Thursday, May 25, 2006

Canon or cannon?

The painters have been here for the last couple of days, and for much of this time their besplattered boombox has been tuned to a "classic rock" station. Listening involuntarily with half an ear, I have identified (in rough order of descending frequency): Pink Floyd, Who, Led Zeppelin, Dylan (birthday tribute), Beatles, Eagles, Tull, Clapton, Springsteen, Stones, Queen, Clash, Red Hot Chili Peppers, U2, Bowie, Ramones, Yes, Billy Joel, Jackson Browne, Elton John, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Steely Dan, AC/DC, Styx, Creedence, Green Day, the Dead, Blondie, the Doobie Brothers, and Janis Joplin, plus a few (otherwise unremarkable) things I didn't recognize.

At one time that would have looked like a relatively diverse list, and that a popular radio station would play all of them might have seemed a triumph of pluralism (if not quality exactly) over narrowcasting. Yet now it takes an act of imagination not to see it as exactly the opposite. It doesn't help that in each case the tracks selected were utterly predictable. I understand the motivation, and even the appeal, behind the "canonical" approach (thus the name, "classic rock"), but Aqualung is not the only Tull album (nor the best one, but that's another story), and I don't think we really need to hear The Wall twice daily (double album though it be, and much as I liked it in 1979). If I had to hear this every day I would surely go mad.

Yet sometimes I'm glad there are such stations. One chilly day we were out at the storage locker moving some furniture around, and a car with radio cranked came by long enough for us to hear two things -- "New Year's Day" and "Rock 'n' Roll" -- and it was just the thing for energizing weary limbs (mine anyway). Small doses at opportune moments: that's the key.

So while part of me thinks it would be great to have, say, an Atom Heart-only radio station (not least for its potentially infinite playlist), I really would not appreciate the sinking feeling I might come to have on hearing even the glorious opening digital stutters of "Supertropical" for the umpteenth time.

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