of one of the tracks included for your listening/viewing pleasure.

The War on Drugs – A Deeper Understanding

Alvvays – Antisocialites

Julien Baker – Turn Out The Lights

Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit – The Nashville Sound

Jen Cloher – Jen Cloher

Ron Gallo – Heavy Meta

Hurray for the Riff Raff – The Navigator

The National – Sleep Well Beast 

Aimee Mann – Mental Illness 

Chuck Prophet – Bobby Fuller Died For Your Sins

Waxahatchee – Out in the Storm

 

 

I love Buffalo this time of year

Buffalo Tom is my favorite band. Their heyday – such as it was – was back in the early 90s. A three-man band from Boston (not Buffalo), they are still together, but record only sporadically and tour even less frequently.

However, they did give their hardcore fans – the ones like me who contributed to their Pledge Music fundraiser for their new album – an early Christmas present. On 12/24, they shared an early release of their new album, Quiet and Peace which is slated to come out on March 2 of next year. It’ll be their first release in seven years, but they haven’t missed a beat. It sounds fantastic. (You can pre-order it here.)

The first song is available on Spotify and Soundcloud.

Here’s an excerpt from this Stereogum article with lead singer Bill Janovitz talking about the track:

“[‘All Be Gone’ has] this blue sky, sunny day feel to it, but it’s a really melancholy lyric in a lot of ways,” Janovitz told me when we spoke over the phone yesterday. “It’s pretty self-evident about getting older, [with lyrics like] ‘My time behind is greater than my time ahead’ — that sort of stuff. But it’s kind of a blazing, Buffalo Tom ‘let’s get the guitars up’ sort of track.’

“[As] you get older, you feel like holding onto time, especially when you have kids,” he adds. “And I’m just a victim of nostalgia in any point in time — I’m so vulnerable to it. I wear my emotions on my sleeve. Kids grow at such an exponential rate, it really hits home to you. A lot of [the song] is about that, certainly. But it’s also not just this sad, melancholy song — it’s really about carpe diem, seizing it all as you can, and trying to hold on.”

And check out this Stereogum article about the Boston music scene in the 90s for more on my boys:

Buffalo Tom are roughly analogous to other somewhat overlooked artists such as Judee Sill or the Dream Syndicate; not the most prominent artists of their time, but a hidden treat for someone that falls in love with an era’s music and wants to dig a little deeper. If they do, they’ll find scores of poetic, ingratiating rock songs that can stand proudly on a playlist next to Weezer and Guided By Voices. Anyone who cares enough to know who they are thinks well of them, and Janovitz suspects he might hear a bit of their influence on younger artists like Japandroids and Speedy Ortiz — both of whom he loves. Buffalo Tom have carved out a place for themselves, and these days, that’s enough for him.

Later in the same article, there’s this great quote from Janovitz:

Not only is Janovitz surprisingly open about why Buffalo Tom never connected on the same level as some of his peers, he brings the subject up himself. “I can give you theories why I think we weren’t bigger. I think our lyrics are opaque, but we’re not like Pavement with opaque music. A lot of our music was very emotional, but it wasn’t really direct songwriting. There really wasn’t a compelling frontman. It was faceless and nerdy, but not ‘nerdy cool,’ like Weezer. It was a bunch of things that were never quite right,” he says. “I wish I could blame a press agent or a manager or a label. But I think we were given an ample shot.

“Ultimately, I can’t complain too much,” he adds. “I always wanted to be respected more than rich. I wanted people to really like our music. I wanted to touch people. I wanted people to understand. I wanted people to hold us up like I hold up my heroes.”

Mission Accomplished, Buffalo Tom. 30 years later, I still love your music.

You make the Yule cool

While the children are still nestled all snug in their beds (they are teenagers, after all), I just wanted to take a moment to wish you and yours a very Merry Christmas. I’m sending this special Casey Kasem long-distance dedication your way: the Eels doing an acoustic version of “Everything’s Gonna Be Cool This Christmas.”

Favorite lyrics:

As days go by the more we need friends
And the harder they are to find
If i could have a friend like you all my life
Well i guess i’d be doin’ just fine

 

 

Attention all planets of the Solar Federation

I’m a day late and a dollar short on this, but that’s just how I roll. Yesterday wasn’t just the Winter Solstice. The date was 12/21… but in many countries, including Canada, our friendly neighbor to the north, they typically write the day first, then the month. So in Toronto, it was 21/12… I think we should all take 20 minutes (and 39 seconds) to celebrate:

The first concert I ever saw was Rush – on April 14th, 1981, at Barton Coliseum in Little Rock, Arkansas. I lived 40 miles away from Little Rock and didn’t have a car, so going to concerts wasn’t exactly easy. For this show, I got a ride with a couple of my co-workers at Piggly Wiggly – Paul “Greens” Turner and Steve Robertson (who once fell through the ceiling of the Piggly Wiggly and landed in the meat case – butt first into the rump roast – when he was trying to look for shoplifters through the two-way mirror peepholes in the rafters… but I digress.).

It was the Moving Pictures tour (great album, btw), but Rush opened the show with the first part of 2112 (“Overture” and “The Temples of Syrinx” if you’re keeping score at home) and it blew my mind. I still get goose bumps thinking about it. Sure the song (or song suite more accurately) could be considered a bit bombastic, overwrought… heck, it takes up the entire side of an album. But when you see Geddy, Alex and Neil play it live, you appreciate their musicianship in a whole new way. Three virtuoso musicians operating as a single, living, breathing entity. So tight. So stellar. So interstellar too!

Unfortunately, Rush is no longer touring and may never record again. After 40-plus years of rocking, they’ve certainly earned their retirement. But I was a Rush nerd in ’81 (which helps explain my lack of luck with the ladies), and I’m a Rush nerd still (which helps explain my general nerdiness). I also don’t like the cold, dreary winter… so every year from now on, instead of marking the first day of the saddest season, I’ll celebrate 21/12 Day. And you should too.

 

We’re through being cool

When I think of plastic hair helmets, I think of the band Devo. (Don’t we all?)

But the old codgers who exercise at the same rec center that I do always insist on having one of the TVs in the fitness room tuned to Fox News (a.k.a. Faux News). It’s actually good for my health, because I get so worked up about the tripe spewing from the talking-heads-with-trumped-up-talking-points that my heart rate is elevated before I even start my workout.

Having (unwillingly) seen many hours of these broadcasts, I realized that Fox anchors have Devo-style hair helmets too:

And if you peel back the onion, and study a bit about Devo, and what they are all about…

The name Devo comes from their concept of ‘de-evolution‘—the idea that instead of continuing to evolve, mankind has actually begun to regress, as evidenced by the dysfunction and herd mentality of American society.”[8]

Devo’s music and stage shows mingle kitsch science fiction themes, deadpan surrealist humor and mordantly satirical social commentary.

… you realize that Fox News is the greatest ongoing Devo performance of all time. Well played, Spudboys!

 

 

 

What does the Fox say?

My old pal John Fox (he’s the editor of Cincinnati Magazine now, but he used to visit the 97X studios when he was editor of Everybody’s News) commented on my last post about the death of the lead singer of the Smithereens, Pat DiNizio:

Great tribute, Damian. I was a huge Smithereens fan. There was a time from the early 80s to the early 90s when I delighted in finding cool new bands, pre-internet. Some hit the big time (REM, The Cure), when I sort of lost interest, and many toiled in the shadows of occasional MTV and 97X fame that was good enough for me, and the Smithereens were in that category. There was an even smaller category of bands where I thought maybe I was the only person who appreciated them, and we lost one of those guys in recent weeks. Tommy Keene died November 22 at age 59. He was from Maryland and was big on the east coast for a while; here’s a great tribute in the Washington Post: https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/obituaries/tommy-keene-power-pop-songwriter-and-star-of-80s-dc-music-scene-dies-at-59/2017/11/24/ed373d1c-d12b-11e7-9d3a-bcbe2af58c3a_story.html

Thanks, John, for shining the spotlight on Tommy Keene. He certainly deserved more of a spotlight while he was with us. I was vaguely familiar with his work, but I’ve spent the past couple of days going through his catalog of tunes and it’s rife with power-pop gems. And he played with Velvet Crush, a band that also falls into the “brilliant yet criminally overlooked” category.

Dave Holmes also did a nice tribute to Tommy in Esquire. This paragraph sums things up quite nicely for folks like us who appreciate the under-the-radar folks:

A great artist can make you feel like he’s speaking directly to you. That’s how Tommy Keene made me feel for the last 31 years, and at the end of the day—and it is the end of the day—it doesn’t matter whether ten or ten million other people had that same feeling. What matters is that we did.

Only a memory. Sadly.

When the rock stars you grew up with pass away, they take a piece of your heart and soul with them. It’ll never be 1979 again but whenever I hear Tom Petty’s “Don’t Do Me Like That” I’m immediately transported back to my childhood home in Hagarville, Arkansas… listening to that song on KKYK-FM (K-Kick), the rock station out of Little Rock. 1982 is long gone, but whenever I hear David Bowie’s “Suffragette City” I hearken back to my freshman year at Xavier and hearing all the fantastic songs on Kevin Fagan’s cassette of Changesonebowie. 1992 is way back in the rear view mirror, but when I hear a Smithereens song – which isn’t often enough – I think of my time spinning those tunes at 97X in Oxford, Ohio.

Petty’s gone. Bowie’s gone. And now the lead singer of The Smithereens is gone. Pat DiNizio passed away Tuesday at the age of 62, after battling health issues over the past several years.

If you’re looking only for Top 40 appearances, The Smithereens catalog of tunes pales in comparison to Petty and Bowie. But if you’re looking for pure, unadulterated power-pop, The Smithereens could go toe to toe with anyone.

The music writer for the Buffalo News, Jeff Miers, wrote a wonderful appreciation piece for Pat, a woefully underappreciated garbageman turned singer/songwriter/band leader. Check it out here. I love this excerpt:

On Dec. 12, we lost a beautiful musician whose name is not likely to be mentioned on Entertainment Tonight or during the local news broadcast. Pat Dinizio, a former garbage man from New Jersey, wrote some of the finest power-pop tunes this side of Big Star and Cheap Trick. His band, the Smithereens, released a string of indelible guitar jangle-driven gems that actually became hits at the tail-end of the ’80s. Then the bubble burst, and DiNizio and his band-mates spent the next 30 years touring like madmen, releasing great records that only true fans and rock aficionados appreciated, and making a living through a string of club gigs and the occasional casino date pay-off.

The Smithereens represent the old music business model. They played scummy clubs, they became very good at what they did, they built a following one enthused concert-goer at a time. Their integrity was hard-earned.

I wonder where the next generation of bands like that will come from… or if they’ll even come at all. It’s all laptops and Auto-Tune these days. Pat saw that even back in ’88, in an interview with NPR’s Terri Gross:

There are hooks today in a lot of popular music, but it seems as though the song itself is being ignored in favor of writing songs around a beat or a drum machine.

I’m still a sucker for the type of hooks that the Smithereens mastered. Always have been, always will be. Even in 2017. R.I.P. Pat DiNizio. Long live rock.