Krist Novoselic's column on music and politics runs every Tuesday on Reverb. Check back on Friday when he writes about what he's been listening to.


It's Time for a Classic-Rock Radio Revolution

Krist Novoselic's column on music and politics runs every Tuesday on Reverb. Check back on Friday when he writes about what he's been listening to.
I love the magic of radio. There's something about tinkering in my man-cave and tuning my greasy boom box to a radio station. The local classic-rock station KCRX is pretty pedestrian, usually playing the same old songs. What's different, though, is when Alice Cooper comes on to host his syndicated show in the evening. The show isn't canned like what the station plays during the day, and there's some great music, but it still can be boilerplate classic rock. Cooper recently told Toronto's Globe & Mail that when it comes to new bands he "doesn't get it." Well, Alice Cooper--and the rest of classic-rock radio?--needs to "get it," and let me tell you why.

I am absolutely certain that as I write these words, somewhere in the U.S. the Steppenwolf tune "Magic Carpet Ride" is being transmitted over the airways. It's a great song--and a great band--but considering the group's vast catalog, why does it need to be played over and over again on the radio? You'll hear this song on Cooper's show too, and that can be a ho-hum moment, but if you wait, he'll dig deep and play some obscure music. And that's the fun part of listening. It's cool to hear the Runaways' "Cherry Bomb" on commercial radio. And to Alice's credit, he'll spin something like a song from the new Slash record.

I'll be the first to admit that I'm an idealist. Maybe even a hopeless one. But I do believe in the transformative power of music and art. Back in the days when Nirvana was raging, we would go out of our way to promote our fellow grungers/alt-rockers. I wore a Melvins T-shirt, then an L7 shirt on Saturday Night Live, to get the message out about the new-music revolution. I don't know what effect that had, but I do believe the terribly clichéd do-good crusader mantra: If it changes one person's life, then it's all worth it. And why is this important? I guess it's about an individual moving forward and discovering new things and sensibilities.

I do a live radio show every other week on my local community radio station. We don't depend on ratings for advertiser dollars, so I can get self-indulgent. Cooper is working in commercial radio, a ruthlessly competitive business environment. I totally respect that he can't shake people up too much. I'm not saying he should play Yoko Ono's "Don't Worry Kyoko," but perhaps try spinning her tune "Toy Boat" (with Antony of Antony and the Johnsons & Hahn Rowe)?

Led Zeppelin's "Whole Lotta Love" was released in 1969. New music of that era was a universe away from what people listened to in 1949. But be it 1989 or 2009, the classic rock" format seems pretty much stuck in some kind of notion of time. There's so much new music that's really not that different from what is thought of as "classic." The swank electronica duo AIR are not too far removed from Pink Floyd. Folk-rocker Devendra Banhart carries the torch of trippy mysticism that Led Zeppelin lit years ago. While not necessarily "Southern-fried," My Morning Jacket is Kentucky's offering of rock music for the 21st century. All that's separating these new artists from the established canon of rock is the fear of alienating radio listeners.

Alice Cooper has a persona of being a shocking freak. But in reality, he's loved and respected. Perhaps slipping in some new bands into his DJ sets would make people a little uncomfortable at first, but they'll come around--just like they did to the weird frontman of one of the greatest bands ever!

A glimpse inside the Krist "Man-Cave" (Thanks to Gene Stout for the Globe & Mail Tweet @popmusiccritic)
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