Over the last couple of weeks, I've been confronted with a handful of questions that begin with "Did you hear about …" or "What do you think about …." Usually, the subject at hand is fairly newsworthy and, therefore, overreported and overanalyzed by other outlets, leaving my opinions best kept to the barstool where they were born. However, I've been asked the following questions so often, I figured someone besides my friends might care what I think. So, here goes.
Gates of dawn
Weighing in most heavily has been the death of Syd Barrett. What do I think about it? Well, I think it's great. Though the music he made on his own and with Pink Floyd is among my all-time-favorite stuff, the ease with which his name has become a simple shorthand for "acid casualty" is somewhat disturbing. Painting his psychotic break as an entry into an parochial life in England with days spent hanging out with his mum is completely disingenuous.
However Barrett whiled away his final years, I can't imagine it was idyllic. The man had a total nervous breakdown brought on by chemically altering his already fragile brain; no amount of meadow-strolling can make four decades of painful hallucinations, manic depression and failing health seem pleasant. That he died of diabetic complications makes it even sadder.
Don't get me wrong; I am 100 percent in favor of people taking hallucinogens. And often. It would make the world a much better place. But the way the people like Syd Barrett and Nick Drake are lionized for their debilities makes for a cult of pathos I want no part of. I never liked Barrett for his story; I liked Barrett for "Vegetable Man." Knowing he was stuck in some sort of PTSD nightmare for the last 35-plus years makes me glad that he finally was able to move past it.
So, yeah, I'm glad he's dead.
Next question: What do I think about House of Blues being bought by Live Nation for $350 million? Answer: I'm still not sure, because I don't know exactly what will happen. But here's what I do know:
1) House of Blues has a reputation of overpaying for shows to keep out other promoters and forcing artists to "play one, play all" HOB venues. The former is bad for concertgoers, since it usually means increased ticket and concession prices to make up for astronomical guarantees; both are (obviously) bad for small-time show promoters.
2) Live Nation is a spinoff of Clear Channel, one of the most anti-competitive, monopolistic companies around. Their corporate culture probably means you'll see fewer "outside" promoters booking shows at HOB. Live Nation is also well-known for being, uh, "conservative" when it comes to artist guarantees and will likely not stand for a continuation of HOB's overly generous talent-buying. This could possibly mean lower ticket prices … or, perhaps, cheaper beer.
3) Both companies — at least at the local level — employ incredible, artist-friendly, music-loving people. One of my best friends has been a Cellar Door/SFX/Clear Channel/Cellar Door again/Live Nation employee for nearly 15 years. She is one of the most musically passionate people I know; she would never tolerate working for a company that was as awful as people make Live Nation out to be. Similarly, I've found the local HOB folks to be serious music fans who want to provide a good concert experience for artists and fans. Will the bottom-line-driven atmosphere of Live Nation's corporate headquarters allow that to continue?
The toughest question
What do I think about The Morning After Show on O-Rock (105.9-FM) with Drew Garabo and Savannah? This question is tough for simple reasons: Savannah's a friend (and is frequently featured in another column in these pages) and so is Drew (who used to write a column in this paper that I edited). The second problem with this question — which goes to the heart of my answer — is that I think rock radio in this town is an abomination.
For a while, O-Rock tried to distinguish itself from its closest competition — WJRR (101.1-FM) — by opening up its playlist to music that moved beyond the aggro-rock-for-19-year-olds that 'JRR does so well. Some "classic alternative" got thrown in, some indie-style songs got tested out, but ultimately, they're back to shit like Disturbed. OK, so a little Gnarls Barkley and Raconteurs and Wolfmother were added cautiously, but they are drowned out by what seems like 73 identical-sounding Red Hot Chili Peppers songs.
Into this format come Drew and Savannah — two very talented radio people who already have plenty of fans (and haters) and a great rapport. Together, they should have a great show. Problem is, they've been given a Morning Zoo For Retards format that finds Drew talking in a hyper-attenuated "radio guy" voice (and he's nice to everyone … yuck). And every time Savannah gets on one of her frequent tangents, they've gotta stop her to play a (crappy) song. Hearing "radio guy" Drew announce, "Here's the new one by Three Days Grace" the other morning almost made me cry, because his heart was so obviously not in it and, well, because they played Three Days Grace.
That's not to say the show doesn't have potential. The replacement of the silent Mel Taylor with the chatty Savannah has already made it exponentially better. (Nothing against Mel, but she's a music person, not a talker.) But the music component is a disaster; they should ditch it and let these two take on the increasingly redundant Monsters as a talk show. Or, even better, let them play whatever they want. You might get a lot of Beastie Boys and Duran Duran at first, but eventually, it could be a show that was (gasp) original and had some real personality to firstname.lastname@example.org