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Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Looking for the Heart of [Sunday] Night

Pearl Jam has been on my mind lately. Regardless of the fact that they have a new album coming out soon, their name and music have come back into my life. It's not like I swore off listening to them forever, but I just had not actively listened to their music in years. Just like Nirvana, I rarely listen to grunge these days. I do have fond memories of listening to them in middle and high school and upon revisiting them, I think they hold up fine. How did I come back to these guys? Sunny Day Real Estate, of all bands.

Currently, I'm doing some extensive research on the Seattle grunge scene as a backdrop for what Sunny Day Real Estate was not directly tied to. While SDRE was on Sub Pop during the peak of the genre, that's where the comparison ends, until Dave Grohl steps into the picture. When Sunny Day first called it quits, drummer William Goldsmith and bassist Nate Mendel joined Grohl's new band, Foo Fighters. But what's the connection to Pearl Jam? A little radio broadcast they had back in January of 1995 dubbed, Self Pollution Radio.

I forget what the desire was or why they did it, but Self Pollution was a chance for Eddie Vedder and his bandmates to play music they liked for a worldwide audience. Setting up in a house in the woods somewhere in Washington and beaming their signal to satellites, an untold number of people were tuning in. I technically was one of those people as I listened to some of it live and listened to the rest of it on tape. My father rigged up the radio to play through the VCR so I could have the whole four (five?) hour show on one tape. The point of bringing this all up? I think it's safe to say that this show changed a lot of things for me getting into music. It wasn't an immediate change, but new gears started going in my head.

Hearing Sonic Youth's "Teen Age Riot" for the first time was cool, but getting to hear new material from Dave Grohl was even better. Just a short time before this, Greg Dulli of the Afghan Whigs listed the Foo Fighters' demo as one of his favorites of 1994. "This is Dave Grohl's new project," he told Rolling Stone. "He plays everything. Your mind will be blown." I was curious. Just as Dulli predicted, I was blown away by what I heard from the two tracks played ("Gas Chamber" and "Exhausted"). Foo Fighters showed up later that summer while I was taking a summer math prep class and ever since then, I've listened to the Foo Fighters more than Nirvana. To use Jim Ward's phrase, Nirvana was the baby food and then the Foo Fighters were the steak and potatoes.

Self Pollution Radio aired on a Sunday night, a night I would later find to be the night of the week to listen to the radio and watch MTV. By the middle of high school, I had reached a point where I felt compelled to really seek out music that really moved me, instead of the stuff that was readily available during the daytime that wasn't moving me. Most of that stuff was pure crap to me, so I felt like I had no choice but to look elsewhere. First up was David Sadoff's Lunar Rotation, then Modern Rock Live and then 120 Minutes. There was plenty to enjoy and I have to say that was one of the most fruitful and fun times finding new music. There was no hipster elite around me at that point, so I dug far and wide, but it didn't feel like a desperate dig. I found tons of great stuff with ease and kept going.

These days, I rarely listen to the radio, even on Sunday nights. There are so many options these days with finding music (podcasts, MP3s, MP3 blogs, Internet radio), but nothing really beats live and local Sunday night specialty shows on the radio. Fort Worth's The Good Show and Denton's Frequency Down are out my frequency range and Dallas' The Adventure Club is over by the time I'm done with traffic reporting for the night. Let's just put it this way, it's all CDs and MP3s for me in the car and in front of the computer.

Maybe it's my hard-headed/impatient ways that I don't listen to the radio on Sunday nights. Maybe it's because I think I'm fine with the ways that I find out about music these days. Besides, I think Sunday night specialty shows benefit the young listener better. I'm sure there are plenty of people out there that can't stand Black Eyed Peas on Top 40 stations or the Killers getting played right after Korn and blink-182 on modern rock stations. As much as people complain about how bad mainstream radio is, I argue that it has to be generic and bland to bring in more curious listeners out of the woodwork. Hey, it worked for me.

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