lundi, mai 8

radio killed the video star

so here's what i've been thinking about lately.

when i was young, my grandparents had muchmusic *way* before we did. no, they weren't progressive - it's just the way their cable package worked. heck we were the LAST kids on the block to get hooked up with much - my folks always figured it was a frivolous luxury. clearly they didn't understand that muchmusic was to kids of *my* generation what dick clark's american bandstand was to theirs. from day that muchmusic (or mtv) hit the screens, it immediately took over from radio as a way to broadcast popular culture

luckily for my sister and i, we visited my grandparents pretty much every other weekend. sunday mornings were, in my world, dedicated to citylimits and that supercilious scion of the urban myth of toronto cultural superiority, kim clarke champniss. now citylimits aired at midnight on fridays, but rarely did i get to watch it at that time. lucky for me it was rebroadcast on sunday mornings.

it was through citylimits that i was first introduced to so many of the bands which fostered my burgeoning sense of teen angst and alienation: depeche mode, the smiths, bronski beat, the cure, husker du, the red hot chili peppers, nitzer ebb, skinny puppy... oh the list of videos and bands i discovered through that show goes on and on. citylimits, and muchmusic as a whole, exposed kids, especially kids like me who lived in small northern cities or towns without access to a real 'underground' culture, kids like me who were surrounded by people who figured that nazareth and trooper were the end all and be all of the music world, to music that they NEVER would have heard otherwise, to clothes and styles and attitudes they would only see (maybe) on summer trips to vancouver or edmonton or toronto. muchmusic shaped my musical identity; it nurtured my teenaged pop culture psyche; it showed me that there was MORE.

in the early nineties, citylimits was replaced by the wedge - a half hour long primetime watered down version of its programming big brother. actually, the wedge is still on today - an isolated island of music and interesting ideas in the reality tv sludge that is the 'new' muchmusic. canada's music station had to take ren & stimpy off the air in that same decade, because its lack of musical content violated the stations licensing agreements. where, i ask you, are those broadcast regulators today? watered down clones of their mtv big brother programs dominate canadian music television airwaves. nowadays, videos make up a minute fraction of what is actually aired.

80's trivial pursuit asks its players to identify the first video played when mtv hit the airwaves august 1, 1981. the answer, of course, is the buggles' "video killed the radio star". as i was listening to 'left of center' on sirius, the question that i asked myself was whether or not radio has reasserted itself as the dominant purveyor of "alternative" youth culture - has radio once again become the primary means to disseminate new music?

as i was cooking supper tonight, for example, i heard gnarls barkley, gomez, beck, and death cab for cutie. out of curiosity, checked my television listings - much music is currently playing much on demand (and hour long program of inane posturing by vapid presenters loosely disguised as a viewer's choice program), while muchondemand is showing an mtv-produced documentary on george michael. see what i mean? is the music video even a valid art form, anymore? the artistically acclaimed postal service video 'such great heights' was recently converted into an apple commercial, without the band's permission - could it be that music videos are now merely training grounds for advertisers and movie producers?

mainstream fm radio has a long way to go before it generates the energy and excitment of satellite. commercial radio is just that: commercial, and it is tied to the moral sanctitude of its advertisers. satellite, of course, has none of those boundaries to traverse, so is free to explore the frontiers of music and cultural ideas. it may very well be that satellite radio has, indeed, killed the video star.