Do you want new wave, or do you want the truth? Part II

switchstatement pointed me to this Yahoo! AP story about the CMJ Music Marathon.

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.

10 thoughts on “Do you want new wave, or do you want the truth? Part II

  1. What do we call the alternative now that “alternative” is mainstream?
    There’s a part of the TMBG documentary where they’re talking about finding out about this college music thing. Apparently, they found out when they were at the top of the CMJ charts, and it was something like “Congratulations! You’re #1 … on this thing you’ve never heard of.”

  2. you have just explained why I perform with a toy piano and monkey.
    Tho to be complete, you really have to go back another ten years to the original punk bands fighting the evil(?) that was disco. If you listen to a handful of disco tunes now, they sound positively celebratory and glorious. At the time of course, American was trapped in polyester leisure suits and gold chains. The Ramones, Talking Heads, Clash, etc. made music human again.
    Maybe that’s the problem – nothing is new, so the human element is lost in hearing songs you could swear you’ve heard before many years ago with different names from different earnest, artsy kids.
    Three chords and the truth, bro.

    1. not to totally disagree, but punk was really more in response to the excesses of rock/prog bands (Pink Floyd, Yes, Journey, ELP, Bowie, etc.), according to John Lydon in his book “Rotten: No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs.”
      Also from his website/bio:
      “One day while walking down London’s trendy Kings Road John – complete with his hacked green hair and a homemade “I HATE Pink Floyd” T-shirt – was “spotted” by Bernie Rhodes, and the rest as they say is history… “

      1. My own Southern California memory was of the hard rock guys bashing disco (cf. KMET’s WHOO YAA DISCO SUCKS), followed by the punk guys bashing dinosaur rock. Not sure how it went in other places.

      2. Well, maybe in London. Remember that the Pistols were influenced heavily by the Ramones, NYC’s finest (well, since VU). The NY scene was all about killing disco. Maybe a brief dose of the band Suicide is called for here – anybody gots?

  3. I guess I should have left my comment over here, huh. But I didn’t see this until now. Ah, LJ etiquette.
    Also, I like Jim Croce. And am not embarrassed to admit it. That cat can play guitar! Plus I listened to him as a little kid and he had a big moustache just like my pops. One day you will see me driving around town singing “Working at the Carwash Blues” at the top of my lungs and that will make you smile.

  4. Yes and no
    We’re about the same age, so I know where you’re coming from.
    When Green Day first came out, a lot of people said, “Meh, another Buzzcocks rip-off,” but although I know they weren’t totally original I thought, geez, I never got the experience as a kid half the cool bands I know about now, because there was no way for me to hear them. I thought Green Day were tuneful and didn’t suck, so hey, if some 15-year old mall rat digs ’em, cool. So at least for some alternative, I don’t mind the referral back to older things if they never got the right amount of exposure back then. Some of these newer bands (if not many) could turn out just as worthwhile as the “original” bands.
    The difference is inspiration vs. imitation. Save true geniuses, no art is created in a vacuum, but a slavish recreations are a waste of time. Add something of yourself, no matter what others may think, or get it “wrong” in an interesting way, dig ?
    I expected when I got older that I’d really be alienated by new music by now. Instead, there hasn’t been anything both original and annoying to fogies like me since extreme death metal and dorky techno !

    1. Re: Yes and no
      I don’t at all mind referral to earlier things! Your Green Day example is good; I thought “oh cool, they sound like the Damned and the Buzzcocks, nice choice guys”. And I’m not alienated by new music as such, whether it’s derivative or completely new.
      What got me mad back then, and keeps me angry, was the destruction of a community. College radio and the 80s independent scene were very important to me. Not only did Big Music eat that and shit out “alternative music”, but the response of the indie musicians was to turn their back on the idea of genuine independence and turn “indie” into a genre too.
      The result was armies of pale young men making artfully dissonant pop and declaring themselves to be the underground, and that makes me something something.

      1. Re: Yes and no
        Ahh, I see, and agree, although CMJ is probably the worst face, or unsightly backside, of indie careerism, concentrating all its ugliest tendencies in one spot. I mean, I want bands to have the distribution infrastructure and the chance to blow up.
        If indie as a term has any worth at all, it’s as an attitude and way of conducting business in a human way, not a marketing niche.

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