Friday, April 05, 2019

COLUMN: Britpop


As far as parents go, I pretty much lucked out and got the best ones on the planet. As a spoiled only child, my folks were fairly over-protective of me, but that never applied much when it came to my exposure to pop culture. Within reasonable boundaries, I was pretty much allowed to watch and listen to whatever TV or music I fancied.

I can only recall three times when my parents tried to censor the music I grew up listening to. I remember them coming home from a PTA meeting saying I shouldn't listen to Blondie because they glamorized drug use, but then I caught my mom humming "Call Me" days later. My folks are both proud veterans, so they REALLY hated Paul Hardcastle's "19," the early electronic song that sampled news clips from the Vietnam War. They went so far as to ban it from the house, which of course meant that I procured it within 24 hours and would secretly play it over and over again, because if your parents hate something, it HAS to be awesome.

And I can distinctly remember my mom recoiling in disgust the first time she heard David Gilmour belt "we don't need no education" over the FM dial. Honestly, that time I mostly agreed with her. Of course, I was too young to realize that I was listening to a small fragment of a conceptual masterpiece exploring the themes of abuse, abandonment, and isolationism. I just thought it was a guy named Pink Floyd who hated school, as evidenced by his poor grammatical choices.

I disagreed with Mr. Floyd. I was one of those weirdo kids who kinda liked school. I've always enjoyed learning things, or at least the things that interest me. Sadly, the things that interest me the most are usually TV, movies, and music -- topics that aren't always a priority in higher education. I loved my time at Augustana, but I'd get jealous whenever I'd read about some school offering a class on Twin Peaks or Madonna or some other cultural zeitgeist. I'd love to take a college class on pop culture. The only thing better would be TEACHING one of those classes.

I'm about to get a taste of just that.

Don't get me wrong, I'd make a lousy teacher. I'm not a very patient person, and I'd freak out the first time some know-it-all student dared question my great authority. Plus, I have a near-crippling fear of public speaking, so I'd be sweating through my shirt by recess.

I have no desire to be a teacher. But it might be fun to be one for an hour.

Every month, the Bettendorf Public Library hosts an event called "Trax from the Stax." On the third Thursday of the month, they invite a presenter to host a music listening party with the goal of exposing folks to music they might not be familiar with. This month, that presenter is ME. I'm pretty sure I'm qualified, considering I host music listening parties for my cats nearly EVERY night.

It's actually not my first time in this particular hot seat. I dusted off my first Stax of Trax about a year ago. Apart from a few stammers and a possessed laptop computer, it went fairly well. I was nervous as all get out, but hopefully I unveiled some new music to a few people, which I'm pretty sure is my real purpose on Earth. Getting somebody to like one of my fave bands is worth every sweat-soaked shirt and stammer it takes.

This one, though, should be fun. You see, before a certain newspaper strangely agreed to let me write about nonsense every week, I used to co-manage a music blog created to unite weirdo fans of obscure music like me. And it just happened to coincide with an interesting time in pop music.

In the mid-90s, the dour phenomenon of grunge rock was taking over the world. But in England, a handful of rebellious bands came together to reclaim the UK airwaves with a sound that was anything BUT grunge. Armed with the influence of vintage English rock of yore, they created a revolution that was unashamedly upbeat, audaciously anti-cool, and uniquely and unapologetically British. The press dubbed the movement "Britpop," and for a fleeting moment, it was the most exciting music in the world -- except the U.S., where much of the scene went completely unnoticed.

So if you're up for hearing some banging tunes and Cockney accents, come to the Bettendorf Public Library this Thursday, January 17th, at 7 p.m. in the Norman J. Kelinson Room. At best, you might fall in love with some great bands you've never heard of. At worst, you can point and laugh at a sweaty stammering newspaper columnist.

I'm sure my folks are proud. My mom would probably be prouder if I was lecturing about Barbra Streisand, but that's her fault for letting me listen to GOOD music when I was a kid.

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