Saturday, December 31, 2005

It's True, We Are All (I)Pod People

December 4th, 4:40 p.m.

When it all comes down to it, this was The Year of I. No, I’m saying that this year was all about me, Steve Reynolds (and if you saw the sorry state I was in mentally and physically on this particular Sunday, you would know I was not talking about yours truly). The “I” stands for Indie Rock and iPod. And these two things made this perhaps the most musical year of my life since I was in college. And I credit (or, in the case of my checking account, blame) two folks for this, my much younger friends Drew and Moria.

Late last fall Drew (25 at the time) introduced me to Moria (23 at the time) as we were visiting Drew at one of his bartending gigs. As Moria and I talked, I discovered that we knew many of the same folks in Boston (where she had just moved from) and that we definitely had similar musical taste. As we kept emailing over the next couple of months, she would mention tons of bands I had never heard of, or hadn’t listened to that much. And whenever I would find a free MP3 of these bands on the ’net, 90% of the time I would really dig it. So I found myself digging deep into tons of new artists (well new to me): Spoon, Josh Rouse, Bright Eyes, Brendan Benson, Spinto Band, Of Montreal, The Decemberists, Death Cab for Cutie, Mates of State, Stars and Nada Surf are just a few of the acts that I knew nothing or very little about before this year. I must thank Moria for the introduction to a whole slew of music that genuinely excited me. Heck, I went to five times as many shows this year as I had in the past two years, and it felt pretty good enjoying some live rock. Who says youth is always wasted upon the young? (My way of paying her back was a bit old school—I took her to her first Tom Petty concert, where we had 11th row seats. It almost made me feel like somebody’s cool uncle passing down something to the next generation. I said almost.)

As for the other “I,” Drew was the first person I met who would attempt to DJ while they were bartending by frantically scrolling through their iPod looking for that next song to play to entertain his fellow bartender or the latest attractive girl to walk in. That fateful night in late 2004 when he showed me how to work the iPod opened up a whole new world to me. I rarely listened to music on the train, I only turned it on at work or in my bedroom. Now I dreamed of listening to stuff all the time on the train and wherever else I walked. And when I got a new computer at work with iTunes on it, I knew I was a goner. So 12841 songs later, my iPod is as essential to my life as breathing, eating, showering and fixing my toupee every morning. I can’t imagine going anywhere without it.

Thank goodness I had this new found musical enthusiasm, because there certainly was a whole lot of bullshit in the music world to get me ticked off. First off, let’s start with the craptacular state of radio in my hometown of New York City. Granted, it’s always been pretty bad while I’ve lived here, but it sank to new lows this year. First, the only current rock station in town, K-Rock, dumped all of their cool current music to a web only stream and proceeded to play the same Red Hot Chili Peppers, Guns N’ Roses and Pink Floyd songs over and over. I didn’t listen to them that much besides Howard Stern in the morning, so it wasn’t that great of a loss. But then our oldies station WCBS-FM—which had been on for 30 years—was unceremoniously changed into the latest radio format de jour, Jack. This format is supposed to combat the spread of iPod listeners by “playing what we want.” Alas, that meant playing the same over-tested and over-researched songs, but just in an order that makes no sense and would make people run to the stereo to punch up another station quickly. So I’m basically down to an NPR affiliate (WFUV) and sports talk (WFAN), and with the way the current administration has spread havoc with the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, who knows how long NPR will last?

Another trend that pissed me off was the reemergence of the all-star duets disc. This painful concept was kick-started in the early ’90s by the Frank Sinatra Duets albums (which led to a spot-on impersonation of Sinatra in the studio by the late Phil Hartman on SNL that is one of the best skits that aired back then). It reached a higher commercial level with Santana’s 1999 all-star fiasco Supernatural. (Gosh, did I really like “Smooth” at one point—what was wrong with me that year?) And then this year saw Ray Charles’ album Genius Loves Company sweep at the Grammys. Now I like Ray Charles as much as the next guy (as long as the next guy isn’t Jamie Foxx), but did any of these Grammy voters listen to this disc? The duet with Van Morrison on “Crazy Love” is quite possibly the low point in either one of these gentlemen’s outstanding careers. And its success has led to even more horrific pairings that make me want to put the wax back into my ears. Les Paul celebrated his 90th birthday with a disc that sounds like it was genetically engineered in a boardroom in Los Angeles. B.B. King, a man who can still belt it out with the best of them, was reduced to singing with a third rate Roger Daltrey impersonator (oh, wait, it WAS Roger Daltrey) and Herbie Hancock had to rely on John Mayer to get him some airplay. When Bob Dylan releases an album where he sings with Ashlee Simpson and Shakira, I’ll be strapping something to my chest and sneak my way into the offices of Sony BMG to cause what could be called a sudden lethal event.

Here’s some quick thoughts on some other musical misadventures this year:

Britney Spears and her white trash husband Kevin Federline had their first child (his 15th or 16th overall, so I’m told), and it took Ferdeline only a couple of months to get thrown out of the house for too much partying. Looking at this guy’s track record, he must be hung like King Kong to keep finding sugar mommas.

The marriages of Kenny Chesney and Renee Zellweger and Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachey somehow didn’t last through 2005. In other unexpected news, the sun rose today, gas prices are high, and Steve likes Rolling Rock.

On Thanksgiving night members of 311 and ex-Creed blotard Scott Stapp got into a fistfight at a Baltimore hotel. I mean, I dreamed of something like this before, but it involved knives, the score from West Side Story, and everyone involved being extremely dead. But still, I’ll take what I can get.

Lastly, on a serious note (wow, I’ve never used that phrase on the Top 20 before), I’d like to commemorate the passing of Soul Asylum bassist Karl Mueller, who died way too young of throat cancer this summer. He didn’t write any of their songs, but he was still an important part of one of the bands that shaped my formative musical years. I suppose as time marches on I’m going to have to get used to more events likes this. (I’m hording sedatives for the day that Neil Young is gone.)

So what did I learn from this year? Ear wax is bad, celebrity marriages aren’t all perfect and I need to tip that doorman in Baltimore next time I’m down there. You know, looking at that list, I’d have to say I learned nothing this year…which is pretty much like every other year I’ve done this list, and by the looks of it, the exact same amount of learning our President has done this year. That might be the first and only thing that we have in common.

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