Segarini: Two Worlds

In many ways, the population currently residing on this mudball are from two different worlds when it comes to music. Some components are time-worn and exist in both, and some are at loggerheads with one another, creating a sizeable chasm between the two that is much deeper and wider than even the fabled ‘generation gap’ of the ’60s and ’70s. This time it is not age that separates the two worlds (although age certainly comes into play) even though most people would assume it is just that. Young people versus old, this generation versus that generation…because on the surface, you could easily reach that conclusion. The truth of the matter is a bit more complex. It is a miracle that the two worlds aren’t punching each other in the face every chance they get. At least, they haven’t yet….

When I was a kid (around 250 years ago in dog years or after air conditioning but before Taco Bell) music was an all consuming force with just about everyone. Mom and Dad, Grandma and Grandpa, all us boys and girls, everybody had favourites. Favourite songs, favourite artists, and even favourite radio stations and the DJs who played the music. My father would be constantly whistling Toot Toot Tootsie Goodbye , Oh Marie , or Cielito Lindo wherever he was. My mother would always have the radio on, (she was partial to Elmer’s Tune and Sentimental Journey) and my grandparents would even have a dance or two after dinner to whatever they played on the beautiful Philco radio/record player combo in their living room. I don’t recall seeing many records at my Grandmother’s house, but that old Philco had such wonderful sound, the nightly dance music programs (Burgie Bandstand and Lucky Lager Dance Time, both sponsored by beer companies) sounded like you were there in the room with the musicians.

My mother, on the other hand, had an extensive collection of 78s, most of which I wish I still had.

While the old folks were digging their music I was in my bedroom, tucked into my Hopalong Cassidy themed bed listening to the old Emerson table radio my grandfather had given me when I was 2 years old. Later, after the advent of rock and roll, I listened to a brand new Zenith transistor radio under the covers, music so exciting I couldn’t turn it off. I would lay there in the dark, listening until the batteries wore out, the music and friendly voice of the DJ slowly fading in volume until they were gone. With records like To the Aisle , A Million to One , Shake Rattle and Roll , and Be Bop A Lula, how could you expect anyone to turn it off and go to sleep.

It was a pretty simple process. You heard a song on the radio and if you liked it, you went to a record store and bought it. Most of my peer group found their way to a record shop at least 2 or 3 times a week, but even those who were not as nuts for music as we were went at least once a week. We not only bought the record we wanted, we listened to other songs we hadn’t heard yet. Sometimes the owner of the shop would turn us on to something new, and there were even labels we would buy, records unheard but desirable because the record company in question always put out great stuff. Federal, King, Gee, and Roulette come to mind from the ’50s, Motown and Stax from the ’60s, Warner/Reprise, Elektra, and Dunhill from the ’70s, and others that slip my mind at the moment. We bought our favourite artists records without hearing them, too. We were loyal to those who had engaged us, but always on the lookout for something new.

Record shops in those days had listening booths and employees and owners who not only loved music, but knew the latest and best stuff and, once they got to know your taste would even call you and tell you when something you would probably like had come through the door and into the store. Buying records was an adventure. You never knew what you’d hear or who you would run into. It was a shared experience, listening to a track intensely, then discussing what you heard with your friends and the sales people. You could spend hours in the store and a lot of time, that’s exactly what we did.

So, my grandparents turned me on to music radio, my folks turned me on to big bands, Louie Prima (and Keely Smith), and fine singers like the Mills Brothers, Bing Crosby, Dean Martin, and of course, Frank Sinatra. My neighbor Guy Waltz turned me on to Elvis, Joe Bava turned me on to Chuck Berry and Little Richard, my cousin Diane and her friends turned me on to doo-wop, my cousin Phid introduced me to live concerts and Buddy Holly, and a great friend, Glenn Gallup, noticed my love of music, specifically James Brown and Ray Charles, and introduced me to Bobby Blue Bland , Junior Parker , 5 Blind Boys of Alabama , and countless other blues and R&B greats. A couple of friends from school turned me on to KRAK, a country station out of Sacramento, and soon I found myself watching Buck Owens and Porter Wagoner ‘s tv shows on Saturday afternoon. I was very lucky. I found that great music, regardless of genre, was everywhere. Even better, I was surrounded by people who loved it as much as I did. We could sit and listen to a whole album, no one saying a word until someone got up to flip the record over. Then, before embarking on the other side, we would exchange first impressions, grab a soda, talk about the music we had just heard until we could wait no longer, then drop the needle on the second side and sit with rapt attention until the arm raised up from the end of the groove and rested back on its cradle with a pronounced ‘thunk’, as the machine shut itself off. Music…was a shared experience.

These days, music has become more of a private affair.

I think one of the biggest reasons artists are making more money playing live then from record sales is because it is the only time fans can actually share their love of the music and the people who make it with one another. We no longer sit around a stereo and listen, really listen, to recorded music any more. We cram a pair of cheap plastic earbuds into the holes on either side of our heads and use music as insulation from our environment. We shut everyone out. We keep our music to ourselves. Watching people on the subway, or streetcars, I rarely, if ever, see someone’s body moving to the music, their eyes closed with concentration, their attention on the songs that are playing for them alone. They text, they read, they lock themselves away from the world around them. On the street, on a bike, they are oblivious to their surroundings, an accident waiting to happen. Worse, they are only hearing what they have heard before. I’ve shouted “Look out!” more than once at a bicyclist who was about to get clipped by a car, then winced when they got pranged. I’m shouting ‘Look out!”, all they hear is that Adele record or some classic rock song they’ve heard a thousand times before. Harrumph!

Wait a minute….

I’m starting to sound like a cranky old fart. The point I’m trying to make is not easily conveyed.

Somewhere along the line, radio, for decades our gateway to music discovery and a voice we trusted and relied on, provided those of us who loved music with great tunes old and new, and told us things we didn’t know about the artists and recordings. Then, something happened. Music radio’s focus shifted from music, to hits. In other words, popularity became more important than merit. Format became more important than content, and advertising sales became more important than the audience. The friendly, unique voices became one, easily recognizable and imitated drone. The individual was subjugated by the format, the creativity became controlled, the passion…was lost. Where music was used to bring listeners into the fold, now music was in service to the format. In other words, a record, no matter how good, had no chance of being played unless it fit the format. The major labels conformed, artists relented, and the audience shifted from people who love music to casual listeners who just want to hear the hits, the most popular songs, be part of the majority.

And here we are.

Happy listeners on one hand who are comfortable with the familiar, consulted, researched sound of their radio station(s), and the rest of us, who now find and listen to our music in the clubs and on the internet, betrayed by radio, our pleas for more new music and deeper playlists ignored, and saddened by what radio has become. Seriously, it just breaks my heart sometimes.

There are still a lot of very passionate, very talented people plying the airwaves and riding the desks at radio stations everywhere. It is a pity that so many are hamstrung by those few people who control what they are able to do. It is the equivalent of a race horse pulling a plow, or driving a Ferrari in a school zone. A waste.

There are signs lately of a shift in thinking. Little stations here and there deepening their play lists, adding records outside their format, loosening the reigns on their on-air personalities. I hope the risks they take bear fruit. There is room for both schools of thought to exist side by side, and those of us who have been sidelined by radio’s disinterest in us would be pleased to find a station whose policy depended on the money following the music, instead of the music following the money. Popularity is fine and dandy, but if that’s the only goal, don’t expect to be around long. Most records that have stood the test of time were not the most popular radio records of their day. How many hit singles did Led Zeppelin or the Grateful Dead, or Otis Redding have? XTC? Crowded House? You can probably add some favourites here that didn’t chart high or not at all that remain in your personal all time top ten. We all can, and that’s my point. There is so much great music being made right now but for much of it, how tragic that there isn’t a radio format it belongs in, and because of that, what’s left of the Major Labels would be hard pressed to sign any of it. Fortunately, most good indie bands choose to remain that way. Still, the Majors have the best distribution, something they do better than anyone else.

There are signs in other areas of the music business that radio would be wise to pay attention to. The most evident are the rapidly disappearing retail music store chains. Tower, HMV, Virgin, all are gone or going or greatly downsized. The biggest reason? Limited selection, high prices, and unfamiliarity with indie product. Mostly, they just stocked what is being played on the radio. The stores that ARE surviving are the mom and pop and independent stores and small chains like Amoeba, whose savvy employees and wide range of releases still draw record buyers, while Wal Mart, Best Buy, and other big box stores reduce or eliminate their record departments. CDs that sell? Current Indie and career artists from the past. Very little radio friendly material…casual listeners, most with no history of buying music, just download the ‘hit’ singles off the net.

Like the rest of us in this wounded economy, ruined by greed and ignorance, the music industry needs to lower their expectations and reconnect with the music lovers who created them in the first place. We used to be a damn good team.

We now have an email address where all of us here at Don’t Believe a Word I Say can be contacted: Please use it to ask questions, tell us what you’d like to read about, send links you’d like to share, and let us hear what you have to say.

Bob “The Iceman” Segarini was in the bands The Family Tree, Roxy, The Wackers, The Dudes, The Segarini Band, and Cats and Dogs, and nominated for a Juno for production in 1978. He also hosted “Late Great Movies” on CITY TV, was a producer of Much Music, and an on-air personality on CHUM FM, Q107, SIRIUS Sat/Rad’s Iceberg 95, (now sadly gone), and now provides content for with RadioZombie, The Iceage, and PsychShack. Along with the love of his life, Jade (Pie) Dunlop, (who hosts and writes “I’ve Heard That Song Before” on RTDS), continues to write, make music, and record.                                                                                                     

One Response to “Segarini: Two Worlds”

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