There was a time when music was the be all and end all of my existence. Listening to it, playing it (see to your left), writing it, going to watch others play it. All of this consumed an enormous amount of my free time and mental energy.
Then I developed a condition called Being Old, and it faded from the front of my passions. In a way, I blame how easy music has become for The Fan. In the pre-internet age (get off my lawn), the pursuit of new music–finding out about bands, shows, scenes, etc.–required so much more perseverance and shoe leather. Albums were artifacts, not to be chopped up into playlists, but to be listened to as a whole, as documents. I’m one of those weird people who enjoys working to discover things. Coincidentally or not, my aggressive hunting of music began to wane when the web and iTunes removed an element of labor from the hunt.
I soon found myself listening to actual music less and less, and not pursuing New Stuff with my former intensity. When I listened to my iPod on my way to work, I tended to listen to podcasts, mostly of the comedy variety, with old Jean Shepherd shows thrown in. I’m not exactly sure why, but at this time, I just preferred words.
Over the last few years, I’ve been making a conscious effort to throw myself back into music. Listening to it at home, especially when I write. Keeping on top of New Stuff in my five minutes of free time. Making it out to shows when I can. (This last one is the roughest on my schedule and back; I can not stand up for hours like I used to.) It feels great to listen to an old song, or a new one, and remember how wonderful music can be.
That’s why I’m really excited about Low Times, the new podcast spearheaded by Tom Scharpling, Daniel Ralston, and Maggie Serota. If you read this site more than once, you surely know of my love for Tom’s radio program, The Best Show on WFMU. Since it started back in 2000, The Best Show has been beloved not just by comedy nerds, but also by music nerds, because it frequently delves into deep, dense detail of band lore and trivia. Tom is seemingly able to pull out album titles and band lineups for virtually any group off the top of his head. (For instance, recent shows feature a puppet named Vance who has an encyclopedic love of prog rock. Vance has some very strong opinions on Gentle Giant and Ummagumma-era Pink Floyd.)
You can’t know stuff like this and not have a deep love of music, and that love is now channeled into Low Times, which Tom describes both in the podcast and at the show’s website as a successor to a fanzine he did in pre-Best Show days, 18 Wheeler. The inaugural edition definitely has a fanzine feel to it, in the best sense: no frills and no snark, just people talking about music and the trials and tribulations of making it.
The first episode of Low Times features a great interview by Tom with Janet Weiss of Wild Flag/Sleater-Kinney fame, wherein she talks about her almost accidental path to rock stardom. You’ll also hear Daniel talk to Owen Ashworth, ex of Casiotone for the Painfully Alone, about how he nearly got beat up all across Europe. (I recall seeing him play at a tiny bar in Greenpoint where the reception was not much better.) And Maggie talks to Catherine Popper about what it’s like hearing the Caddyshack theme played to you by Chevy Chase.
Hearing a trio of very different musicians talk about their craft is a fantastic refresher on why music is so amazing. Even if finding music these days is easier than ever, the act of making music and getting people to hear it remains an exhausting, sometimes gut wrenching process. I have friends who are musicians and producers and engineers (or some combo of the three), and I remain in awe of them, that in this day and age, all economic reality to the contrary, people are still writing and producing and going out on tour. Nowadays, most people willing to go through with all of this aren’t doing so for fame or money or chicks, but for art and love.
Low Times is a healthy reminder of this fact. Based on the list of upcoming guests, I’m looking forward to being reminded again and again in the weeks to come.