Monday, May 21, 2012

Boys Don't Lie: Radio Edition

With all due respect to the late Donna Summer, I'm going back On the Radio, this time to talk about Boys Don't Lie, my now-finally-completed bio of Shoes. It's a radio show, and so a combo of music and talk with local music journalist (and buddy o' mine) Chris Kocher.  (Did I say we'll be premiering a new song off the forthcoming album Ignition? Just wanted to mention that.) 

I don't really know what to say about the book project, which has consumed three years of my life at this point. It's been fascinating, and I've learned a lot. My goals going in were modest: I knew enough about what they'd been through to want to know more, and as it turned out, I only knew a little around the edges. Getting to know and (attempt to) understand the complex alchemy of these three strong personalities has been an adventure; trying to explain them to others a challenge. As John Murphy said to me recently, "at this point, you know us better than our own mothers." Plus, I got cursed almost from the get-go by Gary Klebe, who said, "This book is going to be a Shoes record, you know that. It's going to take longer than you think, but there's going to be more to it than you think, and it's going to better than you think." Some days, I hate that guy.

It's their story, mostly from their point of view, but contextualized against the backdrop of the music industry for the last, oh, 40-odd years, so lots of news about things you lived through and forgot. (I, for one, never realized that "oldies radio" was almost completely invented in December 1980: John Lennon's death--and the retrospectives it prompted--proved there was market share in looking back.) There's also lots of red meat for you gearheads out there. Guitars and effects and boards and programs and studio design. And this was no small feat! Having Gary Klebe snicker over my confusion between microphones is one thing, but having Jeff Murphy fret, "'I don't sound like too much of a geek here, do I?" is something else. 

In terms of the guys themselves, I can't say enough about their kindness and generosity to me, with time and information and my relentless hammering at questions. "Okay, you don't remember it from this direction? Let's try another door." Sometimes, there would be a shadow of a memory, and I'd hunt, and the whole thing would become clear. I challenged them on facts of their own lives--that can't have been easy. And I edited and re-edited and re-edited, all with my formidable editor, longtime Billboard writer Moira McCormick. (The edit took twice as long as the first draft.) Early on, Kid C warned me: "Don't you ruin them for me!" And I haven't. It is literally not possible to. They are who you think they are. 

But now, after three years of this, we're done. Aside from minor grammatical tweaks, what I have is what we're moving forward with (the second wave of readers should have their galleys next week), and in this brave new world we live in, production time is slashed--almost to nothing in the case of ebooks, and only a few weeks longer for old-school hard copies. 

And so I'm talking to Chris this week. We'll be taking questions: post them here, or via FB, or give us a call at 607-777-2137 (from 7-8:30ish, EST on Tuesday 5/22) (last time, I got to talk to PowerPop stalwart MConroy!), or email me. We'll get to as many as we can in the time we've got. 

What do you want to know? 
  • Dying to find out the weird influences you would never expect?  
  • Aching to find out if "Karen" is a real person? 
  • What makes the fuzzy, buzzy guitars do that? 
  • What Fleetwood Mac's Rumours tour has to do with Tongue Twister
  • And what the heck Gene Simmons has to do with all this anyway? 
We've got answers to all these, and more of those things you always wondered about. Ask away!
And tune in to hear a new track from Ignition!


The Phantom Creep said...

Well, I have my Tuesday evening's schedule taken care of.

"Who Listens to the Radio?" indeed.

edward said...

Congratulations,hope you have abundant sales.

However, I really would like to hear the explanation for this claim:"I, for one, never realized that "oldies radio" was almost completely invented in December 1980"

We had an oldies station in the DC area (WMOD) all through at least the early 70's. And I interned at a radio station in Milwaukee in 1975 that had an automated oldies station on it's FM side, indicating that the industry was already well into the mass marketing of oldies pap.

Maybe you mean the fine slicing and dicing and era wide segregation of oldies which mimics the whole narrowband horror that radio is today, but Oldies radio, even corporate Oldies radio, certainly predates John Lennon's death.

buzzbabyjesus said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
buzzbabyjesus said...

Brown Shoes Don't Make It, but Black Vinyl ones do?

NYMary said...

I guess some major markets had them, but the mass movement came only after Lennon's death. In the same time period, labels started releasing greatest hits records from 60s bands like the Doors instead of investing in new music, new bands.

I wouldn't really oversimplify to say that it was JUST Lennon's death, but there's no question that as the 80s dawned, all sectors of corporate America shifted to the fast-profit model, and hey, say what you will, but greatest hits album or oldies radio or whatever don't need any groundwork laid. The audience already knows what they're getting.

Another factor playing in right in this period was the rise of the "radio doctors"--they claimed to be able to calculate, mathematically, what songs would bring listeners to your station. And oldies were a solid market draw.

A lot of historians attribute the rise of MTV and college radio to just this kind of backward-looking stagnation.

edward said...

Yes, that is what I meant by the slicing and dicing--the Radio Doctors who inflicted the narrow cast format on the radio world. Oldies stations became Sixties stations (or 70's,etc) and had a playlist of 600 or fewer songs, picked by computer algorithm rather than programmed by people.

What were disagreeing on is the invention of the hamburger vs the McDonaldization of the world;>

NYMary said...

Totally fair!

FWIW, I'm getting a lot of my analysis from this guy named R. Serge Denisoff: he was a sociologist who attempted something like an analysis of the culture of the record industry. His first book was called Solid Gold (1975), and looked at the music industry in the 50s and 60s; Tarnished Gold (1986) considered the 70's and early 80's; and Inside MTV (1988) looked at the forces that founded that channel. Interesting, if wonky.

TMink said...

Congrats on your hard work!


Alex said...

Congrats! Can't wait...