Monday, April 13, 2009

WFMU nails NPR

Enough alphabet soup in the headline?

America's best radio station WFMU rips National Public Radio a new one on the best music blog in the nation, their own. Read the post here, which includes an appended comment from yours truly.

Reader Mike F. really nails NPR in the comments:

"Here in Washington, DC, we have two major outlets for NPR -- or, as I call them, National Petroleum Radio: WETA, the fat, old, corporate dick-sucking NPR station featuring your standard NPR fare for geezing old liberals; and WAMU (out of American University), the slightly-less annoying NPR station, featuring more goddamn' bluegrass and early-60s folkies than you can stand, for the Volvos-with-Free-Tibet-stickers crowd.

To tell the truth, I don't listen to NPR if I can help it -- hell, I hardly listen to the radio at all anymore, except for WPFW (Washington, DC Pacifica outlet) or the WFMU mp3 stream. Still, from time to time, when spending any amount of time in the car with my wife, she insists on assaulting me with either NPR station -- delivering pro-Democratic Party spin, bland quiz shows, and NPR News, all delivered in a smooth, well-modulated, imperious, pompous liberal intellectual tone -- so that she can "stay informed" and, needless to say, when I groan and roll my eyes at yet another steaming heap of pro-Israel or pro-DP spin from All Things Considered and ask her to switch over to the CD player, she gets all huffy and grumps, "oh, be quiet, take a chance, maybe you'll learn something". Well, I've already learned something: NPR is a big, fat, fake; NPR is a corporate tool; NPR is culturally hidebound and insular; NPR bores the living piss out of me. I actually find myself feeling jealous of the likes of Rush Limbaugh and Fox News -- not because I agree with them at all, but because they remind me of how boring and humorless Liberal/Leftie radio is, how irrelevant it is to those of us of a Left persuasion who are really concerned about real issues and want real news about them, and how it just can't quit taking itself so goddamn' seriously. For me, the last thing NPR did that was worth a damn' was their last live broadcast of the Grateful Dead's New Year's Eve show from San Francisco, carried locally on WETA; they broadcast them every year from 1983 through '91, and it really shocked the hell out of me, considering NPR's usual insufferable cultural chauvanism (Holy shit! Rock'nRoll on NPR??).

That said... good lawdamighty, Henry, how could you do a slag on NPR without mentioning Ira Glass or Diane Rehm?

I think that if truth-in-labeling laws applied to radio shows, they'd have to change that name of This American Life to This White Upper-Middle Class Liberal American Life. The last one I remember featured some college girl with some brain-numbing essay about growing up lesbian -- a white upper-middle-class, university-educated, cushy-living lesbian, no doubt. I can't think of a single segment of TIL that didn't feature some boring-assed, inconsequential, irrelevant story from some boring-assed, inconsequential, irrelevant person.

As far as Diane Rehm goes, I can't think of a more irksome, tedious excuse-maker for the Democratic Party anywhere on the air today, let alone just NPR. It's not just her matronly, quavering voice that makes her sound as if she's going to have a stroke any second, it's the fact that she never misses an opportunity to defend the Democratic Party, no matter how craven their behavior. The last Diane Rehm show I sat through, in the late '90s -- trapped in a car with my wife and one of her folk-musician friends -- she spent the better part of the program defending Bill Clinton's decisions to bomb the living piss out of Iraq and Serbia, and his threats to invade Haiti and Somalia. Jeezus, what a goddamn' tool that woman is.

But, aaaaaanyway, I've got a item or two or three that may not fit into the top ten, but which stand out in my own mind nonetheless:

Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me: I don't know what it is that bugs the shit out of me about this program -- the host's smug tone of voice, the stylistic throwback to a '50s radio quiz show, the bland musical segments, or maybe it's just this vibe I get from it, a vibe that says we're so much smarter than you that it hurts.

Pretty much any of the folkie/bluegrass programming on WAMU: Yeah, yeah; I know, I know, forgive me, Liberal Amerika -- I know this music is supposed to be historic, and part of the fabric of the rich cultural heritage of America, and all that crap, but I'm sorry: I just can't get into it. It drives me up the friggin' wall. I feel my forehead beginning to protrude and my IQ dropping with every bluegrass tune. With every goddamn' old folkie tune I hear, I feel more and more like Bluto in Animal House, in that scene where he breaks a guitar over some guy's head. Despite the evolution of cultures, societies and technologies and the way they've changed the nature of "peoples' music", the folkie DJs on WAMU have an image of folk music frozen in the form of a romanticized idea of American folk music as it was in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, and in their minds are still back at that good old 1962 campus chapel basement "Ban The Bomb" hootenanny, still singing about what they'd do if only they had a goddamn' hammer, Still, my wife -- about ten years my senior -- is an old folkie from back in the day, so I tolerate it, even though my own favorite protest music is stuff like CSNY's Four Dead In Ohio, Jefferson Airplane's Volunteers and The Clash's London's Burnin'.

All Things Considered -- or, as I like to call it, All Things Censored, your one-stop shop for pro-Israel, pro-Democratic Party, pro-Corporatist spin. When the IDF bombs the living piss out of a Palestinian village, bulldozes a Palestinian village, shoots at ambulances trying to rescue the wounded from a Palestinian village the IDF has bombed the piss out of, or shoots Palestinian children for throwing stones at them, without incurring any casualties of their own, this is reported by ATC as "a lull in the violence in Palestine". I also love how ATC's idea of "economic news" is reporting on the problems of investors, or passing along investment tips, with little or no attention paid to the millions of people who've lost their jobs and pensions and homes and are forced to work at starvation-wage jobs while living in their cars, or in motels or tent cities. ATC's segment-reporting style always sets my teeth on edge as well -- the smooth, detached, dispassionate voices droning over sonic atmospherics that seems to be the style for radio reporting today. Sometimes, when my wife and I are visiting one of her friends, and they're listening to a "news" segment on ATC, it almost sounds as if there's a TV set on in the next room.

American Roots: I've heard so many episodes that I ought to be able to remember the host's name, but somehow, I can't. What I do remember, though, is how he sounds like some college kid working on his thesis in anthropology or something. Sometimes, American Roots, like most NPR reporting on popular music -- especially black popular music -- seems just this side of safari journalism. It doesn't matter what genre of popular music he's reporting on, he seems to be treating it as if it were a million-year-old fly preserved in amber, and manages to come across like a perfect square while he's doing it. I'll never forget an interview he did with Chuck Berry; I'm no clairvoyant, but I found it easy to imagine Berry at the other end of the phone line thinking God damn, man, what kinda' bullshit questions is this square-assed white boy asking me? Shame, too; I've gotten to hear a lot of my favorite old music by my favorite performers, and heard a lot of interesting stories from said favorite performers, but in the context of American Roots, I can't shake the feeling that I'm sitting through a goddamn' anthropology lecture. Not to mention that listening to American Roots reminds me of just how deeply into the toilet American popular music has sunk since about the late 1970s."

Best ... post... ever.

One of these days I'll have to share some of my pirate radio DJ days stories with you folks, along with my work-study experience at WXPN's early post-"professionalization" days, which was partial motivation for seeing the necessity to go pirate. American public radio is just so terrible for so many reasons...
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