Anyhoo. Without further ado, enjoy this little ditty...
As a student, performer and avid consumer of all kinds of music, it might come as a surprise to some that, on principle, I don’t listen to the radio. My radio days ended during the summer of 1999 when I turned 16 and got my driver’s license, enabling me to program the soundtrack of my days to suit my tastes – at least when I was in the car, which, if you live in Atlanta, Ga., is a lot.
My mother surely also breathed a sigh of relief when she no longer had to shuttle me and my friends around town. Though we sometimes settled on the crowd-pleasing oldies station – the soundtrack of my formative, carpooling years and always good for a sing-along – more often I’d channel-surf around the dial until I happened upon the most palatable two-minutes of “today’s hit music,” to which I would then sing along – loudly – heedless of whether or not said music contained lyrics you’d want your mother to hear you singing. (In retrospect, I don’t know how I wasn’t embarrassed or my mother horrified by this. I can safely say that the music didn’t register with me on anything more than a superficial level back then. And I have an extremely patient mother.)
My oldest friend started driving in March of 1998, allowing us sporadic reprieve from the radio’s aural assault of one-off hits, including such chestnuts as Chumbawumba’s “Tubthumping,” “OMC’s “How Bizarre,” and New Radicals’ “You Get What You Give.” Other one-hit wonders of the more sensitive, downtempo persuasion were lumped together in my mind under the self-concocted classification of “’Dawson’s Creek’ music – this comprised sentimental hits like Edwin McCain’s “I’ll Be” (which, thanks to wedding DJs across the country and American Idol has been granted new life) and the tuneless ballad “Truly Madly Deeply” by Savage Garden (surely a contender in the race for lamest band name ever).
At the same time, the piano-bass-drums trio Ben Folds Five released the lovely “Brick” as a single off of its 1997 album “Whatever and Ever Amen.” I hated it.
I vaguely recall an initial attraction to the timbre of the piano and the chorus’s interesting melody, but as “Brick” enjoyed more airplay, I enjoyed it less. The song’s ubiquity ultimately kindled my scorn, earning the group a place in my book of irritating bands that suck, right alongside Matchbox Twenty and Sixpence None the Richer. But soon that magical summer arrived and I became master of my aural domain. My 208-CD wallet accompanied me wherever I went, and I rocked out with Axl and Eddie, harmonized with the Fab Four, and belted out guilty-pleasure Disney songs to my heart’s content, effectively keeping the narrowly-focused repetition of the radio at bay.
It wasn’t until late in my sophomore year of college that I realized I had erroneously written off Ben Folds. Now a solo artist, he had come to play at Northwestern that fall, but I’d had a paper due the next morning – and didn’t he only have, like, one popular song anyway? – so I didn’t bother to go. My friends who went to the concert returned raving about the show, which piqued my curiosity. In the summer subsequent, Folds toured with Tori Amos and I joined my Folds-loving friend for the show – I was nothing short of blown away.
The space of five years had allowed my mind to disassociate “Brick” from all the other annoying songs of 1998 and I was finally able to hear it for the beautiful, well-crafted song it is. The lyrics spoke to me at age 20 in a way they hadn’t when I was 15, and the piano ostinato under the verse was achingly beautiful and evocative. But before Folds got to “Brick” – played as an encore, naturally – he tore through an impressive catalog of piano-rock, each tune accompanied by the voices of zealous fans singing along. Folds was engaging and intelligent, evidenced not only by his wittily observant lyrics, but also by his command of the conventions of many musical styles and effortless improvisational abilities. I joined in the sing-along when I could, but later that night I couldn’t help but think of what I’d been missing out on all those years.
And why? The radio.
Where before I simply didn’t like it, I now cultivated a fervent mistrust of the radio, which I maintain today – mostly for fear that another similarly excellent artist will be ruined for me. If I do turn to terrestrial radio for entertainment, I reject Top 40 stations in favor of oldies or the now-popular catchall stations that cycle through hits of the previous four decades.
Occasionally my ignorance of current Billboard hits is revealed, and I can’t help but feel like a bit of a fraud, especially since I purport to be an ever-vigilant consumer of new, good music. I figure if it’s good enough, it will reach my discerning ears one way or another, whether through the recommendations of friends and magazines, CD samplers, television or retail soundtracks, or Internet radio sites (which boast many considerable advantages over conventional radio, most notably the capacity to skip songs and program certain artists and their ilk). But the radio has done me wrong one time too many, and I won't let it happen again.