Wimp Rock

A Moulderin' Oldie Recalls The Glory Days...

By Tom Danehy

DONALD FAGEN, HALF of the jazz-pop duo Steely Dan, once had a solo hit single called "I.G.Y. (What A Wonderful World)." The song was a slyly cynical look at the International Geophysical Year, which was actually an 18-month event back in the late 1950s. Fagen poked fun at the predictions made by scientists as to what our world would be like in the not-too-distant future.

About a decade later, he released a solo album, Kamakiriad. It also cast a jaundiced eye on a technological future. I liked it, but I prefer the old days when he was singing, "Drink your big Black Cow and get outta here," whatever the hell that means.

Danehy Then, just last week on Seinfeld, Jerry and George were wondering where the flying car was that the World's Fair promised would be here by now.

I don't know what all this means, maybe just that New York guys worry a lot about what they'll be driving in the future.

I once wrote an article about the future of car sound systems. I predicted that in the future cars would be hooked up by radio signal to a central repository. All the driver would have to do is say the name of a song he wanted to hear and it would be beamed directly to the car. That's certainly not all that far-fetched, but I concluded it would generally suck. It would be cool to have an unlimited library of music at your fingertips. That would be the 21st-century equivalent of the guy preparing for a date by spending all Saturday afternoon cueing up his eight-track tapes to the right songs. But it would also take some deeply-ingrained fun out of driving.

I realized a long time ago that a lot of one's childhood memories have a profound effect on how he looks at the future and conducts his life in the present. And one of the great things I remember about learning how to drive is pushing those buttons on the car radio.

And y'all young people who have grown up with solid-state and digital radios have already missed out on part of the fun. Back in the ancient days, pushing the buttons on a car radio was an aerobic workout. After a few minutes of pushing those old hard buttons, your finger would be curled back worse than Bill Clinton's...daughter's hair.

There were eight million radio stations in L.A. when I was growing up, and they all played pretty much the same thing, which was everything. But it was still cool switching back and forth. Maybe if you were lucky you could hear "Ain't Too Proud To Beg" twice in a row.

Now that I'm all grown up (and out), I have a bazillion CDs and (unfortunately) four bazillion cassettes. They're all over my car and I listen to music constantly. Still, there's nothing quite like listening to the car radio, pushing a button and hearing THE PERFECT SONG.

And the great thing about THE PERFECT SONG is that it can be something totally different from one day to the next. One day it's "Born On The Bayou." The next day it's "Let's Stay Together," and then later that afternoon, it's "Moondance."

All those years of button-pushing have had a profound impact on me. Catching a great song right at the start can have a mind-altering effect and pretty much make your day. Earth, Wind & Fire's "That's The Way of the World" always sounds great, but it sounds better when you push the button to another station and it's just starting up. It makes you feel like the gods are with you, the sun is shining, and you're going to go hours and hours without hearing a single commercial for Rogaine, heart hospitals or feminine hygiene products.

Of course, there's always the chance that you'll catch a song right at the end and be bummed that you just missed it. Why didn't I switch stations as soon as "I Just Wanna Fly" was over? I could've caught most of "We Want The Funk."

But that's the chance one takes, and it adds to the juice. Plus there's the added bonus of pushing the button and hearing a song you haven't heard (or thought about) for years, and then saying, "Wow! I haven't heard (or thought about) that song for years."

All this whining about car-radio button pushing was prompted by the fact that I've lost two of my buttons in the past couple months. "The Hog" used to be Button No. 4 and Power 97.5 used to be Button No. 5. Both have been snatched away from us by the vagaries of the radio business, leaving us with a void.

Button No. 4 is now occupied by an all-white oldies station (like we're supposed to believe that black recording artists all went into hiding in the '70s). Even worse, Button No. 5 hasn't been switched at all, but now I hear the terrifying voice of Tom Hassey bleeding over onto the FM dial. I just hope I'm not the only one hearing this, like "The Telltale Heart" or something.

I can still get a funk fix on Hot 98-FM (my No. 1 Button), but I really miss The Hog. I've always been a Soul Man, but The Hog had a good percentage of "Wow!" songs in their mix. Aerosmith's "Walk This Way," Deep Purple's "Smoke on the Water," Stevie Ray Vaughan's "Crossfire." Sure, the sight of middle-aged men playing air guitar is high on the Dork-O-Meter, but as long as there are frat guys and real-estate agents in blazers, it will never top the index.

I called the station (which goes by the yuppie, Madison Avenue, meaningless moniker of "The Point") and asked why they switched over to wimp-rock, but they gave me some nonsense about demographics and ratings. Oh yeah, like a station really wants skateboarders as a target audience. I tried listening to the station for a couple days and heard maybe one song that didn't make me wanna puke. And even that one was by Jackson Browne.

Even their ads stink. Their main selling point is that there's no rap. Hey, 37 stations in Tucson play no rap. Big deal.

Worst of all is their tagline: "What's 'The Point'?"

Indeed. TW

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