I’m prompted to write you in preparation for record store day, hence the timing of my letter. While I’m not overly keen on records as vinyl production is a highly toxic endeavour, I imagine the ideal behind the day is celebrating independent sellers, music listeners and moreover the celebration of passing on the legacy of fucking good music. This may hearken back to before my time – in the heyday of rock and roll – when every man, woman, group or guitarist was out there cutting records, seeking fame in a response letter from some radio personality somewhere. Back when a 45 could tell a tale of heartache, produce a foot-stompin’ joy, or just start faraway hips a-shakin’. In those earlier days it was local, it was word-of-mouth and it was airplay that sold records, that made legends and that kept coffers full. So my letter today is a telling you about my side of the rekindling of our romance, about that local word-of-mouth and airplay led to falling in love with you, my dearest rock and roll, all over again.
It starts, as many a romantic tale, in lean years. I was lost, confused, unable to be inspired by the options in front of me. When I settled into Melbourne town I came to the conclusion that people of my generation must have grown up, made money, were an easily definable advertising demographic, and were calling the pop-culture shots. They who wistfully view the 90’s as music’s heyday were supported in that faux love affair by every mid 90s alt-rock/grunge/nu metal act and their roadie getting lots of mainstream airplay and opportunities to tour extensively. A cultural dearth. In those times I consoled myself with electro, drum and bass and the white stripes like a hermit surviving on squirrel, trout and moss. And then something really weird happened. I started listening to the radio. Yes, the RADIO. And soon I discovered that here in Melbourne, radio unexpectedly but thoroughly KICKS ASS.
Now this isn’t mainstream commercial radio. Unapologetically, top 40 radio still sucks. Katy Perry, Iggy Azalea and FUN! do not sound better the more they are pounded into your brain ad nauseam with witty disc jockeys spouting about their parenting and travel foibles in between. And the classic in “classic rock” wears off when you hear “Smoke on the Water” for the fifth time in one day. My only previous half-decent experience with radio was listening to the local PBS/NPR station based on Lancaster, PA. That station has daytime programming of classical music (which I appreciate is beautiful and takes amazing skill to sounds the way it does, I just don’t like it) and the evenings had Syndicated NPR, where you could hear decent mainstream ‘indie’ music. The kind of music the rest of the world outside of Lancaster County listens to, city music.
But I digress.
Here in Melbourne we have the perfect confluence of factors for such a wondrous manifestation of musical luck. We have an amazing live music scene which, when you live here, sounds really cliché because everyone says it. But the fact of the matter is you have a choice of at least 10 bands plus other places with DJs on a WEEKNIGHT. Music of all sorts and lots of venue to hear it in.
We are also lucky enough to have a national radio station to do news, coherent conversation radio (the anti-thesis of Fox-style talkback) and classical, as well as several radio stations in people’s native language. This isn’t in itself great, but it means is that there’s room for just independent music-playing radio stations out there.
And so, this maelstrom of resonant circumstance has meant we in Melbourne are lucky enough to have not just one but two swinging, soulful, eclectic and totally independent radio stations. And they were that the catalyst that cleared the scales from my eyes and drove the humdrum out of our rekindled love affair.
They have a variety of programming, usually in one to two hour blocks that have a weekly schedule. One has lots of talking current events programs about film, the arts, music culture, politics, indigenous issues, LGBTIQ issues, your whole gamut of your left-wing leaning, learned if not somewhat middle-class bourgeois programming. The other just plays music, but all over the shop programming. Acid country. An hour of old school hip hop. Two hours of eclectic beats. A program of a cappella, gospel and early fifties guy and girl group smoothness. Tune in at any one time and you just don’t get it, but taking it on the whole you appreciate all that it can offer.
The highlight of the programming day came in Soultime. Two hours of northern soul on a Wednesday afternoon. I was again smitten. I looked into your eyes, and felt that teenage crush that kept my hips swinging and my feet tapping. Here was music that slapped me in the face with freshness that was had lasted fifty+ years. Fast, upbeat, you could dance to it and hot damn if it didn’t plaster a giant smile all up over my gob. Yes, the gods smiled and saw that it was good.
So I started listening regularly, devoutly. And on either side of the show I started listening to the radio in general. When I got home at night, cooking dinner, in the morning on my commute. I stopped listening to mp3s, cds and the like in the car and listened to what was on. Great part about two stations is that when one isn’t your cup of tea, there’s always an alternative.
And the more I listened the deeper and more meaningful our relationship grew. New music, new styles. I learned new and deeper levels of our love. Like experimenting with different lovers and lovemaking techniques, I found my legs wrapped around disco, rocksteady, psych-rock fuzz and all kinds of completely random shit. Did I mention fuzz – slow, drony psychedelic-sweet fuzz? Oh yeah, baby, you know how to make me shoulders shiver and mah leg a-quiver.
One day I heard my friend’s band on the radio. WOW thought I. I had seen them live, which was one thing, but to hear them on the RADIO? Surely only big names get played there. And so, the more I listened, the more I started getting in touch with my local music scene. Each program has a space for a gig guide. Bands could contact the show that related most to them/their fans, and ask them to read off their gigs. I can go and dance to this awesome music? Fuck Yeah! The fact you can hear a band on the radio, go see them at a local venue for a couple of bucks, buy their music (records and CDs) and it’s all in your own city, how great is that?
Local radio turned me onto music, turned me onto local bands, gets me out to see local bands, keeps me awash with new music. And able to actually find something I LIKE, something I LOVE, not just the best of a bad lot, or more sadly the exact same something I’ve been listening to since I was a teenager. Don’t get me wrong, I still love Pearl Jam and I saw Ben Harper and The Cure last year who are all awesome, but they are but just one part of my Rock & Roll Universe.
Without local independent radio I wouldn’t have experienced the driving, frenetic, kick-ass Rock and Roll(!) of King Gizzard and Lizard Wizard live and in person. I would have never heard the screaming GRLL angst in ‘Jet fuel can’t melt steel beams’, laughed at the wry, sardonic drone of modern day life as waxed by Teeth & Tongue. I wouldn’t have felt the inviting warmth as Seedy Jeezus and Wolf & Cub wrapped me in their bear-coat of heavy fuzz as it effused through the PA. I wouldn’t have made such good international pen pals with Sharon Jones, Fela Kuti, or William Onyeabor, Sergent Garcia and Moondog.
So on this record store day, Rock and Roll, I would like to thank you not for your records, but for you being you, reaching out and touching people making new friends, relighting old flames, and adding so much to my life. Thank you for PBS and RRR.
I love music. I love dancing. Music and Dancing truly make me happy. You make me happy. You make me smile to myself thinking of how gorgeous you are, smiling with the knowledge that you’ve made a special place for me, invited me in your world, and I am so thankful for you continuing to keep our love fresh, strong, and beautiful.
[Now all you voyeurs out there reading this get out the house, find some music that makes you move, and boogaloo till ya puke! x -j]