Archive for July, 2003

July 30th, 2003 Comments off

You know, I tend to think of myself as one of the world’s more cynical and suspicious people. Still, I never, ever saw this coming. Click on the link. Check out the story. In it, Dan Kennedy tells us about how officials at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell have snuck behind the backs of the students and the community and signed a contract giving control of WJUL, the heretofore student run college ration station, to the Lowell Sun (an absolutely awful newspaper owned by Dean Singleton) for 25 hours a week.

Maybe you’re wondering what’s the big deal. What’s 25 hours a week? Here’s why it’s a big deal: Right now college radio is about the only form of broadcast media not controlled by corporations. (Yes, folks, NPR is a corporation. And whether it admits it or not it has advertisers — call them underwriters if you want; they’re advertisers — who have influence over content.) And unless this move is stopped right away, I promise you it will represent only the beginning of a corporate incursion into the college radio market. If it isn’t stopped, in 10 years there will be virtually nowhere on the radio dial where content isn’t bought and paid for — other than pirate radio and, maybe, low watt community stations (assuming your friendly local public radio station doesn’t succeed in its ongoing attempts to squelch that movement — and yes, Valley folks, your happy little pals at WFCR are part of that cabal of NPR types working to keep you from having more options on your radio dial) — nowhere to turn for music from outside the commercial mainstream, and certainly nowhere to hear voices other than those that meet the approval of the corporate overlords (and you know what those voices sound like; they’re ultimately only half a step away from the ones you hear on Fox News, if you’re stupid enough, or enough of a glutton for punishment, to watch Fox News).

And this isn’t just about UMass-Lowell. It’s about UMass. So if you’re in the Valley and you dig WMUA — any part of WMUA — keep in mind that Lowell isn’t the only UMass campus that’s hurting for revenue. How long do you think it’s going to be before some corporate interest (be it the Newhouse paper down in Springfield or the Tribune-owned alternaweekly I write for — don’t worry about the Gazette; they’re a nice little local daily, but they won’t ever have it in them to run so much as 15 minutes a week of radio time) gets a piece of WMUA’s programming schedule. And even if you believe one or more of the local papers has its head on straight (obviously, I do, or I wouldn’t be writing for one of them), that’s not the point. The point is that college radio should be run by the people it serves — the students and the community — not by some commercial enterprise.

There’s probably little anyone reading this can do about the situation out in Lowell. But maybe you know someone who’s involved with WJUL. If you do, tell them this: They have to do whatever it takes to stop this. The students who the station will still be counting on to fill the other 143 hours a week, should refuse to participate. They should walk en masse. And they should find a way to compete with the “college” station, even if that means going pirate. The student government, in turn, should withdraw all student funding for that station. Student activities fees shouldn’t be used to fund a station at which the students don’t have decision-making power. They should send a message that if the Sun wants a radio station it should go out and buy one — a commercial station. They should not allow the Sun to masquerade as a community interest. If they won’t do it for themselves, they should do it for the good of college radio.

Will any of that stuff happen? No. The Sun will get its 25 hours a week. Then in a couple of years they’ll get 25 more. And sooner or later everyone will forget that college radio used to be run by college students. Because no one will be talking about it. They won’t have anyplace to talk about it.

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July 21st, 2003 Comments off

Went and checked out that Vic Chesnutt show at the Horse last night. Vic was his usual smart, wryly funny self. Played lots of great songs and kept the audience tuned in despite what were ultimately very spare arrangements (even as solo arrangements go). Picked up a tour CD (Vic live with a full band), but I haven’t checked it out yet.

The opening act, Hem, was kind of disappointing. I really love the band’s record, “Rabbit Songs,” which I grabbed immediately after hearing the song “Betting On Trains” on an Uncut CD a couple years back. Their writing is very strong and their singer, Sally Ellyson, has a terrific voice. Last night, though, they were missing pianist/writer/bandleader Dan Messe and I think his absence was audible. The arrangements sounded incomplete. No surprise there, given that the band pointed out from the stage that they’ve only twice played without Messe (both times at the Iron Horse). I was also not at all taken with their use of an electric string bass. It’s not that I have trouble with electric bass (indeed, I like it just fine). I just thought the band’s sound would have benefited mightily from the warm, organic sound of a real upright. Why go halfway on a thing like that? Finally, Ellyson explained that she’d wiped herself out screaming at friend’s wedding the previous day. Understandable, I suppose (you’ve gotta have a life), but it didn’t do much to help a band that was already hobbled by the absence of a key player. Hem hinted at the potential for brilliance at moments, but on the whole I can only call their performance lackluster.

Still, I bought a copy of the import single Hem was selling at the merch table, “I’m Talking With My Mouth” (haven’t listened to it yet). And I’ll definitely want to see the band again, at full strength, before I draw any actual conclusions about their live show. I continue to have very high hopes.

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July 15th, 2003 Comments off

Went out to the Iron Horse Sunday night for Broken Social Scene. Really, really great show. And I was very impressed with the size of the crowd. Much bigger than I would have thought on a Sunday night in July. Good job on the Horse’s part getting people out to see a terrific band. BSS put on a superb live show. Mostly stuck to the pop stuff from the record, but allowed themselves to stretch out more and more as the night went on. By the end of the set, I was getting a feeling for what their legendary Toronto shows must be like. I hope I get to see the full-on experimental side of the band at some point, but what I saw Sunday night was damned well worth the time spent just the same.

It was actually a three-band bill. And it looked like the openers each brought in a goodly number of people. So they deserve a good bit of credit. Missed the first band, the Fucking Sparklies. It had been a long day and I was running late. Wish I’d made it in, though I’m sure I’ll catch up with that band eventually. The middle band was one I’d been meaning to get out and see for quite a while, the Mobius Band. That’s one remarkable young trio. Played a really nice set of expansive indie-pop that drew unmistakable influence not only from Radiohead, Califone, Tortoise and assorted Krautrock acts, but from bands like Magazine, Joy Division and the Teardrop Explodes. I picked copies of the two CDs they had for sale, “Two” and “Three” (both discs for just $10; prices like that and a set like the one they played are the way to move the merch). I’m enjoying both discs immensely. Man am I stupid not to have seen the Mobius Band sooner than I did. It won’t be long before I see them again, I promise you that.

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July 6th, 2003 Comments off

I have a piece in today’s Globe about the New Pornographers, whose new record, I think, is better than their first. I wasn’t in love with “Mass Romantic” the way a lot of people were. Sounded too busy to me. They’ve scaled it back a bit for “Electric Version,” exposing the songwriting a bit and making a much more accessible record in the process. Go read more in the Globe.

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