I had my first radio appearance today. And before you think that I’m famous, let me tell you this, it had nothing to do with fame and everything to do with luck. Not only that, that luck is only lucky if 10 people were listening. My friend’s father has started an online radio station in the sleepy village of Hout Bay, in the Western Cape, fondly known as the Republic of Hout Bay due to its seeming detachment from Cape Town and the tendency for villagers to stick to their own. “Republic Radio”, as it is so wittily called, maintains a prevailing focus on 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s music. A strong commercial slant predominates, which makes me feel a little apprehensive. But I am now listening to some of my old “History and Appreciation of Music” songs and starting to think that the term “commercial” could encompass just about anything. With Jimi Hendrix one minute and the Beach Boys the next, I realise that it all belongs somewhere. And let’s face it, radio stations were good once and the music they played wasn’t always mucky and one-dimensional.
So my appearance was actually linked to a potential job, without a salary, but with a lot of the cool factor thrown in, enough to keep me interested. And due to my absolute and all-consuming love for music, it’s actually a little prize for all my hard work being The Ultimate Fan. The chance to be a radio presenter, with a rock show, where I get to choose the music: The Ultimate Job (without the money). One downside: I am limited to commercial rock from back in the day. Perhaps I am lucky in that rock from back then was diverse and progressive and damn fine music. You see where I am going with this – I scored big time. I am now determined to get to a play a little Metallica.
My musical education was a whole lot of DIY, with the occasional formal learning taking place; such as the aforementioned “HAM” course with I took as an extra credit at University. That course for some was an easy credit towards a BA, but for me, it was four hours a week of complete submersion in real information, with an introduction to the weird and quirky. I have totally forgotten everything that I learnt in the classical and jazz sections, but have gleaned a few quality anecdotes about rock music. The best thing about HAM was that it was a real course, with real lecturers who knew their stuff, where you were expected to learn how to appreciate music through listening to it and perhaps discussing a bit of the history for an hour every week. The fact that I was expected to listen to music repeatedly, so that I could recognise songs within a bar (something I am still particularly bad at due to a memory like a sieve), just seemed to be too good to be true. My time at University now seems slightly surreal and undoubtedly peculiar too.
While HAM was a formal way of learning about that thing I love, rock music, the DIY aspect involved a whole lot of reliance on the circles of people I ventured into. While my childhood had been ruled by “East Coast Radio”, a provincial radio station as commercial as it gets, I was lucky to have been a natural fan of music from the day I was born. Talking about music has always been my favourite kind of conversation and I know now that I will always be open to anything and everything to do with rock music: any discussion, any book and any band. Along the way to this very day, I have spoken to more band members than I care to list, have read just about every biography on Jimi Hendrix (and have started a collection of books on various bands) and spent thousands of hours discussing music with the few friends who care enough to have a worthwhile opinion.
But the best way to learn about music is to listen. Of course. It may seem like an obvious piece of advice, but there are a great number of people out there who don’t listen. Of course they listen to radio, but their minds do not filter or process what it is they are listening to. They don’t often absorb the right information, such as where a band comes from or what the lyrics are saying. And this is the way you kill music. Music is not supposed to be one-dimensional. It is not supposed to be something which is merely sound; rather it is a feeling, a story, a sign, a protest or a journey. It’s a lot of things which the general public seem to misunderstand or not really care about. The thing is, the public dictates what happens, so in many ways, we need to pander to their whims. Music is a business now and you have to sell music as a product, not a feeling.
It is of course really ironic that I am currently reading a book by Irish rock DJ, Dave Fanning. Dave is an institution, if you get my drift. He discovered a good many bands, he had a hand in their advancement and he was always true to his first love, music. Of course, that’s what the book says, but I believe him. More than that, I admire him greatly. So far, I have learnt a great deal from him – that’s it’s okay not to like what everyone else likes (hence my dislike for electronic drivel) and that music should come before pride. He has also taught me to do what you love, but work hard at it. There are no half measures allowed.
The trouble is, my heart sinks just a little when I realise I will never be a Dave Fanning. For one, I tend to enjoy commercial rock, have shied away from the very obscure genres such as psychedelia and punk and have run away screaming from Indie Rock, the latest rock to emerge from the radio waves. I am way behind when it comes to rock trivia and I will never ever catch up. Music is always undermining my confidence, although I owe a lot of that to people I encounter around me. Truth is, there must be a million bands out there and there is no hope in hell that I will ever know all of them. A large part me wishes that I didn’t give a shit.
When it comes to this radio show, it’s about the coolest thing that can happen to someone like me. I have to simple hang on to whatever integrity I possess and play music for the sake of the music, with just a little thought given to the audience out there. But damn, I am nervous. So, to ease the nervousness I am going to make myself this promise: that I am also going to be true to me. I mean, that music that I really don’t get, I can miss. No big deal. No one will even notice.