Pop Philosophy

Channeling stupidity, and exploding nicely

Censorship can be good Finally, someone else besides me believes Alanis Morissette's "Ironic" isn't fit for airplay. The same goes for such wretched songs as the Dave Matthews Band's "Crash Into Me," John Parr's "St. Elmo's Fire," and Limp Bizkit's "Break Stuff." Unfortunately, the reasoning behind the bans is wholly moronic. As reported in the Chronicleand elsewhere last week, several administrators for Clear Channel -- the company that owns 1,200 radio stations nationwide, including locals KMEL, KKSF, and Wild 94.9, along with the former Bill Graham Presents facilities -- came up with and distributed to its stations a list of songs that might be "questionable" for airing after the terrorist attacks. According to a press release by Clear Channel CEO Mark Mays, "In the wake of this terrible tragedy, the nation's business community is responding with a degree of hypersensitivity." So it's OK to overreact as long as it's patriotic?

After seeing the list, I'd say the company's response veers into insane-sitivity. Are the people of our fine country so easily unnerved that they'll come unglued when hearing that anthem to terror "What a Wonderful World," by that frightening demigod Louis Armstrong? Can we not brave such teeth-rattling songs as Buddy Holly's "That'll Be the Day" and Elton John's "Daniel"? Will we go ballistic during AC/DC's "TNT"? Certainly we can discern that Santana's "Evil Ways" refers to a woman and not to Osama bin Laden. (Curiously, the Cure's "Killing an Arab" is nowhere to be seen on the list.)

But maybe I'm misjudging the intelligence of people in other parts of the country. Clear Channel seems to think that listeners' responses to these incendiary songs will depend on where they live. Company spokesperson Pam Taylor says this list was never a mandate for all the stations, but rather a market-by-market guideline. "People played some of the songs regardless of the list," she says. "One station put all the songs together and played them. We just want people to be sensitive to their market -- and their format. After all, we're in the business of delivering music, not taking it away." Right, and that's why we normally hear the same handful of songs ad infinitum. Perhaps such a trimming of the radio herd isn't such a bad idea. Maybe we should ban all songs that have been played more than 50 times in the last week. Then we might have radio stations that were unpredictable and worth listening to.

Meanwhile, New York City's next big thing the Strokes have pushed back the release date of their debut record, Is This It, so the group can replace the song "New York City Cops" with a new tune called "When It Started." Perhaps the act's members felt that lyrics like "New York City cops/ Ain't too smart" weren't in keeping with the valiant response of the police over the last couple of weeks. According to a press release from their promo company Big Hassle Media, the Strokes stand by their song but feel that "the timing was wrong to release it during these highly sensitive times." There's that word again. Just once I'd like to hear some band tell the truth: "Well, our manager said people would at the least boycott the record and at the most kick our heads in."

The good kind of bang Few instruments inspire as much joy as the ukulele: Just one look at the tiny, four-stringed thing brings a smile. When someone starts a-strumming a ukulele (which means "leaping flea" in Hawaiian), hilarity often ensues -- especially if that someone is Oliver Brown. The Santa Cruz native's debut CD, The Great Egg Toss (released last year), features such wonderfully silly tunes as the beer-drinking ode "Old Milwaukee," the baseball/political fable "Fidel Castro," and the saucy number "Innuendo and Out the Other." But Brown's delivery and jaunty playing flourish best in a live setting; unfortunately, the singer rarely makes it up to San Francisco. Luckily, Brown organizes the annual Big Bang underground festival in Santa Cruz, giving listeners a chance to hear his playing and that of other like-minded eccentrics in unique settings all over town. The fest's second incarnation takes place Thursday through Sunday, Sept. 27-Oct. 7. Brown performs on Sept. 27 with the Automatones and Absent Referent. S.F. performers include cello-led art ensemble Bonfire Madigan, soft-to-loud indie rock group Track Star, no wave noisemakers the Numbers, Southern metallists Drunk Horse, sludge rock act Comets on Fire, and sad sacks Bunkbed. As it was at last year's festival, the biggest draw may be discovering some ripe new peculiarity.

Tickets for each show are $3 and an all-show badge is $20. Every event is open to all ages; call (831) 426-8610 for show times and locations, or go to www.kingturtle.com/bigbang.

 
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