Sunday, October 15, 2017

The Memory Palace Podcast Goes On A Nostalgic Trip For WBRU

The Memory Palace Episode 115:
A Brief Eulogy For A Commercial
Radio Station
More so than movies, television, or books, music often marks periods of our life more than any other art form. Whether it is a song of the summer, an album that is played on a loop, or a standout concert, music can also be a trip through time. The podcast The Memory Palace recently produced an episode that reminisced about a particular outlet for listening to music: radio station WBRU.

In the nearly eleven-minute episode A Brief Eulogy For A Commercial Radio Station, The Memory Palace narrator Nate DiMeo goes on a trip across time and relays multi-generational imagery that includes a description of a young girl being left alone with an old radio set and the magic that can occur as she plays with the dial. DiMeo uses that idea as a way to illustrate how the radio station can become a part of the girl as she grows older. He also wistfully recognizes that the girl could really be just anyone and that the music she listens to can come from any artist and occur at any moment as someone encounters different experiences.

An unlikely powerful moment occurs during the end credits, when he acknowledges music in the episode came from JD Samson (Le Tigre, MEN) and that “her music played on that station, now defunct.” It serves as a reminder that radio isn’t just a way to listen to music, but is also a medium for artists to find an audience.

The episode has interesting timing on a personal level. The recent death of Tom Petty, an artist whose career left an imprint on me, triggered an internal trip down memory lane. Listening to the narrator describe different aspects of listening to music on the radio brought to mind so many moments of my own life such as road trips, interactions with friends, and eight unforgettable shows.

WBRU broadcast from Providence, Rhode Island on the frequency 95.5 FM from 1966 through 2017. The station, which has origins dating back to 1936 as an AM station on Brown University’s campus, was sold to the Educational Media Foundation and is now the Christian Adult Contemporary station WLVO. The station has an interesting footnote in music history, it conducted the last radio interview with Kurt Cobain before the Nirvana singer’s death. The station is now an Internet-only station. 

The non-fiction storytelling podcast The Memory Palace is hosted by DiMeo, who is the Artist In Residence for the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In 2016, the podcast was named as a finalist for the Peabody Award. The episode discussing WBRU and additional episodes of the podcast can be heard here:

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Bruno Mars Flashes His 24K Magic In Philadelphia

Bruno Mars’ 24K Magic Tour swung by Philadelphia’s Wells Fargo Center on Tuesday night, playing a roughly 95-minute set that flashed a display of talent as infectious as the 32-year-old Hawaiian’s broad smile. It isn’t every show where a band jolts an arena with chart-topping singles, amazing dance, and even some classical piano. Tuesday evening was not your typical concert.

The show was Mars’ second-ever gig in Philadelphia and his first since 2013. The extensive 153-show tour began in Antwerp on March 28, 2017 and is currently scheduled to wrap in Kuala Lumpur on May 9, 2018. The lengthy tour is in support of Mars’ third album, 24K Magic, which dropped last November. While Mars has been a sensation for quite some time now, he is still riding the megastar wave that began after he had partnered with Mark Ronson for the producer’s smash “Uptown Funk” single in 2015.

Given his status as on one of the biggest stars on the planet, it was not surprising that he played to a packed house. One interesting dynamic of the show was exactly who was in attendance that night. Moms, teenage daughters, and thirty-something millennials completed a crowd of unusually diverse ages. Even from an oxygen-sucking perch in the corner of the Wells Fargo Center’s upper level, it was easy to see that Mars has become a rare cross-generation star who brings unlikely listening audiences together to lose their minds.

He and his talented Hooligans owned every section of the arena to the point where he earned loving “boos” from the crowd as he goaded the left and ride sides of the stage into a cheering match. Not many people earn good-natured derision in Philadelphia, but that was the kind of reaction instigated by Mars while he entertained and seduced the Wells Fargo Center.

As he and his band weaved their way through three albums of material, the singer was an unrelenting ham. At one point, Mars rode the moment with a sly “Calm yourself, ladies.” He later pulled out a bullhorn to whip the audience into a frenzy. After “Finesse,” Mars started the show with a burst of energetic numbers that included the tracks “24K Magic” and “Perm.” He leaned heavily towards his most recent record, but sprinkled in songs from throughout his career like the toe-tapping “Runaway Baby” and catchy “Treasure.”

As the concert reached its midpoint, Mars slowed the tempo down with “Marry You,” “When I Was Your Man,” and “Versace on the Floor.” As the rest of the Hooligans took a quick break, band member John Fossitt provided a classical piece on the piano that felt a little misplaced. Mars and the Hooligans returned with a few upbeat tracks that ramped up the crowd in time for a two-song encore comprised of “Locked Out Of Heaven” and “Uptown Funk.”

Mars was at his best during the encore because his James Brown style feels more natural during the upbeat pop songs, but throughout the night he proved that he is a man who can do just about everything and perform music that can be enjoyed by just about anyone. 

Sunday, October 8, 2017

The Conspirators Is A Phenomenal Podcast For Fans Of Peculiar Stories

There are a large number of podcasts that cover true crime, extraordinary events, or unexplained mysteries. For listeners who may be looking for a podcast that covers a bit of everything, The Conspirators is an enjoyable catch-all show that comprehensively digs into lesser known and remarkable stories.

The bi-weekly podcast began last July and has already touched on a wide variety of topics. The puzzling death of a Sherlock Holmes expert, a violent skyjacking that seems like an improbable action flick, and the incredible tale of an 11-year-old girl who survived the murder of her family and had been left adrift at sea. Stories on the podcast are explored thoroughly by a narrator who operates under the pseudonym Nate Hale. Hale maintains a dry style as he lets each episode unfold and allows the stories to be the stars of The Conspirators. Most episodes are around 25 minutes long.

One of the most fascinating episodes of the podcast is the sordid history of the Ouija board. After detailing how the board game was developed in the late 19th Century, The Conspirators noted the game’s place within the Spiritualist movement. Hale also dug into an unexpected series of bizarre crimes and mysterious events that have surrounded the famous parlor game.

Another fascinating episode told the obscure tale of Lillian Alling. In 1927 the young immigrant outdid any fictional “call of the wild” survival journeys by attempting to walk from New York City to Russia by way of Alaska. Her goal: she just wanted to return home. The Conspirators noted some of Alling’s encounters along the way, including her encounter with telegraph operators and a brief stint working as a waitress in Dawson City just to purchase a small boat so she could attempt a journey through the unforgiving Arctic.

Those topics are a microcosm of The Conspirators. They are detailed accounts of bizarre or outstanding stories. The podcast is refreshing because it does not stick to one genre and Hale has a good eye for selecting stories that can entice an audience into clicking “download” on their podcast app. Because Hale also explores various aspects of each story, the anecdotes do more than just relay news clips and cursory knowledge of an event. Stories like The Blackout Ripper and Typhoid Mary also help to bring an understanding of certain periods of history, making The Conspirators a pleasant and informative listen.

Episodes of The Conspirators can be listened to here:

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Thoughts On Tom Petty

Art allows life to be exceptional. The artists who deliver the music, performances, and words that illuminate our lives also create an extraordinary connection between themselves and their audience. Even if you never meet them, an artist can feel like a friend because they were there on the lonely nights and during the good times that only the closest members of your inner circle were present for. For me, Tom Petty was the artist who made music that spoke to me and inspired me. For an uncounted number of moments, he was there for people as they drove to work, danced at a wedding, flipped across a radio dial, or sat in a bar swirling the remnants of a glass of bourbon. His work maintained a consistent quality that entered the lives of millions of fans. It was the purest balance between commercial popularity and artistic credibility.

I was fortunate to enjoy a complete range of experiences seeing Tom Petty. In addition to being a frequent presence in my headphones, I saw him with friends and strangers, went on a road trip, and recently had the chance to binge a concert tour that satiated my bucket list desire to watch a Heartbreakers tour unfold. Yes, he was not the most dynamic performer, but if you ever closed your eyes in the middle of a show you could hear thousands of people sing along to every word of a chorus. The listening experience was rock ‘n roll ecstasy at its zenith.

I cannot name just one aspect of Tom Petty’s work that created such a devoted bond, because there is so much to celebrate. He valued quality over quantity and mastered longevity as well as any artist in his age group. Outside of Bruce Springsteen or Paul McCartney, one would be hard-pressed to find a rock artist who debuted in the 1970s that still attracted a millennial following in 2017. He maintained a perpetual cool that transcended generations, but it was the songs that brought the retired plumber and twentysomething tech worker to a Tom Petty show.

He could paint a picture with words and music better than anyone. In those songs he created relatable characters and situations. He also sang about women in a unique way that eludes most male songwriters. The Good Girl. The American Girl. The Indiana Girl. The Free Girl. The longing boyfriend in “Here Comes My Girl” and the teenager chucking rocks into the water in “Even The Losers” are all characters in music that are as much a part of Americana as Gershwin and Elvis.

The people who Petty surrounded himself with were indicative of the magnitude of the man. He didn’t merely align himself with flashy stars, but with the very best of rock ‘n roll. Stevie Nicks, Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, Ringo Starr, George Harrison, Jeff Lynne, Roy Orbison, and Dave Grohl are just a few of the musicians who played with him Additionally, Johnny Depp, Faye Dunaway, Luke Wilson, Kim Basinger, and Anthony Hopkins all starred in Petty videos that cemented the Heartbreakers’ duel legacy as groundbreaking visual artists.

The legacy of his principle band reflected his own drive. The Heartbreakers are all virtuoso musicians, but consistently played with checked egos in order to serve the beauty of the songs. Petty also consistently kept his fans in mind. He battled a record company to keep album prices down and typically kept his work reasonably priced. His openers usually included exciting musicians like Buddy Guy, Joe Walsh, Chuck Berry, ZZ Top, and Steve Winwood. The consistency of Petty’s albums (the Heartbreakers’ last record Hypnotic Eye hit number one in 2014) and the delivery of a great concert helped strengthen the relationship between the artist and the audience. They delivered great music for forty years. The sudden absence of the Heartbreakers makes American music feel a little less magical.

For the first time in my life I feel a vacancy that cannot be explained. The songs remain, but their creator is no longer around to play them. This is a chapter in my life that I did not anticipate closing. Hearing the music today without the artist is a loss. When Petty and the Heartbreakers plugged in, the sound brought me unmatched joy and comfort. His song “Walls” may best describe the void. “Some things are over. Some things go on. Part of me you carry. Part of me is gone.” 

I would feel remiss without including my favorite song, "Swingin." An underrated classic from a master songwriter: