Thursday, March 6, 2008

I hate the Grateful Dead

I shouldn't bitch about public radio, especially about a station as rare as 88.5 WXPN, but I definitely have had a love/hate relationship with this station for the last couple of years. Sure, there's more to love, I will acknowledge that (and will address the good stuff after my rant), because all of the annoying crap combined that happens on WXPN just isn't as bad as commercial radio (and radio advertising, compared to advertising in other media, is just unforgivably bad), the radio hosts on WXPN are really, overall, pretty damn good: I cannot stand shock jocks, or even less-than-shocking DJs on other radio stations. And even with all of my problems and concerns with WXPN, the music — in general — is far better than what a lot of other radio stations, certainly the commercial stations, are playing

I was gonna let it all slide, but two things — well, actually three — happened in short order. First, last Friday, George Stamford was the WXPN Free At Noon Concert guest, and I did manage to live through the show, though his last, and most popular song makes my hair stand on end and always makes me turn the radio off immediately: nothing, to date, makes me move faster than hearing, "My Own Worst Enemy" by Stamford. It is self-loathing, cheese-whiz twaddle with music that was lifted from a circa-1974 super-simple 3-chord piece of tragic composition, that makes me want to put a knife in my head. I'm ridiculous, I know, but I just hate the song. A lot. The music industry and radio is complicated and formulaic, so I usually admire XPN for giving newcomers a break. But sometimes, songs don't get played on other stations for one simple reason: some songs truly do suck. The reason why no one else is playing "My Own Worst Enemy" is because it's the pits, and everyone else, except someone at WXPN, knows this.

Then, late Saturday night/early Sunday morning, we went to bed and put on Chuck van Zyl's Star's End program, which, I thought was supposed to be peaceful ambient music to provide a soundtrack to my dreams. Not last weekend. I swear that dude played a "song" that consisted of one unsettling chord — B flat minor diminished, I believe — played in perpetuity (it's probably still playing right now). This is an anguish-inducing chord that kept me up for hours, gnashing my teeth. The cats would not be calmed, either, but as soon as I turned off the radio, we all hunkered down and fell asleep.

I needed to sleep in on Sunday morning, due to the disturbing chord/song that caused me to toss and turn for hours (thanks, Chuck), and when we woke up, we caught the tail end of Sleepy Hollow. I will admit, there are times Glen and I will nearly blow our hot coffee out of our noses in fits of laughter at some of the over-the-top cover songs played on this show, but ultimately — and I speak more for myself than for Glen, because he does think Sleepy Hollow is a bit "gay" — I like the show, save for the hosts' penchant for Judy Collins (they play TOO much Send In the Clowns, for crying out loud). I enjoy the catchy French and Spanish tunes because they lend an air of sophistication to our weekend breakfast in Trenton, NJ. The accordion seems so hilarious on its own, to many Americans (including me), but man, those Europeans know how to use those things! I also appreciate the very odd, clever, soothing adaptations of songs like Black Sabbath's Iron Man. Again, for the record, my imagination is not good enough to make this stuff up: there is a quiet, comforting version of Iron Man, and it's getting airtime on WXPN. In Ozzy's version of Iron Man, we're convinced that the end of the world is here, and it's a bad, bad scene for us; in the Sleepy Hollow Version, Iron Man's leaden boots and delusions and vengeance are about as harmless as a yellow lab puppy.

Then, without warning on Sunday, suddenly there was a repeat of Friday's Free At Noon Concert, which I was vaguely aware would happen, but I wasn't actually hearing the music in the background until the "My Own Worst Enemy" song was on again, and I just couldn't get to the radio in time, and I nearly died. I hate music that makes me want to engage in self-mutilation.

So these three things made me spend a bit of time coming up with a list of all the other things I hate about WXPN. So here goes:

  • I hate that when they find a cool, new artist, they play only one song from the album. Okay, sometimes they play two songs from the album, but it's usually only one, and NEVER more than two.
  • I hate the Geator with the Heater (or would it be the Heator, and why does he have that stupid nickname anyway?), Jerry Blavat. I admit, this particular hatred is morally wrong and showcases many of my character defects. I acknowledge that, and hate him anyway. I hate silly nicknames, unless I dole them out, in which case, they're very smart and appropriate. If I were to give a nickname to Jerry, it would probably be something like "The Insufferable Jackass Who Plays the Old Annoying Shit." I don't know what a Geator is, and I suppose what makes that statement particularly disdainful is that, for a normally otherwise inquisitive person, I JUST DON'T CARE. I know he's done so much for the region in a musical sense, since 1954, but whatever. I'm not a huge fan of music from the 1950s*, but I don't outright hate it either. I just feel a whole lot better when it's not on. If I wanted to hear it, I'd raid my parent's collection of 33s. I suppose ultimately what gets me about this particular show is that I'd like to think of WXPN as the station that plays NEW music, the station that helps the up-and-coming artists, the underdogs. This dude and his "music from the heart" have all had their days. ENOUGH. Thankfully, the show is just an hour, during a time when most people would not be around to listen to it, so I thank WXPN for that small gift of scheduling.
  • I'm really sick of all the over-sensitive "singer-songwriters," who are so full of themselves and their stupid annoying affectations, like irritating, overdone regional accidents, greasy hair pressed to their faces, and a tendency to hide behind the amps during live performances. I don't dislike singer-songwriters or folk music, or "yuppy lite" outright; and I enjoy "unplugged" stuff well enough, but for THE LOVE OF GOD, I would not mind AT ALL, if some of these whiners plugged in their freakin' guitars and hired a REAL drummer (for crying out loud). Also, I wouldn't mind a little screaming, moaning, grunting and/or gyrating, just a little bit. I never thought I'd ever miss the days of spit-flying, unintelligible lyrics, and instrument-smashing, but I guess I'd like to hear a bit more anger, from time to time. I'm not much of an angry person, and I have worked hard to achieve calm in my home, but every so often, a quick, contained dose of rage is pretty cathartic. And, a bit of it can be kinda sexy too. Certainly sexier than so many unplugged gender-ambiguous hermaphrodite-wannabees.
  • I detest all of the end-of-the-year countdowns on WXPN, and it is the whole reason we got satellite radio. Each year, yes, there's a different spin, but always producing the same inane tribute to Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, the Beatles, and occasionally, U2, and Joni Mitchell. I am by no means intimating that any of these artists are irrelevant, though I will say I don't need to hear a whole lot of them, since they got/get plenty of play on other stations, and in some cases, had their day in the sun. ENOUGH (see comments on the Geator, above).
  • My biggest gripe with WXPN — and I have let them know — is the Grateful Dead show, on Mondays from 10-11 p.m. Again, I appreciate the fact that the show, over the years, has been moved to a far less popular time slot, but I just hate the Grateful Dead more than I hate the Year-End Countdown, or the Geator, or even that George Stamford song (but only a little bit). I hate the Grateful Dead pretty much more than I hate anything else in the world. I hate that any one band should get a regular slot on a public radio show, especially a band — like others mentioned above — that has already enjoyed copious success, especially when said band panders to a bunch of non-productive, unshowered, drug addicts, and since the average Dead Head has his/her own extensive bootleg collections on sticky, pot-residue encrusted cassette tapes. PLUS, anyone who might want to listen to the stupid Grateful Dead hour is probably too freakin' stoned to even remember when the damn show is on — or that it even exists, anyway. Ugh, I hate the Grateful Dead.

I am full of contradictions and exceptions, though: I wouldn't mind hearing fewer singer-songwriters, and more bands, but I do like Sunday Night's Mountain Stage — most of the time. I'm thinking that Chuck van Zyl's show on the Saturday-Sunday overnight is to deliberately induce disturbing nightmares, but I often really like the similar ambient show, Echoes, hosted by John Diliberto, which is airs on weeknights, from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m. I like it, even though Glen is convinced that Diliberto is broadcasting the show from his mother's basement; Glen spends several nights a week concocting silly scenarios where John is conducting an interview, but his mother interrupts and asks him to put the wash in the dryer, or when Mrs. Diliberto is feeling more social, Glen thinks she offers cookies to John and his guests.

Also, I would rather not listen to Kathy O'Connell's Kids' Corner (Monday through Thursday, 7-8 p.m.), but it doesn't make me see red, or run to turn it off. Sometimes I find myself caught up in the little stories and the science stuff. I just hate when she does her bizarre drumroll: "Da da da da da da daaaaaaaaaaaah." That REALLY grates on Glen, and I don't blame him for that at all.

Often, too, I find myself listening to the fund drives, and will usually pledge (unless it comes too soon after a dismissive response from station manager, Bruce Warren; Warren has, historically, laughed off my complaints about the Grateful Dead show with "thanks for the chuckle" messages). What I like about the fund drives is that they really demonstrate staff's exuberance, and dedication to the station. They clearly believe in commercial-free public radio, and I appreciate their earnestness and loyalty. It's impressive to see people who can clearly stand behind their employer; there's not enough of that in this world. And I listen to those fund drives in the hopes that they reach their goals — though they seldom do — but the disappointment never affects their commitment.

I focused more on the hate, and I will reiterate that the station goes off as soon as I hear George Stamford, or the Geator, or the Grateful Dead, or Kathy O'Connell's irritating drumroll; and it goes off for the better part of the holiday season thanks to the Countdown. But right now it's on. And I'm glad to have it.

FYI: XPN's website. Again, they're located at 88.5 in the Philadelphia area.


* I want to make it clear that the Geator's show consists of what I'll call 1950s sappy pop music. I like the jazz, big band, and martini lounge-style music from that era.


Anonymous said...

The Geator plays 45's. He started out as a dancer on the old Philly show Bandstand before Dick Clark took it national. He worked with old Philly doo-wopers and even had his own show on local TV, "The Discophonic Scene" sponsored by Lit Bros. His slang is a 50's version of what Ali G uses. He had a TV show in the early 90's and he would call washed up stars like Connie Francis on his Geator-phone. They were a riot. In the pre-Beatles 60's he was on Trenton's only rock & roll station WAAT 1300. The would put out a weekly pop chart of singles called the Hot Waat 100.

He's just funny to listen to. He loves to talk over songs or sometimes sing along.
The was a movie from I believe the early 90's called "The In Crowd" starring Donovan's son Donavan Leitch.
Rent it and watch the TV show host /DJ who is played by Joe Pantolino. He goes to a high school listens to a talk about Shakespeare and gets into it in the Geator way.
When he helps the female lead get away from her mean Philly cop dad as they play "Cast My Fate to the Wind is such fun.
Take him as a giggle, look at the silly hat too big for his head and relax, he's at his best when he's annoying.
Please watch the movie a real 11/2 star classic.


Irving Bertrand Clean said...

Dude... Hatin' on the Geator?!? The Boss with the Hot Sauce?!? I know you're angry, but... Calm down, sis!

Seriously, you've nailed every single listen I do not listen to XPN anymore.

I will say that the personalities are actually knowledgeable regarding the music they play (a dying/dead notion), but it comes complete with that smug air of "public radio superiority" that makes me want to slit my wrist with a snapped-in-half "Live at the World
Cafe" compilation CD.

"Funky Friday" rocks, though.

I'm a little embarrassed to admit that I actually pay money to listen to satellite radio, but less so after reading your post.

Anonymous said...

The Geator was also "The Boss With The Hot Sauce". He was a very powerful person in the radio business and tied up with some powerful people in Philadelphia. I enjoyed this blog very much. pbaman

Anonymous said...

You're somewhat ignorant about most of the artists Geator plays, who with few exceptions went on to obscurity and poverty in spite of all the difference their music made in breaking ground for the obscenely rich musicians of today. You say they've all had their day? If you knew half the stories, you'd be ashamed of your words.

Chrissy said...

It's always great when someone stumbles relatively randomly into a blog, thanks to a search term that doesn't really pertain to the content of the page whatsoever, which was the case with this last "anonymous." But thanks for reading, even if we don't see eye-to-eye. I did admit I was unfair to Geator in my blog, I acknowledged my ignorance up front. But the thing of it is, I really don't like the style of music that he plays much, and I don't particularly enjoy his personality. I don't really care for radio "personalities," and much prefer the DJ to play the music and not talk over it, etc. And while it's not right that many of the musicians of that era got hosed by the industry, a lot of time HAS passed; they ARE has-beens. Screwed-over has-beens...and that's sad, I get it.

The thing about music is, right or wrong, we can often make broad assumptions about it. Perhaps you don't like Rap or Country, and just flat out avoid those stations because of it. You would be ignorant of the lives of those musicians and DJs, etc. But being ignorant about a form of entertainment that doesn't appeal to us isn't a crime; you can like and dislike whatever you want, it's cool by me. I avoid WXPN during the Geator's show (and more importantly, during the Grateful Dead show) simply because I don't enjoy that music. You go ahead and listen, though, and have a good time.