Songs About Radios #1: And it was alright…

2 01 2009

Jenny said when she was just five years old
There was nothin’ happenin’ at all
Every time she puts on a radio
There was nothin’ goin’ down at all,
Not at all
Then one fine mornin’ she puts on a New York station
You know, she don’t believe what she heard at all
She started shakin’ to that fine fine music
You know her life was saved by rock ‘n’ roll
Despite all the amputations you know you could just go out
And dance to the rock ‘n’ roll station

It was alright…

—The Velvet Underground, “Rock and Roll” (Download) (Buy It)

The Velvet Underground - LoadedI don’t really listen to the radio much these days, but songs about radios still get to me.  When I first got my license at the age of 16, and my dad passed on to me his car, my first car, a black 1993 Toyota Camry sedan with a v6 engine and a tape deck, but no CD-player, driving and listening to the radio quickly became synonymous.  The freedom that having my own car implied wasn’t just about mobility – it was also the first space that was entirely my own, and nothing embodied that independence better than the radio.  When I turned up the volume way up, no one said turn it down.  No one asked me what the hell I was listening to.  The dials were in my hands.

But for all of that control, the radio was also about succumbing to something more powerful than myself, being moved by the combination of a beat or a melody and the feeling of the road, but also submitting myself to the cultural force of the musical canon. At that point in my life, classic rock was still an expansion of my musical horizons, and while I knew a lot of the big names, the classics as a whole were still wild and unpredictable. As those radio waves seeped through the closed windows and locked doors of my car, they brought new artists, new pleasures, new identities to try on for a couple minutes at a time. The unpredictability of radio also brought with it a sort of ritual temporality built around randomness. I remember driving around the suburbs with my closest friends blasting 97.9, the Loop, Chicago’s classic rock station as loud as we could bear.  We had a rule that whenever the Rolling Stones came on, the windows had to come down, rain or shine.  In Chicago, that sometimes meant singing at the top of our tone-deaf lungs as heavy, freezing winds blew snow into our faces.  But what could we do – we were at the mercy of the radio.  To this day, very little makes me happier than yelling, “Hey, you, get off of my cloud!” at a confused and unsuspecting pedestrian as I slam on the gas and speed away.

Songs about radios are songs about the experience of listening to music.  And while the walkman, the discman, and today the iPod have made that experience increasingly insular and solitary, songs about radios remind us of the social experience of music.  For those of us that don’t listen to the radio any more, there’s still a social experience of music, it’s just changed.  It now involves things like file-sharing, Last.fm charts, Facebook, blogs, message boards and music festivals.  Mix tapes no longer involve waiting patiently by the radio with your finger on the record button, hoping that one song you’re looking for will come on and you’ll catch it in time.  But it’s still the same sense of sharing that animates the ridiculous number of hours I’ve put into managing my music collection over the past several years.

And so, I hope this little space where my hand is on the dial will be a chance for some of us to share our love of music. In the posts that follow, I’ll do my best to share some of my favorite artists, new and old, familiar and obscure. Rather than trying to keep up with the latest currents in music (there are already enough blogs reposting practically every track on Pitchfork.com), I’ll stick to music that is meaningful to me, and I’ll make an effort to tell you why in language that’s more heartfelt and less impenetrable than the academic blog which I’m leaving behind. At the moment, all links to mp3s are through zshare, which means you can click to hear the song immediately or to download it. (EDIT: I decided to buy storage space on WordPress, so you can now play or download each song directly from this site) If you do download something and you like it enough to keep it, please support the artist.

In order to keep my attention spread throughout the musical spectrum, Songs About Radios will bring you several regular series in addition to whatever ideas for individual posts I think of. Some of these series will include:

  • Songs About Radios – Like this first post, the songs about radios series will bringing you songs about the social experience of listening to music, songs that explicitly mention radios, radio waves, radio dials, radiomen, radio towers, satellites, mixtapes, car stereos, etc.
  • Parallel Lines – often times the best way to gain insight into music is to compare minute similarities and differences between two different tracks by different artists or even from different genres; the Parallel Lines series will focus in on one very specific point of comparison and contrast between two otherwise unrelated songs
  • Teach A Man To Fish – …and you feed him for a lifetime. I’ve spent many many hours over the past few years perfecting the art of collecting music on the internet. In this series, I’ll reveal some of the tricks of the trade – where to discover music, how to download streaming media, the best aps for converting file types and stripping DRM, strategies for organizing a large mp3 collection – so that you too can become a more active, or more efficient, consumer of music.
  • It Started With A Mixx – What are the top 10 songs about my sweet home, Chicago? What’s the best way to say “Welcome to the Working Week?” Need a mix of spooky songs for this year’s Halloween party? This is the series for you. I do take requests.
  • Best Of – In the bar under the image at the top of the page, you’ll notice a “Best Of” link. My goal is to slowly fill in my favorite songs and albums of each year, with links and commentary, starting with the present and slowly moving backwards. Given the time of year, you can expect some of my first few posts to concern my favorite albums of 2008. After that, I’ll begin reposting some of my year end lists from my last blog, but I hope eventually to cover the rest of the decade and beyond.

I also hope to introduce new series as I come up with them. Suggestions are welcome. If you’re reading this and you’re enjoying it, please leave an occasional comment to let me know!

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5 responses

4 01 2009
Ursula

Wow, whenever you do something, you go all out. Love the first post, and looking forward to the rest of your content.

4 01 2009
Joseph Kugelmass

This is incredibly exciting. Looking forward to what’s ahead.

5 01 2009
Daniel

this looks awesome, rozen. my recommendation is that you post a “List of Shame” in which you admit to the top ten most horrifying/hilarious cassette tapes you owned growing up. i remember listening to vanilla ice with you back in fifth grade, and thinking that we were awesome, and being so very wrong…

5 01 2009
Matt

That’s a great suggestion, Dan. Once I get going, I’ll definitely take it up. Wait till you hear the first CD I ever owned…

And we were awesome back in fifth grade when we were listening Vanilla Ice. We were just ill informed.

Joe and Urse, thanks for the comments. I’m happy to have both of you as readers.

28 01 2009
Extracurricular Reading/Listening « uncomplicatedly

[…] than simply concerning itself with staying ahead of the indie rock curve. Here’s a quote from his inaugural post: And so, I hope this little space where my hand is on the dial will be a chance for some of us to […]

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