Songs and Substance (and Silliness)

If you’re old enough to remember the 1990s, and if you’re even slightly into music, and you appreciate great writing, you really owe it to yourself to check out the 60 Songs That Explain the ’90s podcast.

Rob Harvilla, a senior staff writer for The Ringer, spends each episode breaking down a song from the ’90s. Actually, he spends about half of each episode on a series of digressions, often about his time growing up in northern Ohio in the 90s, before finally getting to the featured song. And the digressions are great – brilliantly written, completely engaging, and typically hilarious… and the humor is usually self-deprecating.

Writing about this podcast doesn’t do it justice… especially when it’s my writing. Just listen to the first three minutes of one of the episodes — pick any one, they’re all great — and you’ll be hooked.

Here’s the opening of the episode that covers Shania Twain’s “Man! I Feel Like A Woman!”:

The series (which is well over 100 episodes/songs now… Rob himself calls it “the world’s most inaccurately named music podcast”) covers all sorts of tunes from the ’90s – from pop to country to R&B to hip-hop to indie rock. Some songs were monster hits… some have been mostly lost to the mists of our memory. It doesn’t really matter, as they all offer Rob a chance to wax eloquently about music and life (not necessarily in that order).

(Apparently this podcast is the #1 music podcast on Spotify, so I’m probably about three years late in touting it… sorry, I was busy.)

Rob Harvilla just released a book to accompany the podcast.

This book description does the podcast justice:

Ringer music critic Rob Harvilla reimagines all the earwormy, iconic hits Gen Xers pine for with vivid historical storytelling, sharp critical analysis, rampant loopiness, and wryly personal ruminations on the most bizarre, joyous, and inescapable songs from a decade we both regret entirely and miss desperately.

From the Hatchette Books description of Rob’s book

Listen to the podcast now and thank me later!

Nothing Compares 2 Sinéad

This is the story of a Prince, a Pope and a young woman.

Sinéad O’Connor was 23 when her second album I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got rocketed up the charts, mostly based on the strength of her cover of Prince’s song “Nothing Compares 2 U.”

She didn’t just cover Prince’s song… she made it her own.

Sinéad was just 25 when she appeared on Saturday Night Live and performed Bob Marley’s “War.” She didn’t just cover Marley’s tune, she made it her own… by changing the lyrics to reference child abuse. Oh, and as we all know, she did so while tearing up a photo of the Pope.

For doing so, she was “cancelled” before cancel culture was even a thing.

In a post-Spotlight world, when we know much more about the child abuse being committed by members of the clergy, and about the coverups by the higher-ups, I hope people can better understand the motives of Ms. O’Connor. She wasn’t just protesting clergy abuse either, but child abuse in general. It was something she had firsthand experience with.

The photo itself had hung on the bedroom wall of O’Connor’s mother, who O’Connor later said had physically and sexually abused her as a child.

Source: this New York Times article

At 14, Sinéad was sent to live at one of the infamous Magdelene Laundries in Ireland.

“We were girls in there, not women, just children really. And the girls in there cried every day. It was a prison. We didn’t see our families, we were locked in, cut off from life, deprived of a normal childhood. We were told we were there because we were bad people. Some of the girls had been raped at home and not believed.”

Sinead O’Conner in this Irish Times article

Nine years after she tore up his photo, Pope John Paul II sent an email apology to the victims of sexual abuse perpetrated by priests and other clergy in Australia and the surrounding region, acknowledging the scandal for the first time in his papacy.

In 2010, Pope Benedict XVI said in an 18-page letter that he was “truly sorry” for the abuse suffered by victims at the hands of Catholic priests in Ireland, O’Connor’s home country.

Source: CNN article

Perhaps with the benefit of hindsight, we can see Sinéad’s protest as a clarion call… and we can see Sinéad as more prophet than pariah.

In a tribute to O’Connor following her death, Irish comedian and actress Aisling Bea wrote on Instagram that “everything she stood up for and against then, including racism in the music industry, has been proved to have been needed and right…She was the original truth sayer who wouldn’t go easy into the night.”

Source: CNN article

“Everyone wants a pop star, see? But I am a protest singer. I just had stuff to get off my chest. I had no desire for fame.”

Sinéad O’ Connor

Meet the Press – Cincinnati Style

A tiny radio station that went off the air nearly 20 years ago, and shut down online in 2010, is “having a moment” as they say. It’s garnering all sorts of “ink” (as they used to call publicity) for rounding up more than 30 DJs who worked at the station to present a 40th anniversary of the signature “Modern Rock 500” countdown of the top modern rock/indie/alternative songs from their massive library o’ tunes. And author Robin James just released a new book (The Future of Rock & Roll: 97X and the Fight for True Independence) that chronicles the history of the station and why its independent spirit still matters today.

The press parade started back in March, when the press release for the Modern Rock 500 came out.

Full story here.

Steven Rosen (who wrote the definitive article about 97X back in 1985 for the Cincinnati Enquirer) came full circle when he highlighted Robin’s new book in CityBeat in April.

Full interview is here.

On May 8th, Robin James, my podcasting pal Dave Tellmann and I appeared on the local NPR affiliate’s “Cincinnati Edition” program to talk about the book, the station, and the revived Modern Rock 500.

Listen here.

On May 11th, Robin did a book event at The Mercantile Library – co-hosted by Dave and yours truly. That gig was sold out… and an absolute blast!

Robin James was interviewed by Jason Cohen in the June issue of Cincinnati Magazine. (Editor John Fox is a longtime friend of the station – he used to appear on the air when he was editor of Everybody’s News and later Cincinnati CityBeat.)

The longer interview is here.

And in this past Sunday’s Cincinnati Enquirer, Jeff Seuss did a nice feature on the station and the Modern Rock 500 countdown:

Here’s a lengthy article in the Journal News by Don Thrasher:

We even made The Daily Yonder! Liz Carey talked about what the station meant to her and like-minded listeners:

Full article is here.

And Mike Taylor, who orchestrated the radio revival, did a Q&A in the trade publication/website All Access:

Full Q & A is here.

The press coverage is nice… but honestly, this means more to us than anything else:

We’ve been able to reconnect with a small-but-mighty community through music. And that’s more precious than all the “ink” (or gold) in the world.

“From WOXY I learned it is important to support your local scene. If you care about independence, being creative and really having the ability for both yourself and for other people to innovate and do things that are new and different, then you would care about the story and example of WOXY.”

Robin James in the Journal News article by Don Thrasher linked above

If you’d like to tune in for yourself and find out what all the fuss is about, you can do so today and tomorrow from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. (the Dolly Parton shift) on Inhailer Radio, and then again over the Memorial Day Weekend at that same spot on your internet radio dial!

Stay Weird!

“Weird Al” Yankovic has a biopic out called Weird. In true Weird Al fashion, it’s a parody of biopics. And of course it’s on a weird network (the Roku channel). Weirder still, Daniel Radcliffe plays Al.

I watched it last night. Pretty funny stuff. (One of the best running gags is that Al wrote an original song called “Eat it” and then Michael Jackson came out with “Beat it” as a parody of that.)

Here’s one of the opening scenes, poking fun at the trope of parents who just don’t understand:

“Stop being who you are and doing the things you love…” Classic!

But near the end of the movie, “Al” gives an awards ceremony speech that doesn’t seem like parody (if you can overlook the fact that he pees his pants):

“Live the life you want to live. Be as weird as you wanna be. You will never find true happiness until you can truly accept who you are.”

Al Yankovic plays the accordian. And he does parodies of pop music songs. Not exactly the template for a rocket ride to the top of the music charts. But somehow it worked.

He chose the weird path… the path that was true to himself… and it paid off.

What’s your weird? And are you living it?

Musk-rat Non-Love

This is funny… because it’s true:

This line is pure gold:

 “nonstop but fruitless efforts to fill the yawning chasm of his soul by seeking the attention of indifferent strangers.”

Andy Borowitz, in The New Yorker
Artist’s rendering of Elon

I probably shouldn’t be posting the entire piece from Andy Borowitz here. To make amends, I’ll mention that a subscription to The New Yorker is well worth the price (especially in Year 1, when they cut you a discount). There’s so much good content in every issue: news, features, fiction, cartoons, humor like the piece above, poetry…

In the “digital economy” I know people are used to getting their content for free. But keep in mind that most websites are siphoning your personal data and selling it to the highest bidder. So it only seems “free”… and you are the product. If you want to support quality writing, fork over a few bucks – the transaction is much more above-board. And go ahead and pay a bit more for the printed magazine… it’s a better experience, and easier on your eyes.

The only challenge I’ve found with my New Yorker subscription is that there’s so much great content in every issue that I’m constantly running a few weeks behind on my reading. A nice problem to have. Unless I break my glasses like ol’ Burgess Meredith in the Twilight Zone episode above.

Your price-gouged “service fee” dollars at work

As a live music fan, I am duty-bound to hate Ticketmaster (a.k.a. Ticketbastard). I’ve been railing against their ridiculous fees for years, and doing everything I can to avoid them – which usually involves a trip to the venue box office during the limited hours that it’s open.

But now the cavalry is on the way to help – the Taylor Swift Army. Because hell hath no fury like a Swiftie scorned (they learned from TS herself… just listen to her lyrics).

The Taylor Ticketmaster debacle might finally break up the Live Nation/Ticketmaster monopoly – a merger that never should’ve been allowed to happen in the first place. (Hmm, combining the largest artist management and venue company with the company that sells tickets to shows… what could possibly go wrong?)

I’m not against for-profit businesses making a profit. But I am against profiteering. And when the various and sundry “fees” for a ticket wind up adding an additional 50% to the price, that seems really excessive to me.

The Royal Crescent Mob reunion shows are a Exhibit A.

[Music-heavy sidebar – feel free to skip ahead if you’re not into that sort of thing – Hi Kelly! The Royal Crescent Mob was a punk/funk band from Columbus, Ohio – their heyday was the late 80s/early 90s. They disbanded in 1994, but are reuniting to play two shows in December — one in Columbus and one in the Cincy area — as cancer research fundraisers, because three members of the band have been impacted by cancer.

With drummer Carlton Smith recently diagnosed with brain cancer (Glioblastoma), singer David Ellison, recently treated for Prostate Cancer and the loss of guitarist B’s wife, Cincinnati Attorney, Sallee Fry in May, 2022, to Pancreatic Cancer, the four band members, decided there is no time like the present to celebrate life and revel in the joy of playing music together and the healing spirit music embodies in the human soul.]

Same band, similar venues in Columbus and Cincinnati on consecutive nights. The Columbus show tickets sales are through TicketWeb (a company that is dedicated to working with independent venues and promoters). Face value of the ticket is $30. TicketWeb service fees add another $7.95… and the fees are clearly shown on the site.

Meanwhile the Cincy show (it’s actually in Northern Kentucky) is a Ticketbastard show… Face value of the ticket is $30, but fees add $14.45 to the price tag… and the fees are hidden unless you know to click on the tiny carat symbol by the price.

“Service fee”… “facility charge” (keep in mind Live Nation/Ticketmaster owns a lot of these venues)… “order processing fee”… they just make up names for the various line items to make it seem like it’s not all going into their pockets. Don’t be fooled!

But the fees for a club show are chump change compared to the large venue shows like T-Swizzle and Bruce Springsteen. For a Bruce arena show in Columbus, the Ticketbastard “service fee” on a $518 ticket is a whopping $76.65. Oh, and don’t forget that order processing fee of $6. $82.65 for Ticketmaster to perform the same services that they were willing to do for a paltry $14.45 for a club show. Talk about paying the cost to be see the Boss!

(We’ll save the topic of “dynamic pricing” for another post…)

How does Ticketmaster get away with it? You don’t need a top hat and monocle to see the answer:

Apparently the Justice Department has been investigating Live Nation. I say it’s long overdue.

Story is here

They claim the investigation predates the Taylor fiasco, but Taylor’s travails will certainly add a bright, hot spotlight to the investigation. Ticketmaster has been ripping off customers for years… something music fans know “all too well.”