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Recently, I was informed by one of Principia’s practitioners that he was a reader of my column. “That’s great,” I thought, counting the people in my head I knew that frequently read my column: “Mom, Dad (?), girlfriend, and now, a bona fide Christian Science practitioner!” This practitioner – who shall remain anonymous in case his inclusion in my column gets him booted from the Journal listings – stated that he enjoyed my writing, but didn’t necessarily know what I was talking about. So I asked myself – what do I have to say about pop music that would be informative and perhaps relevant to a Christian Science practitioner, without offending or disappointing him and the practice?
Maybe not a lot – I’m sure my jabbering on indie rock, gangster rap, and various Top 40 acts isn’t exactly Sentinel-caliber reading material for the folks out there trying to “enter into their closets.” But here’s the thing: the majority of the Prin community, the students and even a select group of staff and faculty, enjoy this stuff – from Vampire Weekend to Jay-Z to Lady Gaga. In the past four years of writing I have always thought it important to report on the music enjoyed by the community we are all praying for.
So, in my efforts to retain my loyal group of four, or three (Dad?) consistent readers, I dedicate my last quarter of this column to this practitioner and others for their prayerful devotion to our community. Thank you for reminding us that it is not our iPod earbuds keeping us bubbly and joyful, but our unwavering connection to the one Mind, always sound and harmonious.
College Rock: An Overview
One thing music fans might not be aware of when seeing U2 perform grandly at the Super Bowl or in IMAX theaters in 3-D is that the band’s ascent into superstardom is largely due to their popularity on independent college radio stations. The Irish band’s politically driven 1983 album, War, spoke to many young tastemakers attempting to evade the glitzy, overdone pop from Duran Duran, Dexy’s Midnight Runners, and even Michael Jackson. Had it not been for these satellites of dedicated music aficionados, Bono and Co. may not have made it to 1987 when The Joshua Tree and all the other fan favorites began to pulverize stadiums worldwide. Thus, the term “college rock” was patented to describe the music approved by student DJs and their faithful listeners.
Suddenly bands that were normally only able to play small shows in dive bars and the art districts of their cities were finding major radio play on the college music circuit. R.E.M., the Athens, Georgia-based band, most famous for the heart-wrenching song “Everybody Hurts,” got a firecracker start strictly from the co-signs of many college DJs. The Minneapolis, Minnesota punk bands The Replacements and Husker Du found many college-age audiences and helped spread the DIY band sentiment across the nation. Even experimental bands, such as the noise-fused New York band Sonic Youth and the Scottish distortion-heavy brother duo The Jesus and Mary Chain, were able to find faithful followers through college radio. Other notable 80s rock groups such as Pixies, The Smiths, The Cure, and Violent Femmes were generously helped by frequent airtime on these stations.
In many cases, college rock radio stations helped catapult bands to major label contracts, or from the perspective of the dedicated fans, to “sell out.” By the 90s the “grunge” rock of Nirvana and Pearl Jam, bands that sounded similar to what had been played on college radio during the 80s, became mainstream. Since many “college rock” sounding bands were no longer being promoted through college radio stations, “alternative” became the umbrella term for most of the rock that was popular but could be classified as a subgenre of rock (i.e. grunge, punk, metal, etc.). For awhile, college rock radio stations still thrived, helping bands like Pavement and Guided By Voices to find fanship, but by the late 90s “college rock” had been replaced by the term “indie” or independent rock. This term is still widely used today, but like “alternative,” “indie” is more of a general term for bands that may have gotten their start independently and now play to wider audiences.
Currently, classifying music is very confusing. In the age of digital music, blogs, and podcasts, umbrella terms such as “alternative” and “indie” now apply not only to its literal and more obvious meaning of music that is outside of the mainstream, but it also applies to the individual’s taste – one that is “independent of” or an “alternative to” his taste, her taste, and even your taste. Digital music players such as iTunes have allowed listeners to make their own playlists and share them with their friends. Add the fact that both independent and mainstream music are spotlighted on many independent blogs everyday, making the college radio station’s promotion method seem embryonic.
Still, it is undeniable that the numerous college DJs and appreciators that helped develop the original category of “college rock” has been highly influential in getting the word out on some of pop music’s overlooked gems to a world of listeners who were ready to hear something “alternative.”
Hopefully, this gives a better sense of why college students have been and continue to be influential to the culture of sharing music. Next week we will discuss the importance of hip-hop and how to distinguish it from rap.