Saturday, November 26, 2011

Alternative meaninglessness…

Just Me… From 2011-11 (Nov)

Blah… Sitting here waiting for my computers to do their thing instead of just beeping at me and freezing…  Need to be doing some real work, but I need those picture files from my dying laptop first!

So, instead, a rant.

On the local “alternative” station, 94.7, a show called “The Bottom Forty” is featuring Peal Jam and U2 tonight…

I know, though I struggle with acceptance, that “alternative” does not mean what it used to mean 20 to 25 years ago.  Still, it bugs me when two of the biggest bands in the world are tagged with that label. 

To me, the word means “non-mainstream.”  Pearl Jam was once there, for a few minutes.  U2 might have spent a few minutes there back in 1980 when Boy first came out. 

Today, I suppose, for most people alternative is a genre (which will never completely make sense to me).  But, not long ago, I glanced around the radio and it started making some sense.

There are hard rock/metal stations, there are Top 40/pop stations (which includes hip-hop and rap), there are country stations (which, let’s face it, is just pretty much rock with southern accents these days)…  There’s oldies stations and adult contemporary stations (slightly less old oldies)…  There’s jazz and classical… There’s latin stations and many others.

But regular current, contemporary rock music?  Not metal, not country rock, just music, essentially, with a guitar as the lead instrument?  Well, that is what they call “Alternative Music” these days, it seems like.  Sure, these bands have top selling albums and they reach the Top 40 charts, but the Top 40 stations are not playing many songs that feature lead guitars these days. 

And about the only rock bands that are not included in the “alternative” tent these days are the hard rock and heavy metal bands; the descendants of the big hair 1980s bands that the original grunge revolution was a  rebellion against.

So all these bands end up on the “alternative” stations, and because of that are thought to play a genre called “Alternative Music.”  At least, that is how it seems to work from my perspective. 

Back in the day, though, to me alternative meant “outside of the mainstream,” with punk, metal, industrial, and, eventually, grunge all being some of many sub-categories.  It meant songs that you would never hear on the radio.  It meant bands that most people had never heard of before. 

It, inherently, could NOT mean Pearl Jam (in 2011) and U2.

Now I am not saying that I wish we could go back to the days before all these great musical genres found widespread, mainstream commercial acceptance.  I am glad people are listening.  It is great music, which I why I was listening to it in the first place.

I just wonder if there isn’t a better label for it.  Like rock, perhaps? That’s what we used to call it back in the olden times.  If the Rolling Stones came out today, they would be considered “alternative.”  So would the Beatles.

One of the ways we ended up here, I know, is because of “alternative” radio stations like 94.7 here in Portland and The End up in Seattle. 

I first heard The End, just after it started, while driving home from the first Lollapalooza. 

Let me describe that experience for a moment…

Nirvana had not hit yet.  Grunge was not a fashion defined by Vogue magazine yet.  Alternative bands were bands you saw in small venues and clubs, not in the big concert halls, and definitely not in arenas or stadiums. 

But then came along Lollapalooza, where a bunch of indie/alternative bands got together and put on a big show, a festival, taking it on the road.  Now, there are plusses and minuses to big shows, of course.  But it was great seeing these “small” bands in a big environment, with the huge crowds and towering light and sound systems.

The best part, though, was that all of us punk, metal, goth/industrial, and grunge misfits finally had a big show of our own.  Thousands of US all gathered in one place at one time.  The BIG cheers for the bands we loved that sounded like cheers in the videos for the BIG bands.  That was a new experience for all of us, a first time thing.  It was a big touring festival of non-mainstream bands for non-mainstream people.  Only the first Lollapalooza was like that, but it was a remarkable thing.

People from The End, which had just gone on the air, were handing out flyers as we were heading back to the car after the show.  We put the station on the radio, and lo and behold here were the bands we all liked to listen to on a real radio station (not one of the little college channels that you could only receive on your tuner if the wind was blowing just right and the barometric pressure was just so).

The End called themselves “alternative” radio.  And they were back then, even by my definition.  They were playing the songs no one else was (not counting those tiny college stations).

It was very cool.  All of it. 

But, when the grunge thing made it big, so did these stations, so did events like Lollapalooza.  Suddenly, the songs these stations were playing actually became Top 40 songs.  Suddenly, middle aged housewives were buying the CDs of those bands and listening to those new “alternative” radio stations.  The second Lollapalooza had a serious infestation of the jocks who were all listening to Warrant and Winger the year before.

“Alternative” didn’t feel very alternative any more.  “He’s the one that likes to sing along” was singing along right next to me.  And punching people in the slam pit and calling it “moshing.”  Asshole.

I guess the final change that happened, though, was where “mainstream” radio and popular music went from there.  Basically, rock died.  R&B, hip hop, crappy pop music, these took over.  Alternative stations that were always throwing a little U2 or R.E.M. (a band that had ceased to be alternative by this time) into the mix were suddenly the only ones playing them.  So, those sorts of bands, more and more, were through of as “alternative” bands.  Or, in R.E.M.’s case, were once again thought of as an alternative band.

And I suppose that really sums it up for me.  Alternative was a state that bands used to be able to graduate from.  And, if they still sounded good, that could be a fun and rewarding experience for the fans who were with them from the early days.  It was a validation of us as much as them.  At the very least, we had fun with the inevitable debates with our more jaded friends about whether the bands had “sold out” or not.

Because of these experiences, “alternative” as a genre has never made a lot of sense to me.  Alternative was a condition, not a sound.  Today, it still is not a sound, but it is a genre.  And that doesn’t make any sense to me.  But it is what it is.

And it is still the music I like.  Sure, I spend more time listening, still, to bands that few people have ever heard of, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t still listen to Pearl Jam or U2 from time to time.  And the show I mentioned, “The Bottom Forty,” does spend a lot of time playing bottom 40 bands.  I’ve heard a lot of great, new music on that show.

Which is why I was a little surprised to see who they were featuring tonight, but I have to live in the world the way it is, not the way I wish it could be.

I may have a functional laptop by now.  If not, I’ll just have to leave those files behind.  It is time to wrap up my work for the day so I can get to bed at a reasonable hour.

Good night!

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Flavorwire tells us what is cool, NME doesn’t.

From 2011-11 (Nov)

Well, they convinced me with Tom, of course, but they almost lost me because they stuck him in at 10.

Flavorwire » 10 Artists Who Really Should Have Made NME’s 2011 Cool List:

Tom Waits

Fact: Tom Waits is cooler than you. And me. And pretty much everyone else (except maybe Leonard Cohen). And that’s pretty much all there is to it, really.


Others on the list include Carrie Brownstein and Kristin Hersh.  Agreed.  Others that I haven’t listened to yet because I am old and dead to cool.  But I will try to check them out when I have a chance. 

PS: Throwing Muses is back together?  Hells yeah! 

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What I Am Listening To Now: “I Ain’t Afraid” by Holly Near

Spotted by Jennie on the FacyFace… A nice little ditty.



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