The Legend-News

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Wednesday, 2002 August 21 : Volume 5, Number 17

What We Got Here in this edition of The Legend-News.

Radio Free?
An Ed.itorial

I don't listen much to music radio. I did, back when I was younger; but since the 1980s I've spent most of my mornings and commuting time tuned to WGN AM 720, a news and talk station in Chicago. WGN isn't an exciting station, by today's standards. They don't have a morning zoo, and the hosts don't make outrageous statements for the sake of being outrageous. And WGN rarely plays music, except for the usual "it's a beautiful day for a ball game" that preceeds a Chicago Cubs game and the traditional "Take Me Out To The Ball Game" during the seventh-inning stretch.

And I don't miss the music, really. Sometimes I'll tune high on FM and listen to Oldies 104.3, WJMK, to catch a song from back when songs where happier. Or maybe WXRT (93.1), which at least plays blues occasionally. And on Sunday nights at 11 P.M., I'll tape the two-hour excursion of Dr. Demento for a comedy fix (WLUP 97.9).

But Top 40 radio? Hot Hits? Urban contemporary? Nope; they're not on my dial. There isn't enough variety on music radio to keep me interested for more than a song or two. I don't care to hear a playlist repeat itself every few hours, with the over-hyped "Number One with a Bullet" assaulting me once per hour. I don't want to hear mindless "dance music" that gets my mouth a-barfin' and not my toes a-tappin'. I want to hear more than one genre, not just oldies, or classical, or big band, or The Latest Country Hits. I want to hear songs that aren't sung by people who hate their lives, hate their neighbors, and claim that they're just "expressing an opinion".

I do listen to music, though it's not what you'd find on the radio these days. I've got over 300 vinyl LPs, about a hundred 45 RPM singles, several dozen ancient cassette tapes that are begging to be digitized before they stretch from here to the Moon, and — at last count — more than 400 audio CDs. I've got country, I've got blues, I've got rock 'n' roll, I've got folk. I've got Peter and the Wolf by Wendy Carlos and "Weird Al" Yankovic. I've got Bela Fleck, and Barbara Mandrell, and Boston, and The Chieftains. I've got an LP with nothing but covers of "Louie, Louie"! And the entire output of The Beatles on Parlophone Records. Oh, yeah, and one CD of steel drum compositions by Jamaican bands.

You're not going to hear that playlist on Heavy Hits 96.

When I was a boy (Warning! Nostalgia Alert!) I had the radio on a lot. When I was in the house, either WLS or WCFL (they were competing rock stations, back in the '60s) was my choice. In those days of pre-FM, they played Chuck Berry, and Tom Jones, and Motown, and British Invasion, and Beach Boys, and Shirley Bassey. Yes, WLS, supposedly a rock station, is where I heard the theme from Goldfinger for the first time.

You're not going to hear that playlist on any single station today.

What you'll get is whiny millionaires on the verge of suicide telling you how tough life is, followed by songs with repetitive repetitive choruses that make "Na Na Hey Hey" seem short. A guitar solo by Frank Zappa? Sorry, kid; the song's too long and we've got a lot of beer commercials to play. Wanna hear some rap?

(A brief aside. My Opinion on "Rap" or "Hip-hop" Music: It's boring!)

"Commercial rock" manufacturing, a process that began in the '60s, continues. You want to hear Aerosmith? Try their output from the '70s, before they discovered the secret of making money. The popularity of the "O Brother Where Art Thou" soundtrack isn't a surprise to me; I've been listening to bluegrass and its ilk for longer than Britney Spears has been alive. (I was going to say "…has had talent", but I rejected that phrase as being too cruel.) I like Jimmy Buffett, a guy who's been working for over thirty years, got two songs in the Top 100, has over 30 albums and whose bad songs are better than the typical pop act's heavily-rotated "hit".

Hank Williams couldn't get airplay in 2002, much less a record contract; he's not "country enough". Alan Jackson and George Strait complain about the cross-genre popularity of Shania Twain, but Music Row murdered country music long ago when it decided that the "Nashville sound" was genuine country. Whatever happened to "western" music, like Eddy Arnold and early Marty Robbins? I guess that non-urban cowboys aren't real enough these days.

That's why I'm not listening to The Radio: because The Radio plays what it wants you to hear, not what you want to hear. Sure, "Goodbye Earl" is a good song, but I don't want to hear it every day. Maybe once per month, but definitely not every day. And in-between playings of "Earl", I want to hear "Cool Water" and "I'm Gonna Buy Me A Dog" and "Midnight Special" and songs by Maybelle Carter and Robert Johnson and yes, C.W. McCall (and not just "Convoy"), and Kingston Trio. I want to hear music, damn it, not power-pop-shake-your-booty-and-shut-off-your-brain crap.

So here I am, sitting in my home office, my PowerBook connected to an humungous external hard drive that contains MP3 files of almost my entire collection of audio CDs, and I've got iTunes running with "Shuffle" set to "songs". If I hear two similar songs in a row, it's a coincidence. And there's not a beer commercial in the bunch. Stan Freberg selling Chung King, maybe, but no beer.

Now about Internet radio…


Meanwhile, Back At The Critter Ranch
Beware of the rodent.

Chad Schaefer inquired of us, just this very day, "have you seen the 'dancing hamster' they sell at Osco / Walgreens and the like, that sings 'Convoy'"?

Yeah, it's another "Billy Bass"-like novelty, and it's not just one hamster, but a whole bunch of them, dancing and singing to a variety of songs. (And you thought that Hampster Dance was annoying.) "Roger" is the name of the rodent who belts out "Convoy". Gemmy makes the dancing hamsters, and Walgreens — among other outlets — sells 'em. You can also buy them online from Incredible Gifts for $9.95 plus shipping. The staff of The Legend-News has already ordered a couple.

You did know that August 18 through 24 is National Truck Driver Appreciation Week, didn't you? Go over to your local truck stop and hug a Teamster. The Week's only official in twelve states, but don't let that stop you.

T.J. Davis is proud to announce that he has brought three new converts into our cult, ah, fan club. T.J.'s about to leave his government job (U.S. Navy, settin' in Norfolk, Virginia) and head home to Iola, Kansas, where his wife Donna (a.k.a. "Comanche Princess") is already setting up house. He's also brainwashed his dad Paul ("Scared Coyote") and stepmom Linda ("School Ma'arm").

And finally, Russell Rein is constructing the ultimate web site on the Lincoln Highway, LincolnHighway.info. Check it out; and if you see something familiar in the "Songs" section, well, you saw it here first.


Song A’ Th’ Week
Words without music. Call 'em poems.

Back in June, I drove across Iowa on Interstate 80. The experience was boring. I would have liked to drive instead on the U.S. and County highways, but I had to make Omaha in six hours and Old 30 just had too many places to stop and smell the roses. Maybe next trip.

Old 30
(Bill Fries, Chip Davis)
From the album Wolf Creek Pass

She was mud and sand and concrete
Mixed with water made a' tears
From the rivers runnin' down the Great Divide
She was three thousand miles
Of rockin', rollin' highway
A million mem'ries long and two lanes wide

Far across the wide Missouri
To the ol' Wyomin' line
From the Jersey shore to San Francisco Bay
She was known to all the truckers
As the mighty Lincoln Highway
But to me, she's still Old 30 all the way

Now the Interstate goes screamin' through the backyard of her life
But it just don't send those shivers down my spine
So before I take that exit
To the Highway In The Sky
I'm gonna take Old 30 one more time

She was radiators boilin'
In the burnin' summer sun
And a blizzard blowin' wild across the plains
She was tumbleweeds a-rollin'
In the gentle winds of Fall
And the lights of old Grand Island in the rain

She was mud and sand and concrete
Mixed with water made a' tears
From the rivers runnin' down the Great Divide
She was three thousand miles
Of rockin', rollin' highway
A million mem'ries long and two lanes wide

Now the Interstate goes screamin' through the backyard of her life
But it just don't send those shivers down my spine
So before I take that exit
To the Highway In The Sky
I'm gonna take Old 30 one more time

One more time


Next Issue

What? Publish on Labor Day, a National Holiday? Sure, why not? We'll have another Tour 2002 installation, featuring some town in Iowa of which you've never heard, plus whatever the staff finds interesting. Well, maybe some of that stuff; you really don't want to know everything about the staff. They're scary.


The Legend-News is published fortnightly — unless the fortnight is the fifth Monday, in which case it's published fortnightly-and-a-half — by TechRen Enterprises, one of 10,000 perfectly-preserved 17th century buildings. Contents Copyright 2002 TechRen Enterprises, except for anything that we borrowed from someone else. Thanks to Bill Fries and Chip Davis for the words and music, and thanks to a Large Multinational Record Company That We Can't Name Because They Might Notice Us for not suing our pants off. "Ummmm, sacrilicious."