|I'm the host of Radio Rio on 88.1 FM every Saturday evening from 5 to 7pm. My blog will cover Brazilian music and a wide range of other musical topics from time to time.|
What is it about Merle Haggard? He’s lived the hard life like the rest of them hasn’t he? How has the quality of his voice remained a constant when so many others have lost their chops? Charlie Louvin, George Jones . . . It’s hard to listen to the greats when they aren’t so great anymore but it is truly wonderful to still hear someone who’s still got “it” like Merle Haggard.
I only started listening to Merle Haggard in my twenties. Growing up in the Northeast I had a pretty strong prejudice against country music. I knew no one who listened to it and I had that knee-jerk reaction to all things Southern (thinking of course that country music only came from the South and that the South was filled with racists). But luckily for me, I ended up marrying a southerner who opened up a whole new rich world both geographically and culturally to me, erasing my uneducated assumptions. I also came to the sad realization that where I grew up — Southern New Jersey — was just about as “southern” as they come — scary racism with an active KKK presence and with no great musical heritage (Bruce Springsteen does not count in this context!).
My introduction to Merle Haggard came through a friend who grew up in the Central Vally of California near Bakersfield, home to Haggard and Buck Owens. When I first saw Haggard play live in Chicago in the mid-1990s I was stunned to see an “old man” walk on stage — I was so used to seeing his youthful face on the album covers. I was sure that this was just going to be one of those shows where you come to see one of the masters but don’t expect much of a performance. However, when he began to sing I was awestruck by the fact that he sounded virtually the same as he did thirty years ago. And now, at the age of 74 he is still a vibrant singer and still writing pretty darn good songs.
He is a consummate performer: a great songwriter, singer and musician. He also has an entertaining stage presence although his skills as a comedian pale next to his musicianship. His catalog is rich with many great songs even when his politics were a little distracting. He is truly one of the greats not just in the world of country music but in the history of popular music. I would put his singing right up there with the likes of Frank Sinatra — both of whom can turn a phrase and make you think twice about a line.
Yes, that’s me in the photo. As usual, I am sure to disappoint my listeners with my appearance. Many times I have been told that the host of Radio Rio is probably a tan, long-haired brunette with an amazing figure. It is also assumed that I do my show in a bikini. The Girl from Ipanema I am not, dear listeners, but thanks for listening anyhow!
I include my photo only because I have recently done two DJ gigs where, for the first time, I have conducted the event solely using my computer. As you can see from the photo, the only tell tale signs that I may even be a DJ are the headphones and the mixing board but I could just as well be out somewhere looking for free WiFi.
There is no doubt that the digital age (and the automated age–grocery self check-outs, pay at the pump, and of course some “corporate radio,” etc . . .) is making the actual presence of a human less necessary. For my two recent DJ gigs, I could’ve simply dropped off my IPod or computer and had the venue play my list of selected songs. I felt totally unnecessary! (Granted, for one of the gigs I did have to change the “tone” as the evening progressed so it was good that I was present but it may have gone completely unnoticed.)
I am certainly not a Luddite. On the contrary, as a DJ and as someone who loves music, the digital age has been a great thing. Soon after the Internet became very powerful in the mid to late 1990s I remember reading an article about the Brazilian pop artist Ed Motta. He was asked what his feelings were about this new technology. He responded by saying that the first time he went online he wept because of all the music he now had access to, not just to download but to buy from the hundreds of record dealers that now sold online (I can confirm from my record store days that he would even call certain stores in the US from Brazil just to buy a rare record or two). The photo that accompanied the article showed a room of his house which was lined with hundreds and hundreds of vinyl records–he did not appear to be a man whose musical collection was lacking. Yet, the thrill of what the Internet could provide and expose him to was overwhelming, as it has been for many of us.
Yes, the digital age yields many fruits and has the potential to be great for the environment. Digital transmissions can lead to less mail which in turn means less fuel usage. The digital book and journalism age can probably save an untold number of trees. But yet, and here is where I get a little sentimental, there will be things that are lost from the onslaught of the digital–the physical presence not just of humans but of tangible things.
Most of us born before the onslaught of the Internet probably have some memory of when we first discovered an album, a 45 or a CD that changed the course of our relationship with music. One of my favorite things to do as a kid was to look through my parent’s albums for the very cool record covers. The Beatles stick out for sure: Magical Mystery Tour, Sgt Pepper’s and Abbey Road were all covers that caught my eye. I wanted to listen to these records because I liked to covers. Visual images were one of my gateways to listening. Later, as a teenager, I would go to my local record store and look through the punk rock 45s and make purchases based on the cover art of those little sleeves. Today, I don’t even know what the “art” looks like for most of the music I download.
As I look around my house I realize that I could have so much more wall space if I put all of my CDs on my computer and then put them in storage or sold them. But then how would my kids find that CD that might capture their attention and begin their musical journeys? They already gravitate to the most colorful and provocative covers and if they sat down to listen to most of the CDs they are visually attracted to I think they would be pleasantly surprised by what they hear (at least this is what parents hope for). And because they are kids, they are not allowed to touch my computer so I am lamenting that I have begun the process of locking away all the music that I hope they will come to love.
I am not saying that the thrill of discovery will be lost because of the Internet. On the contrary. It can of course lead you to gateway after gateway and take you down musical paths you didn’t know existed. But these are also very shared and public ways of finding things. I think I will miss that solitary act of finding and discovering something on my own, picking it up, examining it and knowing it inside and out.
I called this piece the Digital DJ not just because of my recent laptop DJ gigs but because within a very short time, instead of just bringing CDs and records to play on the radio, I now also bring my laptop and IPod (I know that some of my fellow KDHX DJs don’t even bring CDs anymore). It is not necessary to bring all of these gadgets but it is incredibly helpful. I can now fill almost any request while I’m on the air because I have access to so much and this is a great thing.
When I shuffle the songs on my IPod I rediscover so much music (yet I rarely listen to full albums anymore)–it’s like listening to KDHX! I confess, I love my IPod and I love that if I want a song I can have it in a matter of minutes from the Internet. But as with all new technology something else is lost. The old ways of listening to and discovering music seem primitive to the young folks (some have never even seen a vinyl record). We don’t need to get all misty-eyed about “how things used to be” but we do need to recognize that this new digital age is also a very private age. The public–actual human beings and tantalizing physical objects–will become more distant and seemingly irrelevant which I think is something to lament.
My corny ending: I raise a glass to KDHX to say how grateful I am that I can be both a digital DJ and still be a live human being who gets to interact with other live human beings on the air every week.
Do you have a car you want to get rid of? Don’t sell it–donate it to KDHX! We are pleased to announce that KDHX now has a vehicle donation program. Many types of motor vehicles are accepted including boats, motorcycles, trucks, cars, motor-homes and even airplanes.
If you would like to avoid the hassle of selling your vehicle please consider donating it to KDHX. Proceeds from your vehicle donation go directly to KDHX and you are able to claim a tax deduction. This is an easy way to support the best radio station in Saint Louis! All of the details are on the support page of KDHX.org. You can call 1-877-KDHX-876 (1-877-534-9876) to have all of your questions answered and to arrange for pick up!
My interest in the Beatles started with their record covers rather than their music. As a kid I would leaf through my parent’s albums and of course Magical Mystery Tour and Sgt Peppers had great appeal to me visually (the other album cover that I distinctly remember was Tom Waits’ Small Change with him in the dressing room of a stripper with those pasties on her boobs).
Magical Mystery Tour and Sgt Peppers fortunately contained music that was appealing to my six-year-old ears too. Almost every song on Magical Mystery Tour has some whimsical title and fanciful topic that should catch the attention of any kid. And that is where my interest in the Beatles started, well after they disbanded, and about four years before John Lennon was killed, somewhere around 1976. By the age of eight I believe that I knew every lyric to every song they had ever written.
My Beatles obsession even crossed over into insensitivity and silliness. My aunt had been given tickets to see the Beatles in Forest Hills, New York by my parents when she was a teenager. She still had the ticket stubs and lots of original paraphernalia. One day I asked her to make sure that when she died that she left all of over her Beatles stuff to me (probably secretly hoping she would die soon even though I was (am) very fond of her). In an Atlantic City casino, near where I grew up, the Legends in Concert tour would feature a Beatles cover band and we would eagerly wait to talk to the members after the show. I can’t remember now if we wanted to talk to them to share our enthusiasm about the Beatles or to pathetically get their autographs. And I dragged my mother to the yearly Beatles Fest at the Meadowlands outside of New York every year to stock up on collectibles.
However, now that I am older and musically wiser I no longer believe that the Beatles are the best band ever (blasphemy!?). I am much more fascinated now by their cultural significance and influence on the rest of the music world. Hence, my annual broadcast of the All Brazilian Beatles Cover Show.
The influence of the Beatles (along with many other bands from the US and UK) caused a great controversy in the Brazilian popular music scene in the mid-1960s. Bossa Nova had just put Brazil on the world map and there was a great fear that outside musical influences would now “corrupt” the unique Brazilian sound. But the Brazilian musical youth, the Jovem Guarda, embraced the Beatles and rock n’ roll wholeheartedly and caused quite a stir. Then in 1967, Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil started to blend sounds that were uniquely Brazilian but incorporated outside influences (what they would call the Universal Sound and Cultural Cannibalism). This was also very controversial and it spawned the short-lived Tropicalia movement. They did it very deliberately so that people would have to take notice and face the fact that art incorporates many external and internal forces. This is quite evident with the influence of Bossa Nova on popular music throughout the world. The Brazilian invasion and the British invasion occurred fairly simultaneously and each had an amazing impact. The 1964 Grammys pitted the Beatles against the Jobim/Gilberto crew.
The All Brazilian Beatles show started in 2001 when George Harrison died and John Lennon’s death anniversary was approaching. I had just started doing Radio Rio and realized I had a lot of Brazilians performing Beatles songs in my collection. The tradition continues this Saturday night, December 6, from 6 to 8 pm, with the 8th Annual All Brazilian Beatles Cover Show. This year I will be joined by one of KDHX’s newest programmers, Rich Reese of Pop! The Beat Bubble Burst. He is the former president of the local (now defunct) Beatles Fan Club and a current writer for Beatlefan Magazine. I hope you can tune in!