I rant a lot about how publicly owned companies are destroying our creative culture by placing short-term stockholder value over the long-term "greater good." Usually these rants involve some sort of invective about slow decision-making, out-of-touch technophobes and lack of vision/loyalty/free thought. That said, I think that Universal Music Group could be exempt from damnation. For a label group that totally dominates U.S. market share via an unending stream of pop garbage, they still nurture and encourage new acts with the money that pop garbage makes them. And they don't use Copy Protection on their CDs. Equally important, they do a decent job of respecting their vast catalog. From "deluxe editions" of classic albums to a clutch of smart people harvesting the vaults at Motown, Verve and various other labels under the corporate umbrella, UMG still looks, acts and smells like a record label. My point? UMG recently announced that February will mark the launch of an international, online-only reissue program of (wait for it) 100,000 deleted European titles. Like, holy Aphrodite's Child reissues, Batman! At least one corporation has figured out the best way to keep customers happy isn't to sue them but to give them what they want.
Did anyone else know that UCF had two radio stations? I didn't. I knew they had WUCF-FM (the very dull, not-student-run, semi-public-radio-semi-jazz station broadcasting at 89.9), but I didn't know they had WGKN. It seems that some students finally grew tired of not having their voices heard on the school's radio station and took matters into their own hands. OK, WGKN doesn't broadcast in the traditional sense; it's a live web stream (www.wgkn.com) that can also be heard on Bright House channel 21 in near-campus housing. Hey, it's a start. To hear students playing contemporary music is incredibly refreshing from UCF, even if they do like James Blunt too much for my taste. Maybe some decision-makers over there will get it through their heads that a college station is for students to learn broadcasting and teach other students about new music, not for professors to catch up on their NPR.
SPEAKING OF RADIO
Wandering around Circuit City the other day, I took my revenge on XM for canceling my world-music channels by picking up an open-box Sirius unit for my car. "Ha. That'll show 'em," I thought. Hustling out to the parking lot to do a quick-and-dirty install, I was mortified to discover that Sirius has pre-empted their world music channel (one, not two) for Rolling Stones Radio. I've been told that The Globe will be back after this year's Super Bowl, which is good, because Rolling Stones Radio is the height of redundancy. Flipping channels the other day, I cruised past Rolling Stones songs being played on four different stations … not counting Rolling Stones Radio. Ouch.
Still, I must admit that Sirius' programming has vastly improved since I last tested the system out. Their "nostalgia" channels for new wave, classic rock and '80s hair metal blow away XM's, as Sirius tends toward familiarity which, after all, is what you want from a nostalgia channel. Conversely, Sirius' new-music stations are getting less cautious. XM is still the place to be if you like to be surprised by what comes up next, but Sirius has definitely closed a gap that was previously all too apparent. But I also have to ask: Whose dumb-ass idea was it not to air replays of the Stern show? Another point (of many) for Opie & Anthony on XM.
OFF THE SUBJECT
My four favorite nonfamily things in the world are music, gadgets (see above), words and travel. Combining any of these makes me exceedingly happy. To be able to listen to music on a cool gadget while writing about traveling? Heaven. Travel books are something of a fetish of mine. I'll pick up a Pico Iyer book and, duly inspired, plan a full trip to somewhere I'll never go, simply for the joy of poring through a Bradt guide and pretending American Express just announced payback amnesty.
But when I ran across this new travel book listing on Amazon, I have to admit to a sputtering double take. In May. photographer Ellen Jong releases Pees on Earth: A Pissin' Mission. It's a collection of photos that Jong took of herself peeing all over the world. Asia, Central America, the U.S. … Jong's peed in lots of places. It's a different way to see the world, and while she ties it all up with a philosophical ribbon of "territorial markings," it may be the first book ever published that makes me want to avoid some very specific parts of the world. (Oh, Jong is interviewed in the book by who else? Annie Sprinkle.)firstname.lastname@example.org