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NPR, me, and you

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Most days, I get really irritated with our local NPR station.  Not the news, not the purchased programming, no, just the music.  See, our NPR station, WUTC, is the modern-day equivalent of a progressive radio station.  When the latest release from the latest slightly-obscure artist in the field of bluegrass, Americana, light jazz, folk, rock, folk-rock or just something that is just very intentionally alternative hits the station's mailbox, they go for it, embrace, build a day's worth of programming around it.  They keep us updated with all of the lastest "literate" releases out there, or at least they expose us to them..

And it pisses me off.

Or it at least it did until yesterday when I had one of those very minor ephanies that I hang my hat on.  I realized that NPR is no different from me.

What I want NPR to do, as a station with intelligent musical programming, is to honor the best music out there.  But they don't.  They focus on the latest music out there that isn't going to be played anywhere else.  Fine, that's a somewhat admirable goal.  But is it also true that most of the greatest music ever written in the pop idiom is not being played anywhere else?  

And that's the problem.  If you had a radio station, wouldn't you want to play the very best stuff that you could?  While I fully realize that the best song ever written could come out tomorrow (yes, I believe in that possibility), the reality is that even if it does, all of the other songs released aren't going to come anywhere close.  So why put your radio eggs in that basket?  

The reality is that most of those songs are 10, 20, 30, 40, 50, 60 years old, and I'm not talking about the narrow palette an "oldies" station paints with.  I'm talking about the canon of great popular music that never gets heard--Hendrix songs off of Axis Bold As Love, early Leonard Cohen, Leo Kottke, the James Gang, the Db's, Let's Active, Guadalcanal Diary, Springsteen's Tunnel Of Love, most Dylan, Steve Earle, Lucinda Williams, Mavis Staples.  You get the idea; you have your own artists and songs that you would include and none of it on the radio, even NPR.

But back to that tiny epiphany--I'm no different.  I try my best to keep up with what's new and fresh and out there and worth hearing, but it gets more and more difficult every year.  Not hard to figure out why--each year we add another substantial batch of songs to the canon, to the personal collection, to the songs that matter.  Yes, that's still going on at this second, and if you don't believe it, I'm sorry to inform you that at some point your machine got stuck in mud (maybe somewhere in the swamps of Jersey).  

So, even though I look forward to revisiting Neil Young's forgotten classic, Zuma, or the blues of Joe Louis Walker, I also want to keep current and reward myself with songs by artists who might be too young for me or too hip-hop or too torchy or whatever other kind of music is not supposed to appeal to my demographic.  Just like NPR.

Listening to music in 2013 requires a great deal of intentionality.  I don't think that anyone wants to admit that because it seems so counter to the way that we live these days, presented with incredible amounts of everything from which we can pluck as the mood strikes us.  There's nothing wrong with that, as long as we are the ones doing the choosing.  But if we let someone else choose for us, the past will be gone.  The Beatles will be about 15 songs instead of 150.  Dave Brubeck will be a song, "Kashmir" a sample in someone else's song.  Joni Mitchell will be gone altogether, until someone revives her for a commercial.

I am here to declare that rest of March is, for me, "Dylan Month."  I haven't listened to him in quite some time, except when I went on a Blood On The Tracks tear a year or so ago.  And realized that it is probably the greatest record of all time.  At that time.  When I committed to it. Dylan deserves my time, or maybe he deserves yours.  And if not him, then someone else, some who isn't going to be just a song or two in the modern habit of listening, but a deep well that is worth being dropped into and floating in the bucket down there for awhile until some other artist stands at the top and cranks us back up and sends us on a new listening adventure, but only with those songs ringing in our ears.


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