In 2001, I read an article in Rolling Stone magazine about a band called the Raveonettes. I liked what the article said about them; that they were a young, fresh duo that toured as a full band and had a raw, edgy sound reminiscent of the 60s – very retro, but with a fresh approach. Hmm, I thought. I should check them out…
The problem, I discovered, was that I couldn’t seem to find them on the radio (terrestrial radio – remember, it’s 2001). I couldn’t find them at all, not at all. That figures. Typical, commercial radio: Either they play the same top 40 songs over and over again, or play the same 300 “oldies” songs over and over again – with both types of stations breaking in with no fewer than 8-10 annoying, unoriginal commercials after every 3 to 4 songs!
Later, in another article from that same issue, I read the Raveonettes name again. This time, they were listed as a featured band on a syndicated radio show called Little Steven’s Underground Garage.
Little Steven? Isn’t he Bruce Springsteen’s guitarist? He’s got a “cool” radio show? I thought he was busy playing Silvio Dante on “The Sopranos.” Okay, what’s all this about?
In reading the article, I was impressed. Roots Rock and Roll? Punk? 60s Garage Rock? Hey, this sounds pretty good! Yes, this was a syndicated show on commercial radio, but syndication itself was never the problem. It was always what the powers-that-be were syndicating! I checked online as to which local affiliate station was syndicating the show, and made a commitment to myself to listen to it that weekend…
The show was incredible! I discovered then, and in following weeks, that the show had: it’s own form and style; a different show theme each week; a new “Coolest Song in the World” each week; sprinkles of movie sound bites; an odd poetry reading or commentary here and there; a cool biography and trivia about that week’s “Freak of the Week;” and few commercial breaks (with cool sponsors whose products you WANTED to purchase!).
And the MUSIC! I was shocked. Every one of these songs I was digging…and most of them I had never heard of before! Songs generally have to grow on me before I like them – even new ones from artists that I like. I also experienced a terrifying thought as well: How is it that I had never heard of some of these songs?! And darker yet, what if I had NEVER heard these songs! My God – what a chilling contemplation! I was shook to the core! This music reflected what was in my heart, in my spirit – the spirit that I grew up with.
As defined by Little Steven, Little Steven’s Underground Garage plays:
1.) The music of the Ramones;
2.) the music that influenced the Ramones;
3.) the music that the Ramones have influenced – up to and including today.
Before, this great music seemed to be dished out to me by the radio stations like emergency lifeboat rations. Now, I was at a banquet! For two hours each week, I was in heaven. Little Steven’s Underground Garage was sacred to me. It was a religious experience. I never missed it. Nothing was going to make me miss that show. And nothing ever did. Then along comes satellite radio – a whole channel of Little Steven’s Underground Garage?! My cup runneth over…
I immersed myself in Garage Rock. The term, “garage rock,” IS NOT a derogatory term. It was never meant as a meaning for hapless, unprofessional wannabe Beatles, bands incapable of getting out of their parents’ garages because they performed rotten songs containing faulty playing. “Garage Rock” means fresh sounding, raw music – no whistles and bells, no pretensions: Straight ahead Rock and Roll!
I understood the Ramones from way back, but now I REALLY understood them, and what they were truly about. I heard the parallels between Joey Ramone’s vocal phrasings and that of his inspirational heroes of the 50s. I found a new appreciation for Dee Dee and Johnny’s styles. I understood that CBGB’s was the 1970s version of the Cavern, Lenny Kaye is more than Patti Smith’s genius guitarist, the New York Dolls were more than a “glam-punk” gimmick that commercially failed, Lester Bangs’ record reviews were poetic essays, and that Nuggets and Nuggets II are required listening for every garage rock enthusiast. Also, as you listen to the show, someone, usually Little Steven himself, announces at the end of each set that set’s song titles, performing artist(s), composer and producer credits, and most importantly, where and even how you can get the songs! I began making my lists of NEED-TO-GET songs immediately! I began researching bands like the Chesterfield Kings, the Caesars, the Dictators, the Contrast, the Cocktail Slippers and the Boss Martians. I read book after book about garage rock, punk rock, and music as of yet unnamed.
I have to say, that in every way, this music, this…Garage Rock, has meant the most to me since I first heard the Beatles at the age of six. THIS is what I was missing the most in music. This great, great music! It is a music that has passion and fire. It was what music was always supposed be about. It is true Romantic music. It is pure. It is decadent. It is Rock and Roll!
The reason why I express this music using the word “is” is because it is very much alive. People are fed up with the music that’s being pushed at them by the labels and by commercial radio. They’re willing to take a chance and give a listen to some band that has no reason to expect any breaks because they “don’t fit” what the suits feel people should like. People have had enough and they’re pissed. Pissed because, like me, they know there is better music out there needing to be heard, needing to inspire just as it is itself inspired. This is a movement that has already taken fruition. And thank God, it’s growing upward and outward.
I must tell you that this music honestly saved my life. And that Little Steven’s Underground Garage, this simple little rock and roll show, has everything to do with me surviving some very difficult times. It gave me a reason to keep going. It fueled me with energy, and when I needed it the most, it was also an escape from all the hell that was going on around me. I could tune in (and drop out) using its radio signal as a lifeline back to the life that was and still is my life: music. Music has always been my great love. Back then at times, I felt abandoned and/or let down at one time or another by everyone and everything – and I mean by everything. Friends. Family. God. Everything. [People I know will strongly and vehemently disagree with me on this point, and to save argument, I will repeat that I “felt” abandoned and/or let down.] But, coming directly to the point, music NEVER made me feel that way. Never.
True music doesn’t lie. It doesn’t cheat you and it never lets you down. It’s there at a moment’s notice and it is always there for you. I have tried to treat it just as well as it has treated me. So when I reestablished this connection to Garage Rock, and rediscovered all this great music that has been made by these great musicians and composers, it was like finding myself right in the middle of heaven, and not the hell I was mentally in at the time.
Somehow, somewhere, sometime, I would like to meet this great crusader, Steven Van Zandt. I hope that I can, in words, express to him even a little of what his efforts have accomplished in the life of this formerly broken-spirited drummer, and how, in an atmosphere of chaos, he gave me hope.