Sucking in the Seventies

I was born in late January of 1971, so that makes me just a few months shy of forty-two at this point in time. I don’t feel it most days…in fact, for the most part the reminder of my age is when I think about music releases–remembering when certain songs and albums came out and were huge hits, stuff like that–and only then will I belatedly think “Oh yeah…I’m that old. Huh.” Not that it bothers me. It comes as an afterthought.

As I’d mentioned before, one of the benefits of being this age is being able to see music genres and styles come full circle, or at least warp and mutate and eventually return in some form to the original. Synthpop bands are the big thing lately, bands who might not be giving a gracious nod to the original Krautrock bands of the seventies and early eighties like D.A.F. or Kraftwerk, but are at least embracing the sound’s second generation by giving that nod to Howard Jones, Thomas Dolby, A Flock of Seagulls, Depeche Mode, and so on. Bands like Bear in Heaven, Cut Copy, M83 and so on have brought back that reverb-drenched Korg synth sound, and they’re getting some serious airplay on indie and satellite stations. They call it ‘indietronica’ now, but it’s the same as synthpop–catchy tunes backed by music that sounds futuristic, dated, sterile and exciting, all at the same time. It’s like the 80s all over again.

But what about the seventies? Sure, as a lot of critics and bloggers would like to say, the seventies were one big hellhole of bad fashion, nasty politics, and craptacular music. It was the hangover decade following the partying 60s, the time of old excesses finally coming back to bite us on the ass. And yet…the seventies did have its own saving graces. It had the punk/no-wave/post-punk/art-punk scenes of the UK, New York and elsewhere. FM became the mainstream bandwidth to listen to, and freeform was in its heyday. It had Bruce Springsteen, Led Zeppelin, and Aerosmith. And, if you’re into that kind of genre, it had some pretty damn fine prog rock like early Genesis, Rush, and ELP. And as much as we hate it and like to deride it, there was disco. It never really went away, really. We still have Scissor Sisters, Hot Chip, and countless teen pop singers. The infectious beats are still there, just under different names and better production quality.

One of the reasons I’ve been thinking about this misbegotten decade is the prevalence of pictures run through the Instagram app.

borrowed by @vikstagram at

This here’s a good example: a picture of downtown San Francisco at the end of a sunny day. It was taken in January of this year, but with the magic of an iPhone and the Instagram app, it suddenly looks like it was taken with a Polaroid camera sometime in 1977. There’s a slight discoloration you’re not quite sure of (maybe a little sienna from sunfade?), maybe a bit of surface scratch, maybe a bit of graininess, and definitely a lot of color oversaturation. It looks like a picture found in your family photo album that you’d forgotten about. It’s the latest app that everyone loves and uses heavily if they have iProducts. [The rest of us need to use Photoshop, but I’m not complaining.]

Having been a small kid in the 70s, this kind of imagery triggers a lot of visual memories. It brings me back to when my age was in the single digits and the boundaries of my life went as far as my cousins’ house on Paige Street a block and a half away, and the long walk downtown with my Mom (one full mile!) was an exciting afternoon trip. Of when a layer of winter’s snow seemed amazingly deep, and sliding the hills in our backyard was the best thing ever. My dad saved quite a few of these old pictures from my youth, of my older sisters and I playing in the back yard or on a vaction trip to Maine or elsewhere. Perhaps this is the allure of Instagram…those of us in our thirties and forties remember our youth as grainy and color-saturated. We remember our youth as one of those 16mm films we’d watch during recess if the weather was horrible outside.

As is typical with me, this imagery also triggers a lot of aural memories as well. When I see these Instagram pictures of autumn scenes, I think of ABBA’s “S.O.S.” and “Knowing Me, Knowing You” and listening to Arrival on the family stereo in the autumn of 1976. I see pictures of rainy days and I think of Electric Light Orchestra’s “Sweet Talkin’ Woman” and listening to Out of the Blue in the spring of 1978. Pictures of cities at night and I think of The Rolling Stones’ “Miss You” and the gang troubles in Boston in the 70s. Pictures of parks and I think of the kids’ show Jabberwocky out of Boston and its trippy theme song. Every single memory has some slight gauze, as if our young brains had some kind of lower pixel rate and couldn’t save the images any clearer than that.

These are all songs I grew up with, images that I remember from my youth. Despite all the twitch-inducing memories everyone likes to dredge up of bad fashion and excess, a lot of the mundane things in the 70s aren’t very different from what they are today. The seasons come and go, showing us their colors both bright and dark. Fashion is still questionable here and there. Politics still unites and divides. Disco is still here, just under a different name. Rock and roll is still rock and roll. We see the present without the Instagram filters, but we always see the past in that dated, grainy way. It’s even inspired the sounds of these indie bands like Chairlift, Air, Boards of Canada, and more.

Now that I’m slowly approaching forty-two, I’ve decided that perhaps it’s time for me to pull those memory filters aside. I like looking at these faux-aged pictures as art, but I find myself more impressed by the startling clarity and framework of professional photography. If I’m going to revisit the past–my own past, the sound of classic rock and AOR, the history of the country, what have you–I want to revisit it clearly, with as little outside influence or gloss as possible. That way I can understand it better, maybe even visualize the parallels, differences and similarities between the past and the present. I’ll still enjoy these Instagram pictures and listen to these retro-influenced bands, of course…there’s no harm in them if you can tell the difference between then and now.

1981: The Unguarded Moment

In doing some recent research for Walk in Silence, it dawned on me that the debut singles (or at least their first important singles after a the first few misses) of some major alternative bands–bands that would become historical in the genre–all came out within six months or so of each other in 1981. I’m sure this is common knowledge for some music journalists, but I’m fascinated by this idea nonetheless, especially in the context of the book I’m writing. This could very well be the moment in time where college radio in the US started to gel into what would later become the “college rock” sound. The late 70s and early 80s alt.rock were an interesting mix of UK synthpop, American hardcore, German krautrock (itself the inspiration for synthpop), and postpunk, but it must have been around 1980 or 1981 when it all came together and started making sense.

To wit:

(date unknown) February: Hüsker Dü, “Statues”
In the cold and snowy midwest of Minneapolis MN, while a diminutive funk singer named Prince Rogers Nelson grooved to his own brand of sexy soul, a trio of guys–one college student, one record store employee and one hanger-on–got together and started playing a fierce brand of postpunk that was nothing like anyone else had heard. It wasn’t the sloppy, breakneck speed of hardcore, and it wasn’t the regular rock and roll you’d hear anywhere else. It was a hybrid of everything–it was Ramones meets Velvet Underground meets Byrds. “Statues” was a hastily-recorded track that didn’t do too much of anything, considering it was recorded at the very start of their career, but by the following year and the years beyond, they’d record some of the best postpunk out there.

2 February: Duran Duran, “Planet Earth”
Come on, who doesn’t know Duran Duran now? They’re ridiculously famous, and they’re currently on tour supporting their All You Need Is Now album. But back then, these dandy-looking Brits had lucked out by being one of the original handful of videos playing on the fledgling music channel MTV. They were a part of the New Romantic scene in London, which mixed the surge of synthpop sound with Bowiesque glam fashion. Their debut single was an instant hit in the UK, and thanks to its rotation on MTV, they picked up a sizable fanbase here in the states. They may not exactly be the true “alternative” some fans think of, but they certainly played their part in its evolution.

20 February: Depeche Mode, “Dreaming of Me”
Basildon is a postwar hamlet very much similar to an American Leavittown in its planned creation as a “new town” for British citizens wanting to leave London, and four local guys with a love for Krautrock and owning cheap synthesizers were bored and in need of excitement. Vince Clarke rounded up his friends Martin Gore and Andy Fletcher, snagged local hanger-on Dave Gahan, and started writing music and playing local community centers. After a stretch of tightening their chops, writing poppy, danceable songs, and playing an endless run of shows, Daniel Miller, head of Mute Records, fell in love and signed them right away. The infectiously simple “Dreaming of Me” was their first single, and the rest is history.

(date unknown) February: Thomas Dolby, “Urges”
We all know him from 1982’s “She Blinded Me with Science”, but he had quite the background before that. He’d been a session musician for all kinds of bands and performers including Lene Lovich and Foreigner. This track was his first single, released a good year or so before his hit solo album The Golden Age of Wireless. Though his solo recording history is sparse, he continued to be an in-demand session musician. He just released his first solo album in nearly two decades just last year.

6 March: New Order, “Ceremony”
Joy Division was no more when their lead singer Ian Curtis took his own life in May of 1980. However, the three remaining members of the band soldiered on, adding drummer Stephen Morris’ girlfriend (later wife) Gillian Gilbert, and changing their name to New Order. Their debut single contained two songs that had originally been songs written as Joy Division tracks: “Ceremony” and “In a Lonely Place”. Both tracks hold traces of their previous incarnations (especially the low rumbling of “Lonely Place”), but also contained a much richer, more positive vibe that would become their trademark.

14 March: The Church, “The Unguarded Moment”
Well before their genre-defining hit “Under the Milky Way”, this Australian band had a small but dedicated following since the early 80s. After one single that went nowhere, this track became their first minor hit and a fan favorite. This track is indicative of their poppier origins as part of the Australian Neo-Psychedelia scene, which would be their sound until a few albums in, when after an aborted session (which became the Sing-Songs EP), they embraced their now-trademark sound of acoustics, jangly guitars and heavy reverb.

27 March: U2, “I Will Follow”
U2 had been around for a good few years, and had an album and a number of singles out in the UK, but they never quite made it stateside…that is, until a fateful run of shows at the Paradise in Boston MA, a big push by various radio stations (and an especially frenetic push by one DJ, Carter Alan), and the debut American single of “I Will Follow”. The rest is history.

(date unknown) June: Mission of Burma, Signals, Calls and Marches EP
Speaking of Boston…the collegiate town has quite the history of indie bands since the 60s, thanks to the rabid fanbase and the large number of places to play. Three guys got together and formed one of the loudest postpunk bands in the city, and in a surprisingly short amount of time (and with only one album, one EP, and a few singles in their first incarnation), became one of the most important postpunk bands in the genre. This EP contains their seminal hit “That’s When I Reach for My Revolver” (the link above goes to that track) as the first track, introducing the band to even more fans outside the Metro Boston area. They broke up soon after due to guitarist Roger Miller’s tinnitus, but have since reunited and released new albums, including one last month, Unsound.

8 July: REM, “Radio Free Europe”
Meanwhile, four guys with a love for jangly guitars and the collegiate sound of Athens GA’s nightlife (including Pylon and The B-52s), got together and started playing their own unique brand of folk rock with intellectual, perhaps even philosophical lyrics. REM released the original version of “Radio Free Europe” on local label Hib-Tone in summer of 1981, while still perfecting their chops. It would be nearly a year later when they’d drop their next release, the Chronic Town EP, and you can definitely tell they’d improved by then. The band would become critics’ darlings and have an extremely loyal fanbase well until their breakup in 2011.

7 August: The Replacements, “I’m in Trouble”
Meanwhile, on the other side of Minneapolis, four losers dropped out of school and started playing in their parents’ basements, hoping something would come out of it. Some people loved it, some people hated it–it really depended, honestly, on how much the band had to drink beforehand. But all that aside, their debut single, released around the same time as their debut album (fittingly entitled Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash), was a sloppy yet catchy piece of postpunk that would become their stock in trade. They’d last almost ten years before breaking up, but during their tenure they’d release a startlingly large number of genre-defining songs and albums.

Each of these bands have a decidedly different and unique sound and you would not be able to confuse one with another, which makes this bit of history all that much more fascinating–each band was traveling their own road without the influence of one another (even if they had known each other in passing or from hearing them on the radio), and yet each of the above became bands that defined the alternative rock genre, especially during the “college rock” years.

Radio BDC: The new Westinghouse model?

This past Monday, four former WFNX deejays returned to the airwaves (so to speak), premiering Radio BDC: an online-only station created by and featured on the website For many WFNX fans, myself included, it was like a rebirth: our favorite deejays from the late and venerated Boston area alternative rock station were back on the air and playing the new and old indie rock we know and love so much. At noon Eastern Time (I heard it at 9am out here on the west coast), they counted down to go time and celebrated with Julie Kramer’s excited “Guess what…we’re on the air!”. Champagne was served, cheers were given, and the listeners rocked. The first song, “I Want My City Back” by the Mighty Mighty Bosstones (chosen by listener poll and a very apt choice, given its lyrics) was prefaced by Dicky Barrett of the Bosstones giving the station his blessing.

It’s certainly exciting to hear Julie Kramer, Henry Santoro, Adam 12, and Paul Driscoll back on the air–I knew these four via WFNX for years, and the demise of that station hit me pretty hard. Sure, it’s just a radio station, and all radio stations come and go (and a lot go the way of buyout or sale, but that’s another post entirely), but I’d discovered that station my freshman year at Emerson College, and a goodly portion of my music collection was informed and influenced by what they played. The new station is, for all intents and purposes, the same as the old one; the same alternative rock is being played, old and new, and the deejays are well informed and lovers of the genre. They play this stuff because they’re obsessed with it, they love the fanbase, and they’re having a hell of a lot of fun. There’s no better reason for this station to exist than that. And as a fan, I’ve been listening for hours on end while working at home. I haven’t listened to a radio station, terrestrial or digital, for this long in quite some time.

It wasn’t until yesterday that it occured to me–this station is being hosted by a website originally created as the online presence for the Boston Globe newspaper. Though the Globe now has its own dedicated website, it still runs as a regional free site for news, entertainment, and other Bay State information. Radio BDC is essentially a broadcast extension of the site. [CAVEAT: I haven’t done any serious homework on this, so I don’t know if Radio BDC is actually owned by or if they’re merely hosting the station; that, and I’m not familiar with the current broadcasting rules for websites and/or companies owning stations. As far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t really matter; all I care about is that they got the permits and went live as quickly as they did.] So it occurs to me that this is just like the old radio stations of yore–I’m talking the birth of radio as we know it, close to a hundred years ago. Specifically, it made me think of those stations that were the broadcasting division of major manufacturing companies, such as Westinghouse. Unlike today, where stations are often owned by conglomerates and media companies (and are usually one of a number of same-genre stations in a collective), back in the day pretty much anyone with money, room for a broadcast tower, and a good business plan could start up a radio station. A number of businessmen actually came to the conclusion that having a broadcast arm of their business a great idea, especially if they were selling or manufacturing radios and radio parts. Pretty soon stations were popping up at hotels and department stores, where people could come to watch live broadcasts of orchestras, plays, and shows. This would be the norm for quite a few decades, with the addition of politicians and celebrities making the occasional visit to the station, and the birth of broadcast advertising. Even the advent of FM radio pretty much followed the same route, until it evolved and mutated into the radio field we know today.

So this got me thinking…will Radio BDC, and other online-only stations take the same route as the old Westinghouse stations? Well, probably not the exact same route, obviously. They share the same building as the Boston Globe out on Morrissey Boulevard, and they’ve had a few sports reporters popping in to talk about the Red Sox, but other than that, you wouldn’t know that this was a station connected to the Globe at all. In fact, the station is a broadcast extension of, and that’s pretty much it. But I’ve been seeing this a lot over the past five to ten years…stations leaving terrestrial radio and going purely online. Part of it is the funding–running a radio station is expensive, and it’s not a high-revenue business. Considering that a majority of the revenue is from advertising, sometimes it’s easier and cheaper to go digital–this way your advertising can be visual pop-ups on the player and click-throughs on the website rather than intrusive thirty-second soundbites. You don’t need an expensive broadcast tower or an assigned frequency, either–you have routers and servers. There are even apps that listeners can download to their phones so they can listen in. As long as you follow the basic broadcasting rules, you’re golden. WBCN went digital-only because it was cheaper; WFNX was sold to Clear Channel for much the same reason. The stations as we once knew them are dead; their online footprint, often under new management and/or ownership, is now the norm. Le WFNX est mort, Vive le Radio BDC.

It makes me wonder if, sometime in the future, we’ll see more websites extending into the radio field like Westinghouse did so many years ago. I’m not talking about the streaming “stations”–the websites like Spotify which are generally just a giant mp3 server on a genre-defined shuffle–I’m talking about actual stations like Radio BDC…radio stations in the real sense of the term, with actual deejays, live events and the occasional commercial break. It also makes me think of regulation, but that’s another post entirely. For now, I’m curious to see if, how, and when these new versions of old radio stations might come into being via the websites that are hosting them.

Outside Lands: Day 3

Sadly, we didn’t make it to the end of the day, so we’re going to miss Bloc Party and Stevie Wonder, but we did get a few more great bands in today before we called it a weekend:

First up was a band called Infantree that we’d heard of but didn’t really know, but we ended up really liking. Kind of moody indie rock and really great musicianship.

Infantree at the Panhandle stage

Soon after we stuck around at the Panhandle stage and saw Birdy. She’s known for doing some pretty interesting piano covers, including Phoenix’s “1901” and The Naked and Famous’ “Young Blood”. Not exactly my cup of tea, but she and her band were quite enjoyable.

Birdy while playing “Young Blood”

Then to the big afternoon deal–Franz Ferdinand! This was A.’s big name she was waiting to see, and they did not let us down. They kicked off with “Matinee” and hit all their biggest hits like “Do You Want To” and of course “Take Me Out”, and also performed a lot of new songs that may be on their next album. They all joined on the drummer’s set for the final track. Excellent show.

Rocking out on the Polo Fields stage. Yes, that’s Gavrilo Princip as the background picture.

Nick McCarthy and Alex Kapranos dueling it out

Alex rocking out

Lastly we headed back to the Panhandle stage to catch Electric Guest. Sadly I didn’t get any good pictures of them as we sat near the back and the crowd filled up surprisingly quickly, but they put on a fun show.

…and that’s pretty much it for us. We called it a day after that. We are definitely thinking of going next year, however!

Outside Lands: Day 2

We only stayed for half the day today (I went against my former plan and am not staying for Sigur Ros, as they aren’t going on until nearly 9pm), but we did get to see a few great bands today, including a local “gypsy swing” band called Beso Negro, who were playing in this little hideaway in the woods:

The “gypsy swing” of Beso Negro

Soon after we headed over to the Panhandle stage (we seem to be checking out all the bands that hang out there) to check out Animal Kingdom that we really like. They were absolutely thrilled to be there, as they’d mentioned this was not only their first show in San Francisco, but their first show in California as well, and put on a fun and poppy performance:

Drummer Geoff Lea and singer/guitarist Richard Sauberlich having a grand time in the park

Bassist Hamish Crombie was smart enough to wear a hat in our SF weather!

After that show we headed over to the Sutro stage (where most of the folk groups are playing) to see The Be Good Tanyas, who had just gotten back together after a long hiatus and just came out with a new cd of old and new stuff. They played some wonderful folk including ‘The Littlest Birds’. I’d forgotten how great they are!

Samantha Parton, Frazey Ford and Trish Klein of the Be Good Tanyas

A little after that we headed back to the Panhandle stage to catch Michael Kiwanuka, who I hadn’t heard of but A. had heard a few times. He had a full band rather than being primarily acoustic, but he did put on a great show as well:

Michael Kiwanuka (center) and band grooving to his unique soul/folk hybrid of music.

And a few other pictures, just to show how many people were there today:

This one’s from near the front of the stage while watching the Be Good Tanyas:

A sea of humanity hanging in Lindley Meadow

But this one’s interesting…it’s a large crowd heading towards the Twin Peaks stage to go see Big Boi (aka the other half of Outkast), and pretty much what it was like down in the Polo Field last night:


Apparently it was for the best that we headed out early, as the crowds are supposed to be ridiculously large tonight for Metallica, Passion Pit and Sigur Ros, and despite me living about a half mile from the festival, it would have taken me forever to get home! We are looking forward to a few great headliners tomorrow too, with Birdy, Franz Ferdinand, Electric Guest, Santigold, Bloc Party, and Stevie Wonder. Looking forward to tomorrow!

Outside Lands: Day 1

So A. and I went to Outside Lands this afternoon (we’re also going tomorrow and Sunday), San Francisco’s own music and craft festival that takes place in Golden Gate Park–in this case, about four blocks south of us. In the past couple of years we’ve been able to hear the bands from our apartment…not loudly, but just enough where we could recognize a few songs playing. Last year we were amused by the fact that we could hear Arcade Fire’s “Wake Up” (and the attending crowd going wild). We decided this year that we should go, considering the number of great headliners for this year.

A. got to see Tanlines (I ended up getting there late because I had to work until just after lunch), and we met up to see a silly local band called Wallpaper. After that show, we headed to the polo field to get some food and check out a few of the major acts.

The Polo Field, from the back forty

First off was Fitz and the Tantrums, who put on a phenomenal show, and they definitely know how to do it. Their sound was tight, and they knew how to work a crowd with their retro soul sounds.

After that was one of the performers I’d been waiting for: Beck. I’d last seen him live at the old Foxboro Stadium in (I think) 1998 or 1999, so it would be interesting to see him perform songs after that era.

Sometimes the best shots were of the monitors, but hey, why not?

I LOVE how this one came out.

Beck’s band was quite eclectic–a lot of older guys who, despite a few sound problems in the first few songs and a few flubbed lines, really enjoyed playing his warped style of indie rock. I did enjoy the few Odelay tracks they played, and loved that he played “Gamma Ray” (I’m not sure, but I’m convinced they were playing Danelectros on that), but I was quite pleased when they played not one but three songs from Sea Change, quite possibly my favorite of his albums.

And then came Foo Fighters, who kicked all kinds of ass and did not let up once. Dude, these guys fucking ROCK, and I’m not saying this because I’m a fan…they’re just THAT good live.

Dave Grohl rocks your ass.

Somehow I got all six guys in shot and somewhat in focus here!

Thank you and good night!

So tomorrow we’re looking forward to Animal Kingdom, Geographer, The Be Good Tanyas, Explosions in the Sky, The Kills, Passion Pit, and Sigur Ros. Metallica is playing on the Polo Field tomorrow night, and we’re iffy on that one, but we may just pop in on the back forty just to check them out for a song or two. More pix to come!

It’s beginning to and back again

One of the pleasant and unexpected side effects of working on the Walk in Silence project is being able to see the cyclical nature of things.  Well, let me rephrase that–I did expect to see certain patterns emerging here and there, but I’ve been amused and entertained by how they emerge…how new things are often mutations of the original, and others are similar or reverential to its inspiration.  I see it most clearly through the indie music that we’ve been listening to on the Sirius stations as of late…I now make it a game to find similarities between the songs being released nowadays and those of the 80’s–the “[current band] sounds like [80’s band]” meme.  Some of them are more obvious: Beach House’s “Myth” certainly picks up where Cocteau Twins’ “Crushed” left off, for instance; others are more of a nod to the past, such as M83’s “Midnight City” being a perfect fit on a John Hughes soundtrack.

One of the other ways I see this is in the evolution of indie rock (as it’s called nowadays).  Since I’ve done quite a bit of homework on the subject (well, at least coming up with a theory on how it evolved from punk to New Wave and post-punk to “college rock” and so on, at any rate), I’ve come to the conclusion that the genre is now at the point where it’s back to where it started: mostly aural and closer to its origin.

To elaborate:  by “mostly aural” I mean that this music is mainly listened to on streaming websites or online radio stations now, rather than visual, considering that the video outlets of yore (MTV, VH1, etc.) have moved past the music video as its main programming.  Videos are relegated to YouTube and Vimeo and elsewhere, where we can check them out whenever we want.  The video has always been a four-minute jolt of caffeine to the music lover, a visual layer to add to the aural layer–the icing on the cake.  Back in the 80’s, us kids used to watch MTV for hours on end, gorging ourselves on these things.  We couldn’t get enough, partly because it played so many things we never heard elsewhere.  That, of course, changed years ago.

By “closer to its origin”, I mean that indie music has always, at least in theory, been about the tight link between the band, its output, and its fans.  It’s no secret that the big labels have always latched onto the Next Big Thing, colluded with the radio stations and the video channels to get as much airplay as possible, leaving the less commercial music to fall by the wayside.  Agreed, a lot of the less commercial stuff you can take or leave, but the subgenre of indie rock has always been different–it’s the weird cousin that you’re never quite sure about, who seems to be in a completely different movie altogether.  I say “closer to its origin” because a lot of the early indie music, the DIY punk and the small-label creations, embraced the musicians rather than using them for a profit.  When the Big Label consolidation started in 1998 with Universal and Polygram, and later Sony and BMG in 2008, a lot of otherwise creative bands either flew the coop or were unceremoniously dropped (or worse, ended up dissolving).  Even despite some independent labels’ short lifespans, many labels at least tried to keep the focus on the band and its output.  And thanks to the power of the internet, computer software and sites like Bandcamp, a lot of bands are foregoing even signing to a label, choosing instead to record and mix their music on their PC, convert it to high-bitrate file formats, and sell it themselves, reaping much of the profit in the process.  And because of that, a lot of the creation is purely of the band, with no outside influence from the labels or radio.  It’s all about what the band laid down.

Ultimately, at least for me anyway, this marks the return of music listening as a purely solitary event.  Indie rock has gone through quite a lot of changes since the 80’s.  It slowly started infiltrating the commercial side sometime around 1986-87–John Hughes’ soundtracks, and REM’s Document are but two major points off the top of my head–eventually finding its own chart in Billboard in 1988 (under “Modern Tracks”), and finally becoming hip and mainstream in 1991, thanks to Nirvana’s Nevermind and other albums of the time.  The 90s iteration of indie rock was an interesting shift: it became the mainstream due to the drying up of the old guard, hair metal and hard rock.  But in the process, the radio stations that had prided itself on being truly alternative–namely, the college radio stations–were at a crossroads.  Should they play the same alternative rock song being played on a commercial station, and should they even entertain the thought and risk being seen as a sellout?  And thus indie rock evolved again–the commercial alt.rock becoming the normal rock, and the more leftfield indie taking on different influences, from rap to world to jam and everything in between.  I could go on, but this would take awhile, and I’ll be covering it in WiS anyway.  Point being–come 2012, indie rock is about as prevalent as hip-hop, bubbly pop, dance, and every other genre under the sun, thanks to the power of the internet.  We have infinitely more ways to listen to music than we ever did in the past.

Which brings me back around to the beginning:  listening as a purely solitary event.  Ultimately, we’re no longer listening to the boring and harmless “listen at work stations” (as I call them), prevalent as they may be, because we don’t have to.  Unless I’m stuck in a supermarket or in an office, I can:

–listen to multiple websites streaming new releases so I can see if I like them before buying them.

–listen to multiple online radio stations.

–listen to one of the multiple Sirius music channels on our TV.

–listen to the stations that I used to listen to on the east coast, while living on the west coast–including the college stations that influenced and inspired me years ago.

–go to the band’s official site and listen to their new and as-yet-unreleased album, and even order it directly from them.

–simply start up Media Monkey on my PC, or turn on my mp3 player, and listen to any one of the thousands of songs in my collection.

In the end, this is what listening to music has been all about, at least for me:  listening to music on my own terms.  It lets me enjoy it as a purely aural treat and as a personal soundtrack.  It inspires moods and writing sessions.  College rock was my genre of choice back in 1986 because it was so unique and catered to my teenage geek years.  Indie rock is still my genre of choice now because, despite its evolution, at its core it’s still all about originality, creativity, and recording something true to yourself.  Despite all these new outlets and thousands of new bands, genres and subgenres, it’s still all about my own personal enjoyment with a song or an album or a band, and maybe discovering something new in the process.

And in this day and age, it’s blessedly easier to achieve that personal nirvana.