Just about exactly 20 years ago I was in college radio as a music director. There was all this crazy shit going on, because of punk. Punk meant that college stations stopped playing Journey all the time and started playing newer music. Because of the general smashing of boundaries, this meant that genres and race barriers were at least partly knocked aside. Suddenly we were all listening to thrash, dancehall, house, gangsta rap, folky stuff, and of course lots and lots of whiteboy refined rock ‘n’ roll made by four guys with guitars and drums.
About at this point, 1985, a publication called “College Music Journal” became more important. We all told them what we played, or in some cases what we wished we were playing, and they reported it in detail and aggregate. There was a Top 100. Those Top 100s were eclectic. Just about every current musical subculture had a few songs in there. The Top 10 or so were almost always new wave or postpunk records like R.E.M.’s “Lifes Rich Pageant” or INXS’s “Listen Like Thieves”. It was a half-assed revolution at this point but about 2/3 of the music was good.
In the next three years everything went to shit. College radio was recognized by the big companies as the farm team for top 40. Independent labels and their supporters fought back with “indie only” movements that insisted that only music from small companies be played, but it was mostly garbage. The CMJ top 100 became more and more important. The top 10 froze for weeks at a time. A mania for jangly folksy Americana rock created thousands of forgettable REMitators and straight-shootin’ junior Mellencamps. Hip-hop disappeared from college radio formats.
I myself was out of college in ’87 and out of music writing for pay by ’89. Somewhere between those two points, the idea of an alternative to commercial radio was replaced, in true Animal Farm fashion, with a new radio format called “alternative”. This was: bands consisting of four white guys with guitars and drums; leftover punk and new wave that people remembered from high school; two Bob Marley songs; and two Ministry songs. The format crept further and further down, through dark corners and fetid swamps as did Gollum, until it finally and inevitably reached
the gates of Mordor the Spin Doctors.
Why do I tell this inane story? Because 20 years later these bastards are still fucking the bloated, maggot ridden corpse of my generation’s half revolution. Indie rock was fresh, new, and full of promise in 1985. It was killed and eaten in 1989 and then they vomited it back up so they could eat it again. That music was pretty pale and refined to start with. Now it’s just the sonic equivalent of a beige lace doily. This stuff is the denim troubadour easy listening for 2005; our James Taylor and Jim Croce are Modest Mouse and Death Cab for Cutie. It’s over, people.
Fuck you, Steven Malkmus, for saying “I started when it was still college rock… It seems to have become more institutionalized in big cities … I’m glad to be a part of it.” Fuck you right in the ear. Fuck you, Nic Harcourt, for “Today, the sensibility is more of an aesthetic than it is a manifesto.”
I can’t believe these assholes manage to coopt the same revolution twice.
…but I was e bloom, and Richard Hell, Joe Strummer and John Doe. Me and Mike Watt, playing guitar.