ONLY NOISE: Talkin’ About a Resolution

I’m not two weeks into 2018 and I still haven’t gone to the gym, started paying my student loans, or repaired the ripped and button-less pile of clothing in my bedroom. Fortunately, I’m not alone. How long do most people last when attempting their new routines – the ones drafted under that misleading label New Year’s Resolutions? Is your credit already improving? Do you see abs forming on your once shapeless midriff? If the answer is “yes” to either of those questions, please do not tell me.

The expectation to do better the moment the clock strikes 12:00 can be absurd and daunting, especially for someone like me who really falls for it and formulates not one resolution, but a litany of them. Sometimes they are as vague as, “Get your life together!!!” Other times they are simple yet wildly inefficient, like the year I was going to “wear heels more.”

Resolutions that necessitate reversing our lifestyles and personalities (like that one about heels) seem to be the goals that don’t stick, so this year I’m sticking to what I know instead. I figure that if the bulk of my New Year’s resolutions revolve around music, I might actually tick them off my list. So here they are, my six reasonable, totally doable, music-related goals for 2018.

1) Go to more shows (and keep a record of each one).

I say this every year: That I will a) go to more shows, and b) designate a notebook simply for the purpose of recording each one I attend. Going to more shows is the easy part; if I really put my mind to it, I bet I could average between one and three a month. The hard part is remembering to write them down. I don’t need a florid play-by-play of each song and coat check line, just the band names, date, and venue.

I’m aware of that endless archive called the Internet, but I have an affinity for lists on good old-fashioned paper. I have plenty of notebooks allocated to specific subjects, and it doesn’t sound difficult to do the same for concert-going, but I always manage to forget. By the time the year is out, I can’t possibly remember all of the shows I’ve been to, let alone dates and venues, without having to spend a few hours sifting through the web. It’d be nice to just flip to a page marked: “Shows, 2018” and relive the memories via bullet points.

2) Read that enormous book about John Peel that’s been on my bookshelf for ages.

About two years ago, when I was still working as a panty designer and listening to the gospel of BBC6 Music everyday, DJ Jon Hillcock was singing the praises of David Cavanagh’s book, Good Night and Good Riddance. The 605 page tome about John Peel has been sitting on my bookshelf ever since, as I purchased it immediately after Hillcock’s endorsement. The problem with the book is not its subject matter – I am a huge admirer of Peel, the late Radio 1 DJ. The problem lies in those 605 pages, and the fact that they make the book so large that it fails my commuter reading test, the criteria being: can I comfortably hold the book with one hand while the other grabs the subway pole? The answer for this paperback is: No. Alas, I will have to grin and bear the hand cramps sooner or later… because I really do want to read it.

3) Listen to more radio.

Some of my favorite music has been funneled into my ears by the loving DJs at stations like KEXP, BBC6 Music, and Brooklyn’s Lot Radio. Lately however, my radio ration has decreased in size. Where once I listened daily, now I do so monthly. This is silly. What’s sillier is that I’ve never even visited the Lot Radio, despite their throwing constant shindigs right off of my train line. However, considering the station’s limited indoor space, perhaps I will wait until spring 2018 to pop by…

4) Re-learn the small amount of piano I learned over a year ago.

Between the summers of 2015 and 2016 I took piano lessons once a week in Greenpoint’s San Damiano Mission (across the street from the Lot Radio). I was a determined student initially, but after a few months I let my practice regimen slip. A year later the lessons ended due to my dwindling cash flow, and though I would love to start them up again, they’re not quite within my budget yet. Even if I could afford them, I’d still want to refresh my “abilities” before facing my teacher again. I suspect this will be the most difficult item to achieve on this list, as it takes the most discipline, patience, and humiliation.

5) Go record shopping more.

Like piano lessons, this goal is contingent upon financial stability. However unlike piano lessons: I can write it off! There used to be a wonderful record shop called Sideman Records (sister shop to Captured Tracks in Greenpoint) just a 15-minute walk from my house. Sadly, it closed, and I’ve found my record store purchases diminishing ever since. One goal for 2018 is to go to record shops I’ve never been to, like Human Head in Bushwick and House of Oldies in the West Village. These spots may not be walking distance from my apartment, but that’s no excuse to not support them.

6) For the love of God: Order crates for my records.

This resolution addresses one of my most shameful secrets as a music journalist: that my record collection follows no rhyme or reason or system of organization. My albums are stacked against a wide shelf in my bedroom, seemingly arranged in a way that displays “What I’ve been listening to the most lately” in the front and buries “What I often completely forget I own” in the back. This anti-system nurtures a habit in which I listen to the same thing (Smog) over and over and over again, and leave other records (James Chance and the Contortions, Phil Collins) completely untouched. My hope is that crates would help me categorize my vinyl and give it a dignified home that would ward off warping. I currently have my LPs propped up with the dumb bells I’m supposed to be using to “get in shape,” which are protecting my vinyl just as much as they are sculpting my deltoids.


In the 1973 film American Graffiti, restless high school students zip around in classic cars, aimlessly careening through the night for the sake of motion alone. Characters wind up in different scenarios; burglaries, burger joints, brawls…kid stuff. But the one consistent element between every car ride is the radio; specifically the station tuned to the legendary, real-life DJ Wolfman Jack. Despite the seemingly chaotic habits of the characters, their differing tolerances for mischief and crime, their ability to drag race-they all tune into Wolfman Jack regardless. His gospel is the only thing they can all agree on: the gospel of rock n’ roll from the lips of a once-revered Disc Jockey.

The kids in the ‘60s may have had Wolfman Jack. John Peel rescued youth culture in the decades after. But for those of us born into an era of pre-programmed radio stuffed to the seams with commercial content, it’s difficult to imagine a golden age of rogue radio DJs. If there was some magical frequency out there playing The Germs or Throbbing Gristle, it sure as shit wasn’t broadcasting in Arlington, Washington. It wasn’t until my dad moved almost an hour south from my small hometown for work that our antenna could pick up the station that would change the way I thought about music, and radio. That station was, of course, 90.3 KEXP.

I am thinking of KEXP now because, well, I am listening to it. Not streaming it online from afar in Brooklyn, but right here, in Seattle. Right now DJ Cheryl Waters is playing “Human Performance” by Parquet Courts. Earlier in her set, Waters spun tracks like Cat Power’s “Sun,” Beirut’s “Elephant Gun,” and the brand new Let’s Eat Grandma cut, “Eat Shiitake Mushrooms” among countless tracks I’d never heard before. Each is song different from the last, abiding by no confining genre guidelines-just exceptional music curated with a whole lotta love.

The publicly supported radio station was founded in Seattle in 1972, originally under the call letters KCMU. The switch to KEXP didn’t occur until 2001, right around the time Seattle billionaire Paul Allen commissioned that multi-colored metal tumor to strangle the base of the Space Needle: the Experience Music Project. EMP and Paul Allen partnered with the station, providing it with operating support for a handful of years. It put the EXP in KEXP, I guess you could say.

The station is now independent and operated by Friends of KEXP, and is largely funded through its audience, holding biannual pledge drives and promoting its donation-based membership program year-round. The weeklong pledge drives are a small price to pay for largely interruption free year of music. Upon first hearing commercial-free KEXP, I didn’t think it was legal to do that…broadcast sans advertising. I figured this must be some pirate radio, Pump Up The Volume starring Christian Slater shit. These guys must be in a bunker somewhere. Surely no one else had stumbled upon this gem. I may have been wrong, but it did feel like my own secret station-a safe and nurturing place I could curl up into.

For someone crawling out of a sleepy lumber town, the thought that any contemporary DJ could possibly spin a Wire song was unfathomable. Not only did KEXP play Wire, they would do so at 11 a.m. on a Tuesday. They didn’t have to hide their more obscure selections in the wee hours.

Each afternoon returning from high school, I would shut myself in my room, spread out the night’s homework, and turn on the radio to soak in the invaluable musical lessons KEXP had to offer. Sitting at my little desk it was often difficult to focus on the seemingly useless algebra and inaccurate history chapters. How could I when there were far more interesting things floating out of my speakers? Jesse Sykes and the Sweet Hereafter, Fela Kuti, The Cramps, Art Brut…I would jot down lists of the bands I liked, later making a trip to Tower Records (R.I.P.) in the University District or Silver Platters to scavenge for CDs.

The most critical turn in my relationship with KEXP came about in that familiar scenario: sitting at my desk doing homework some weeknight…I think I was preparing for a debate the next morning. I sat, reluctantly flipping through note cards, when a storm rolled over the speakers of my Sony boombox. It was a simple gospel melody, but the voice preaching was nowhere near saintly. It sounded like gravel in a blender, like a diesel truck with emphysema, like an ex-convict whose diet consists solely of petroleum and wing nuts. The song was “Lord I’ve Been Changed” by Tom Waits. Nothing was the same after that. Waits has since become my favorite artist of all time, completely altering my perception of what makes music great, and what makes art worthwhile. I think it’s safe to say that that night changed my life forever, and it was of course all because of the good people at 90.3 FM.

KEXP not only exposed me to music I’d never heard before and to the records I would grow to love, it also taught me how to re-contextualize my tastes and break free from the boundaries of genre. After trying on a new subculture every few years for the better part of a decade, strictly adhering to each one with sonic intake and dress code, it was a relief to let the edges blur a little. I was no longer militant about remaining within the confines of what was punk, or mod, or rockabilly, or ska, or glam-I could eat all of them in one meal and add other flavors should I so desire. KEXP taught me that listening to The Dead Boys one minute and Dolly Parton the next was not only ok, it was totally badass, and far more realistic for the diverse needs of the human mind.

The versatility KEXP champions is not new to the station. Back in the KCMU days amidst a heavy indie rock rotation, they were the first station to play artists like Grandmaster Flash, which is no small thing. Yet another milestone for KCMU, just on the heels of the name change, was that it was the first station in the world to stream high quality (128 kilobit per second) online audio 24/7. That may sound a bit jargony, but think of all the online radio platforms that have followed suit since, and it’s rather impressive.

When people learn that I am a native Washingtonian, they often want to talk about music. And why wouldn’t they? Our alumni include Quincy Jones, Jimi Hendrix, Neko Case, Bing Crosby, Rickie Lee Jones, Kurt Cobain, Mark Lanegan, Mia Zapata, Carrie Brownstein, and countless others. But despite Seattle’s rich musical history, it is maintaining a fruitful present as well. 90.3 provides a sort of congealing community approach to nourish that kind of progress. Music is a main artery here, and I like to think KEXP is the heart of it all, pumping blood for the love of it.



Three years ago, on a dim June morning at 6 AM, I sat next to some toast at a shoddy Formica table.  The table was in a damp, smelly kitchen exploding with mounds of used tea bags, soiled dishes, and sagging cilantro.  Only, the latter wasn’t called cilantro, it was called “coriander,” because this kitchen was in Hackney, East London.  Clapton Pond to be exact.  And you couldn’t find “cilantro” in all of England, let alone in Clapton Pond.  These early hours were perfectly serene for me.  The moments before my two hour bus commute to the Southwestern tip of the city were quiet and sad, but most importantly calm.  Sometimes I would see a little fox in the garden, foxing around.  Other times I would sit with a journal and stare at its blank pages as if my retinas could burn words into them.  Whatever occurred on a given morning, silence was crucial for peace.    So there was a real hiccup in this pre-work routine when my affable flatmate Tom would bounce into the kitchen, pour himself a stout cup of coffee, and flip on the radio to BBC 6 Music

There couldn’t have been a more disruptive gesture with which to stab my lame little ritual.  It made me uneasy, serrated with nerves – until I took a moment to actually listen.  When I did, it struck me that what was playing was good.  Really good.  It wasn’t an online podcast, or a publicly funded radio station with biannual pledge drives.  This was the BBC, once the home of John Peel.  A government subsidized program, playing the likes of Wire, Kiran Leonard, and Stump at six in the morning.  Was it for real?

Before long I was the one turning the dial to 6 Music at the crack of dawn, beating Tom to the punch.  On weekends, all of my desire to get out of the neighborhood was extinguished by that four hour round trip commute Mon-Fri, and I would often sit in the kitchen for half of the day with a notebook and the radio.  I pretended it wasn’t 2013, pretended that the DJs were my only source of know-how, like when Peel ruled the airways.

It is rare that we ingest contemporary culture alongside a hearty helping of surprise.  We know the T.V. schedule, we oversee our own Netflix and HBO viewings, we cherry pick song by song on Spotify.  Independent radio stations-not Top 40, but rather the few programs that exist outside of the mainstream-are true arbiters of surprise.    You never know what will come next, and that is a scarce thing to come across today.  The anticipation that perhaps the following track will be by your new favorite band…there is some dose of fate in that, even for someone who doesn’t really believe in fate.

I eventually became obsessed with the station, rolling into work a little later because I simply had to hear the end of that song, and find out who sang it.  I began making unwieldy lists of everything I heard, a habit I maintain to this day.  The dawn’s greatest priority was still coffee, but the radio was a close second.  I was transfixed…how could something so perfect, so seemingly tailored to my tastes exist?

Founded in 2002, BBC 6’s slogan claims that it is “The place for the best alternative music. From indie pop and iconic rock to trip hop, electronica and dance with great archive music sessions, live music concerts and documentaries.” Somehow that statement still seems to be putting it lightly.

Their roster of DJs boasts names like Iggy Pop, Jarvis Cocker, The Fall’s original bassist Marc Riley (my personal favorite) and John Peel’s own flesh and blood: his youngest son Tom Ravenscroft, who turned me on to the likes of Girl Band and Maribou State.  This is of course, the tip of the proverbial iceberg, as every host I’ve come across is either a renowned musician, journalist, or producer of some merit.  Brush gently at the surface of any 6 Music presenter and you will uncover a rich history in popular culture.  These aren’t merely critics, but fans; giddy enthusiasts with the entire BBC archives, Peel sessions, and exclusive interviews at their fingertips.

Their 24/7 programming spans every genre imaginable, sometimes encapsulated in more flavor-specific shows like Stuart Maconie’s Freak Zone and Nemone’s Electric LadylandOther times musical styles seem to be picked at random, the only consistent link being the superior quality of each track.  One time I heard The Fall in the same set as Tribe Called Quest, which was only to be followed by Kate Tempest.  It’s this kind of unfaithfulness that I can appreciate when it comes to record collecting.

If you and I have had a chat about music since June of 2013, chances are you’ve endured me waxing fanatical about this radio station.  Not everyone dove right into it, but those who did always mention it when we cross paths.  And often, they’ve found their own pocket of programming that I myself have yet to explore.  One such convert informed me that he is hooked on Jarvis Cocker’s Sunday Service, a real Christmas dinner of a show featuring not only oddball tunes, but short stories, bits of radio plays, off-kilter sound effects, and of course, Jarvis’s velveteen voice to guide you through it all.

It seems safe to say that if it weren’t for 6 Music, it may have never occurred to me to have a crack at music journalism.  Beyond that, I wouldn’t know or enjoy as much, and this goes for contemporary as well as veteran bands.  My world would very likely exclude newcomers such as Happyness, Ezra Furman, and Meilyr Jones, all of whom have cropped up on my “Favorite New Artists” list.  Some I’ve seen live, others I’ve interviewed; all have moved me to write about them in the hopes that some searching eye will come across my enthusiasm the same way my ears heard the excitement  of the 6 Music DJs.

Although the more obvious takeaway has been finding more music to cram in my brain, there has been a much greater reward from listening to this station, and that is the optimism it’s restored in me as a music lover.  A good decade of my pre-college life was dedicated to the discovery and devouring of music, and yet when I moved to New York something snapped.  I assumed everything was over.  There would never be another Smiths, blah blah blah.  It was a juvenile stance to take, and one I hope I’ve completely scrubbed myself of.  Because if there is anything that BBC 6 has taught me, it’s that people will never stop making music, and through the science of probability, there will always be at least some good music, some great music even.  There never was a “day the music died,” just a constant costume change in a perpetual sonic play.  There will never be nothing to listen to.  You’ve just got to look harder.