ECCENTRIC MUSIC, TESTING THE UNTESTABLE, PITTSBURGH, HILLARY AND OTHER OBSERVATIONS
ECCENTRIC MUSIC, TESTING THE UNTESTABLE, PITTSBURGH, HILLARY AND OTHER OBSERVATIONS
A 40th anniversary edition of Pink Floyd's debut album The Piper at the Gates of Dawn will be released August 28. A three-CD set is on the way, in a box set made to look like a cloth-covered book, with remastered versions of the record in stereo and mono, along with bonus tracks and a reproduction of singer Syd Barrett's notebook. This is pretty exciting for anyone with even a remote interest in the formulative years of the British late 60’s album movement which really set the next 15 years into motion as one of histories most important, productive, adventurous and colorful eras. I can’t imagine any student of music—weather a musician or a studied listener would not gather an education from this. The whole period in the UK was so eccentric back then---that eccentricity generated an incredible spirit of taking things to the next level. America had it’s share of eccentric artists of course from James Brown to Jim Morrison. I key difference between musicians than and now, other than the way the business works, is that they channeled their eccentricity into the MUSIC. Nowadays, I sense that the eccentricity is channeled into the tabloids and the video. I think if the eccentric factor was 100% on the music, the rest would fall into place. Now it seems like many artists focus on BEING eccentric rather than CREATING eccentric music.
Along the same lines and one generation earlier was a guy named Joe Meek. Best known as the brilliant whack job that created the song Telstar---performed by his studio band the Tornados. Google Joe Meek and check this guy out. A madman who killed himself…a suffering genius plagued by his demons, who knew no boundaries. The beginning of Telstar was created by recording a toilet flushing backwards, A psycho genius who owned a sound laboratory on the third floor of his apartment building—who later killed his landlord. A stunning contrast of madness and brilliance. A precursor to Syd Barrett. The thing so great about Pink Floyd other than their history is that they are one of the few bands that has not lowered their standard…not changed their ways to reach “the kids”…not compromised or sacrificed their integrity. And they could play tomorrow and sell out the Grand Canyon. Why is it so hard for people to understand when something is timeless…and go with it?
Brings me to the topic of “testing” things. We do a lot of that at XM and it’s important, though I worry that we don’t cross the line and test things that are untestable. Testing everything was a contributor to the creative downfall of FM. Sometimes you have to use an educated guess as long as the person doing the guessing gets it. That was a problem with underground free form radio. It was all pure emotion aka guesswork. Some DJ’s had it. Natural ability to play the songs that worked. Others were a disaster playing things that about two people liked. I went back into the archives and found a few “tests” that illustrate the danger:
U2 and the POLICE: Tested awful. Daggers. No way could they break in the USA. Enough people said screw the tests and combined with the stations that didn’t test back then; they obviously DID work rather well here.
DISCO DEMOLITION: When our client WLUP in Chicago had so much success with it, we spread the word to our other clients that this anti disco thing resonated with the Rockers. A few stations actually tested the idea of taking an anti disco/pro rock stance and found that it would never work. While the idea was epitomized by Steve Dahl at WLUP, It DID resonate everywhere…except at the blind management of the stations that researched it.
MIX: While nowadays there’s a MIX in every market in the USA (there’s n FCC regulation requiring it I think), initially, it was an eclectic handle. It was tested. In about a dozen tests, it tested poorly as in “listeners won’t know what a mix is”.
…the list goes on. Thank God we didn’t test XM Channel names or Bluesville would be called Blues: Channel 74.” Testing areas that come from the soul will fail you. On the other hand, testing cold facts is critical. Gotta know what to test and what to leave to the guys that get “it”. Get that balance right and it’s the best of both worlds.
In the early 70’s I was part of a radio brat pack of young Programmers that, looking back, were snotty nosed “know-it-alls” seeking new answers. Research was part of it. So much new radio thinking came out of those years. Invented the term “Superserving”…broke out traditional demographics by psychographic sub sets, bought every galvanic skin testing report (hook people up and watch the lie detector type device tell if you had a hit on your hands. Looking back, so much of it was bullshit. Self righteous crap that made good raps at panels, but in reality was probably pot induced. Some guys never evolved…in fact there are so many programmers STILL working off the early 70’s playbook. I think I was able to move on…take the best bits of that and combine it with a 2007 perspective.
Got an HD Radio. What a piece of crap. In the MP3 player world, this particular unit looks like a Heath Kit from 1968. I’m sure there are cooler models, but the $59 one I saw was pretty bad. Fred Jacobs, a respectable consultant recently wrote about how HD radio programming is being thrown away. Well, you can add the hardware to the list of reasons that the HD boys better get their shit together of they’re looking at AM Stereo---where you could hear static in BOTH channels!
Popular Culture has sides. Junk Culture is the side I’m at war with...in fact I think 90% of America is. I believe a Junk Culture backlash is at hand. There’s just too much awareness of it as a factor in the destruction of our society. You’re starting to see anti Junk Culture on U-Tube…on Leno…It’s starting to happen. I don’t think we’ll see Steven Hawking on the cover of US, but I do sense a move toward Smart Culture where intellect and enlightenment become part of Popular Culture.
If there was a Cultural stock market—I’d buy Smart Culture now. And I thank Paris Hilton and her pals for helping the awareness of how hollow and mindless what she represents is---and to the news media for propping her up to International proportions and increasing the public’s sentiment for how absurd her folly is in the big picture.
Then---there's reporting about how no major news organization wants to pay a million dollars to interview her. I guess this is a good sign. I hear Larry King is going to, which sounds right as Larry is more of a culture guy than a news person.
Dave Mason was here to record OFFSTAGE. Great guy and an XM regular. Another timeless sort who has been in the trenches for years and years. His voice and playing is as solid as ever.
Travelogue: Me and Lou Brutus hopped in the plane for a trip to Pittsburgh to see my White Sox actually win a game. Took my Son and his Girlfriend who is from Pittsburgh. Saw PNC Stadium on the All Star Game telecast last year. It lives up to the hype. Fantastic place to see a game. Great staff…great vibe. We arrived at 1pm and went to Primanti’s, the local grease house to soak in local culture and lunch. Highly recommended. Open 24 hours. I imagine it’s pretty popular at 4am on Saturday night after a bender. Then walked around the strip district. Pretty authentic. Can definitely imagine a Mob whacking happening in the alley. Lots of character. Pittsburg has really cleaned up its act. I remember going there as a kid and choking half to death from the fumes. It’s a pretty nice place now. Lou and I got dropped off at the stadium at 3. Game was at 7. The second the gates opened, we were in. Lou spent a few hundred bucks on merchandise. Mets merchandise. In fact he wore a Mets uniform to the game and (no kidding) got attached by the team mascot. It seemed half the crowd were Sox fans in from Chicago. It was a full house and when a White Sox player got a hit, the place exploded. We sat 3 rows behind the Sox dugout. Lou took literally 500 photos. Amazing ones that captures the players’ mindset perfectly. An overall magic night, though sometimes it’s not so good being THAT close to the players…they are TOO real…too human. Kinda like the disappointment of meeting your favorite star. Sometimes it’s best to know them on TV or record. My Son picked us up after the game and we got hopelessly lost getting back to the airport. Finally took off around 12:30 for the short hop back to DC. Nice night. My big mistake was drinking a big coffee before takeoff and being wired till 5am. There was hardly any air traffic at that hour other than a few United flights running late into Dulles. Got a direct routing so the flight home took about 35 minutes. The ever creative Lou continued to snap photos in the air.
In Pittsburgh, drove by a big Heinz plant—it looked deserted, but it sure had character. I was intrigued by it and went and looked at Heinz history. Mr. Heinz was riding a train and saw a sign about “21 variations” of some gadget. He liked the idea and came up with his 57 Varieties line. No focus group. The line seemed to stick. Heinz is pretty cool. I’m infatuated with timeless logos. I love old railroad logos. They were art pieces, but visceral enough to cut through. While I’m not suggesting that we go back to 1935, I do think that the older logos, in many cases, are more soulful that the corporate slick ones so common today. The thing I like about the old railroad type logos is that they had character—TIMELESS character…like the Heinz logo.
Airbus has a new plane, the A380. The ATC designation is “SUPER”. In other words, if Air France Flight 10 is an Airbus 380, they have to report to the controllers as Air France 10 Super. The plane is so damn big that the controllers need to separate it further from the trailing traffic as not to put the poor guy following through a literal hurricane. Airbus is a very honest name. Boeing has a luxury liner that’s a damn great plane…but unless you are one of the 6 first class seats…it’s a very fast and nice BUS. Airbus at least is telling it like it is!
Finally, Hillary Clinton picked a Celine Dion song in a campaign song “contest”. A Canadian, yet. Love Canada---but you’d think a US Presidential candidate would go home grown. Help!