Sunday, August 02, 2009

Dawn, Dusk, Autumn and Other Times of Change

Radiohead - Reckoner

I was about five seconds away from sleep tonight when I heard the opening crashes of Reckoner. I was immediately granted intense sensory memories of a morning in October. Since I started this project for the express purpose of relating stories like this, I decided I owed it to myself to get out of bed and write.

Maybe you didn't know this, but I'm a big radiohead fan. Have been for a long time. Like most of my generation who are into the "indie music", Radiohead was one of the bands that first expanded my minds and ears. Do you remember ok Computer? Do you remember the excitement about Kid A? I remember using Napster (yes, the original one) to download Amnesiac when it first leaked, track by track, out of order, 20 minutes per song on the 56.6k dial-up modem. Mom yelling from the other room to get off the line because she had to make a call. I told her what I was doing, and she told me to burn her a copy when it was done. I got seriously ill trying to see them live. I have them all, I have the EPs, I have some b-sides. I bought all the albums on release day once I was old enough to get albums for myself.

In Rainbows was not much different, that is to say, in the level of excitement. There was a lot less time to prepare, of course, since they announced it just days before releasing it online. I wanted to hear Reckoner. A live clip of it had made the rounds for quite some time, years even, before the album's release. Really rough and angular rocker. Intense. I was ravenous. I also had to wake up very early the next morning. But of course I stayed up late to download it, burn it to cd, and put it in a safe place to remind me to take it with me on the drive to work in the morning.

It was six-forty AM on Thursday, October 11th 2007 the first time I listened to Reckoner. The sun was slowly coming up as I was bundled up in my car on this particularly brisk autumn morning. My car didn't really agree with my desire for the heat to come on. Finally. Track 7, the one I had wondered about for years. I was passing the WilcoHess on South Main in Blacksburg on my way to Christiansburg to open the store that morning. Early, cold, anticipatory. Where are the guitars? This is a really great opening. Very different than what I remembered from that video. Does it change? Will it be sudden? Here, after the second verse, that's where it rocks out. Right? No? I'm confused. This song is called Reckoner. There is nothing about it that resembles what I had been expecting. Is that bad? Am I upset? No. Definitely not. This is something different. It's expecting something to be one way, then having that rug pulled out from under you. Then, finding that you didn't fall down. It was an illusion? That other one? This is the real song. This simply feels right. This might be one of the most beautiful songs I've ever heard. I played it again four times before I got to the store. I played it several times that morning while alone, opening, baking bread and slicing lettuce.

Leaving work ten hours later, I paused outside on the way to the car. I could feel in the air, something, something changing. It was a slow change that I didn't notice for so long. And then when I did, it felt abrupt, startling, like it happened overnight. It was autumn. Trees had changed color. I had been wearing light jackets more often than not. Autumn is my favorite time of year, and I was in it. I listened to Reckoner once more that night, at dusk. I put it on and stared out the window and let it wash over me. How did I not notice this change? What happened to summer? I acquiesced to the fact that the harsh sun and humidity were departing, leaving the calm, still air of autumn. I was content. Reckoner was not the powerful, monolithic statement I expected. Reckoner was a levelling, a calming, a stillness.

Some changes are gradual. Some are startling. Some change is without our consent. Some times, change turns out to be for the best.

Plug in, and turn it up...

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Roadworn Optimism

Fleet Foxes - Ragged Wood

Despite our best attempts to hinder it, time continues to pass. It trudges on day after day, with little regard to what we want and when we want it to be each day we wake up. It's that passage of time and the change that tags along for the ride that buried this project under days, months, even years of rubble. It has been three years, one month, and twenty-four days since I first aligned the words on those first posts. Much has changed. Some has not. I am in a different place (many places) and there are different people in my life. But I still have that desire to dress up these memories. Some are true. Well, most if not all are true. The wording, as usual, has been dressed up for a good evening read.

I spend most of my life on the road now. I drive hundreds of (if not a thousand) miles per week to and from locations for work. This gives me a lot of time to listen to music and reflect. But this story is not about a reflection I made on the road, it is a reflection upon the road itself.

Last night I was in my own apartment. Relocated to Matthews, North Carolina (a suburb of Charlotte) and displaced from literally everything and everyone I know. It's rough. At times it makes me feel like shit. But this is what I've done and it's going to end in the best because, well, it's me and there is no other option for me. I have settled in to my apartment and become resigned to the fact that I will spend most of my time here alone. My record player keeps me company. I put on the Fleet Foxes record, as it is one of the best in my collection to play on the record player. It sounds, well, right. Anything can be played on vinyl, but only some albums sound like they were created for a record player; this is one of them.

I lay on the couch through the opening two numbers, pleasantly soothing into the feel of it. Track 3 is Ragged Wood. If you've listened to the album, you know it starts off strong -


Pow, like a fist to the gut. It has been over seven months since I was listening to this album in my car. I sang along. Loudly and off-key. Windows down despite it being the middle of January. I felt great. I felt free. I had left my old job, and I was looking ahead. To the future. It was that time that everyone says to themselves "Ok, me! This is it, the beginning of the rest of my life! Things are going to be great. You are finally, unequivocally, on the right track."

But of course I think we all know that it's just deception. Even if we believe it at the time, there's always the nagging sense, that "hey, maybe this wasn't the best idea?"

We'll never really know. Nobody ever does. That's the joy of the human condition - we only get to experience one outcome of each choice, each decision on our path. And so there I was last night, remembering the moment I told myself that this was, definitively, a new beginning. The real start. What a deception. Every single day is a new beginning.

This is not a depressing thought.

This is not some self-depreciating, soul-crushing moment of my life.

This is, assuredly, what it is. Roadworn optimism. Wood weathered and scarred but true, solid true.

Plug in, and turn it up...

Tell me anything you want, any old lie will do.
Call me back to you.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Nine sounds for snow

Halloween, Alaska - The Light Bulb Does

Winter seems to be a strange phenomenon in Blacksburg. It sneaks up on us, and it can be moderately warm, mid sixties in December and early January, and we think nothing of it. But when wintertime truly rolls around, and temperatures are peaking in the twenties and falling into single digits, it's as if the world has gone mad. Maybe it's just that we're all too busy to notice that it's indeed getting colder out there. We forget to check the weather each day, and I know I was quite surprised when I walked out the door this afternoon to find already half an inch of snow.

It's nights like this where all I want to do is curl up into my blankets and sleep until spring. Most everyone has the same urge right now, be it coffee or hot chocolate, warm soup or grilled cheese. For me, winter brings another thought to mind - sparse, floaty sounds that drift by like the loose snow on hills. That's what I feel whenever I listen to this particular track, or anything else from Halloween Alaska's second album, Too Tall to Hide.

It was an album that hit me just at the perfect time, one that had been released around September but didn't really get noticed until late December, when the year was pretty much over. I was going through a difficult time that winter, having lost my greatest friend and truest love to distance and any number of other unalterable factors. The strangest part about it, to everyone but me, is that we were never "together" in a relationship sense, yet I loved her more dearly than anyone I'd ever known, and probably ever will. But that story's for another song.

I remember spending my late nights listening to these tracks on repeat, huddled up in blankets in the corner of my room, and waiting to fall asleep. Something about the endless reverb of the piano and the heartbeat pulsing drum programming was soothing to me in a very difficult time. It seemed to be such a definitive sound for winter, as if somehow they had taken the surreal and soothing center of winter and pumped it in through my ears. Something in that sound made me feel warm, despite the freezing temperatues. I was happy, or at least I thought I was. It was a massive loss for me, yet somehow I found solace in those songs.

It's in this that Halloween Alaska helped me keep my mind afloat that winter. It was a cold time, a difficult time. Listening to it now brings back the emptiness, but it also brings back the warmth. Grilled cheese with apples inside. Watching movies under piles of blankets. The first snow, the one that came in December for once, as we walked to class early one morning. The last snow, when I brought her hot chocolate as we studied for our last final exam of college. The day she left for other countries, and greener fields, and people with names that were spelled the same but with different sounds.

And for the day after, wondering if she had ever been real at all.

Plug in, and turn it up...

Monday, January 29, 2007

A desolate sound

Pink Floyd - Wish You Were Here (click to listen)

I'd think it's likely that everyone, everywhere, probably has some kind of story dealing with this song. No matter where it's played, someone will undoubtedly chime in with "this song reminds me of when..." and then there's stories galore, some happy, some sad, some altogether worthless. But stories, stories as far as the ear can hear. Ironic, then, that the song be one of such solitude and detachment, when it has the power to bring everyone together. Maybe that was their intention all along?

But this song reminds me of when I was a junior in high school. We had a radio station at my school, nothing formal, and actually it was quite illegal the way we ran it. We were transmitting at very low power, on a frequency that we had no legal claim to, and the studio was simply a room in the cafeteria that had been allocated for one of our electronics classes. The setup was no more than two CD players, a tape deck, two microphones and a four channel mixing board, but it was fun (and pretty advanced for being free radio in high school). The station only really lasted for two or so years, my last two years of high school. I prefer to assume that it fell apart without my presence, however true that may be. It's nice to dream about being that important.

One day after school, I was hanging out in the station during a friend's show, waiting for my then-girlfriend to get out of whatever after-school activity she was involved in. It was a lazy afternoon in the spring, not too warm or cold outside, and no real need to be anywhere. I was laying on the couch, not really talking to him and just relaxing, when he put the song on. I had never really heard it before. I guess that's not true, really, as a song like this is never heard for the "first" time. I guess it would be more accurate to say that I really listened to it for the first time. At the time I didn't know the story behind the song; barely knew the names Syd Barrett or Gilmour or Waters. But something about it resonated within me, perhaps the distance, the detachment.

I wouldn't say that listening to it that day made me feel alone, or abandoned. More than anything, it just left me wanting... something. Some kind of connection, something to attach to. But there wasn't anything, not then. I laid there, staring at the ceiling, for what must have been ten or twenty minutes before anyone said anything again. Something about that song had taken the wind out of both of us, removed that standard chatter that happens just when time passes. Eventually, the girl I was waiting for showed up, and she sat down on the couch with me. I held her hand for a while, just wanting to feel that connection. The warmth. And it was there, and eventually things felt right again.

She left me that summer, right near my birthday, either over the phone or by letter or by some other distant method. One present I got that year, turning 17, was a CD copy of Pink Floyd's "Wish You Were Here" LP. Even though I couldn't bear to listen to the title track, I put it in my CD player anyway and let it wash over me. The distance was what I felt more than anything else; that, and the subtle beauty of it all. It was the first time I was freshly alone, and it just felt... right somehow, to listen to that album, then, when I felt it the deepest.

Today, when I hear the song, I know the story behind the album, and the mysterious circumstances surrounding its recording, the album's intention to describe the detachment of society at the time, and any number of other "meanings" put forth by the band. But whenever I talk to anyone about it, they always have their own story. So if you've got a story having to do with this song, and I don't doubt that you do, please share it here. Share it with me, and with the other readers. Help us all find solace in the fact that such a desolate sound can bring people together.

Plug in, and turn it up....

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Amplify Your Airwaves

I'm starting a new feature here. With each entry, you can click on the song to download it. Convenient! Now you don't have to hum along to get the real feeling.

Killing Joke - The Death and Resurrection Show

It's somewhat hard to believe that I would come across a song like this, never mind enjoy it and play it regularly. Most people assume I stay away from the heavy stuff; things with loud guitars and massive drums. But everyone has an angry music phase, and I'm no exception.

I didn't know much about the realms of independent music when I started as a DJ on the college radio station, WUVT. Sure, I thought I did - and I probably knew more than most people. But I had never heard of many bands that are staples of my ears these days: Belle & Sebastian or The Dismemberment Plan come to mind. I didn't know about independent record labels like Touch & Go, Quarterstick, The Militia Group, Ipecac, or any number of other ones that couldn't be found at the local Wal-Mart. So joining up with WUVT gave me a chance to explore things I'd never heard of, or even never though to look for before.

My first show on the station was on our AM sister station, sort of a training grounds before people moved up to FM. I got there early that day, and I wandered around the station a bit to acquaint myself with the new surroundings. I gazed through thousands upon thousands of albums, looking for anything that sounded familiar. While flipping through albums in our newly added shelf (which we call rotation), I happened across this album that said it guested Dave Grohl on drums. I thought "why not? I like the Foo Fighters. This couldn't be much different, right?"

Yeah. Right.

I started off the show safely, with a Verve Pipe track. Nervously, I took the microphone from time to time to tell everyone what it was they'd just heard (if anyone was even listening). About 20 minutes into the show, I remembered that album, what was it again? Killing Joke. Ha, that sounds intense. Well, I'd never really considered Dave Grohl's affinity for the harder stuff before. I popped it into CD2, cued the track up, and faded in. Within the first few seconds of "Ja-jug ja-jug-jug" crunchy guitars, I knew I was finding something new for myself. This was what I came to this station for! This is what independent music was all about! Something I hadn't heard before. Something... edgy.

From there on out, I was always in that rotation section, looking for what was new and would turn my ears just the right way. I found a lot of good music on that shelf - Laguardia, Apollo Sunshine, Wesafari, Danielson, Anathallo, Sufjan Stevens... honestly the list could go on and on. Very few things ever packed quite the same punch as that one Killing Joke track that I stumbled upon one day.

And it would come back around again, from time to time. Several years later, just a few weeks ago now, I was hanging out with the WUVT staff (of which I'm now a part) in our office, and we decided that it was time to forcefully remove a piece of furniture from the studio. There was a couch there, one that had been there since long before any of us had started, and its time had definitely come. Who knew what kinds of things had happened on that couch, or the things that could be growing inside it. It needed to go. And it just so happened, as we grabbed saws and started kicking at armrests, that the song came over the airwaves. I had pre-recorded a show with the station's music director, and we had tossed The Death and Resurrection Show in the middle somewhere, just to turn it up a notch. And it couldn't have come up at a more fitting time, as we destroyed that decrepid old rack.

Removing it was also just another step in the rebirth of WUVT, something that's been going on all year. The station had stagnated some in previous years, and this year's staff was finally getting things done. We were scheduling regular concerts, gaining visibility in the community, there was a new promotions campaign... and then, over winter break, the station was struck with a major setback. Our transmitter started having problems, major problems, and our reach was crippled. Barely able to broadcast outside the town, we were unsure what to do. But something interesting happened - our staff worked twice, three times as hard as they had before (which was already a monumental effort) to get the word out about our situation.

And amazingly, people listened.

Something we hadn't really counted on was how well our cries would be heard by alumni, connections, friends of friends, and others. Our station's online stream was still getting the signal out. And it still is. As it stands now, we've made extraordinary progress in just a few short weeks. The road from here isn't going to get any easier, and we've still got a heck of way to go in rebuilding the station and our transmitter. But there's something about WUVT that just can't be held down, it seems - something edgy, something in the way the staff is always looking to try something new to get noticed. It's what independent radio is all about.

Talk about your resurrections.

Plug in, and turn it up...

For information about how you can help WUVT get back on the air and back to full power, PLEASE visit our website at Thank you for your support!