Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Dispatch 08-08-2005 -- His Nightmare

(A version of his column appears in Vue Weekly)

It's one of those group indentifiers that's been repeated so often and become so cliche that even though it's true it sounds like the parroting of received knowledge: "Canadians are so polite!" Well, maybe not all Canadians -- maybe it's just the special segment of Canadians whose lives are so connected to academia and its attendant institutions that they're still drinking in a campus bar during the wholly deserted height of summer. How else to explain the fact a waitress at the Powerplant, of all places, was shocked to learn their beer was flat and gross?

It's not really the 'Plant's fault; they just don't move enough draft during the summer months to keep their lines lively... oughta just shut all but the two top taps, and pick a new house brand. The thing is, I don't think they know. When I switched to bottles and commented on the draft-beer quality, this pleasant young woman was nearly floored; when my tablemates chimed in in agreement, she near to had a fit. The pisswater properties of off-season on-campus pints are axiomatic among collegiate drinkers (my order was a distracted lapse) but it was clear from her reaction she had no clue. She'd never (or rarely) had a pint sent back; people just swallowed and smiled, exerting no popular pressure. Polite.

It was while nursing one of these geriatric lagers -- literally nursing, medicating it with pinches of salt and squeezes of citrus to make its last moments more comfortable (for me) -- that I was given a piece of information that rocked my world. That night at midnight, according to the Radio Industry Insider across from me, the venerable K-Rock was going to change formats. There were no details, nothing but a half-hopeful haze of guesswork, but the fact was 97.3 went off the air at noon, to resume broadcast at the Witching Hour. Given the recent upheavals on Edmonton's dial, what could they be planning?

A real, honest-to-Satan hard music channel, taking the crustiest edge of Krock's current (very limited) playlist and expanding out into the thrashosphere? That'd be cool, but we couldn't see how the market could support it. Actually, we couldn't see how the market could support anything but the weak-ass hoser hit parade format Krock'd already staked out and developed into Edmonton's powerhouse at-work radio experience... without Krock, what would the boys in the back shop rock out to while the secretaries flitted about reception with Cool 880 cranked up to knob level 2? It didn't make sense.

I raced home to fire up my near-vintage Kenwood KT-47 tuner, kicking it way past its comfort zone -- I don't normally take that baby up past the high eighties. At 97.3 the fiery red twins TUNED and STEREO lit up, and there was Alice Cooper singing "no more... mister nice guy!" Not the awesome song "No More Mister Nice Guy", just a clip of that one phrase looping over and over and over. Every so often, that old-guy-trying-to-sound-tough voiceover Krock likes to use would come in and say things like "Call us schizophrenic... we've been called worse", "a new dawn is coming... at midnight", and even that old marketing shithead mantra "Change... is good". What could it all mean? At last, as my wine and patience dwindled -- though that looping clip actually had a strange lulling effect -- the Voice began to count down: "One minute until... the Change".

"The Change"? Was Krock going to an all-menopause format? Ha ha, no... turns out this was all just a stunt to introduce their newest late-night DJ, ALICE COOPER! Yep, the whole 12 hours of dead air leavened with vaguely threatening promises had been in the service of promoting the arrival of a nightly syndicated mainstream radio program, with yet another boring host puking up the same singles and cramming them back into the belly of mass culture, making Edmonton's airwaves just that little bit more identical to those in every other C-level market in North America. Yay!

"Wait a minute," you say; "Boring? This is Alice fuckin' Copper, here!" Buddy, I know where you're coming from, but there's Alice Cooper, the character, and Vincent "Alice Cooper" Furnier, the mellow, slightly dorky recovering alcoholic whose shock-rockin' legacy lives on only as gimmickry and royalty cheques. Despite what Rocking Old Man Voice would have us believe ("The show for people like our host, who can't function with the [sarcasm] 'normal world') Nights With Alice Cooper isn't hosted by Stage Alice but by Golf Alice. Golf Alice kicks his show off with the Stones' Start Me Up, moves on to overplayed singles from Bowie and The Nuge, and wraps it all up with the Beatles' Come Together before reading his email: "Dear Alice, your show is amazing... you have the same opinions as I do!" Sounds like the "normal world" suits the guy just fine.

Now, boys, don't get me wrong... I dig Alice. See that image illustrating this column? That's from the cover of Alice's Lace and Whiskey, scanned off the sleeve of my own beloved LP. And Golf Alice isn't a bad radio host, either; he's chatty and informal, meanders a bit and talks about his past and present life -- "I haven't been drinking for twenty years, but Seagram's V.O. was what I was into." Also, he sometimes seems to be talking to someone in the background, but whoever it is isn't picking up the cues or participating at all and it makes Alice sound like a nerd trying to get a party game going and being ignored by everyone. It's endearing... but the difference between how the show promos and bumpers try to build him up and the on-air reality is so jarring the whole thing's a joke.

And as for "Edmonton radio never being the same" and "The Change," well... that was all bullshit; Krock's unchanged, still cribbing their playlist from the same old mix-tapes they find under the seats of shitbox dudemobiles, pumping out the same blaring ads for blind aspirational culture ("Men: every woman is at risk for... Shrinking Diamond Syndrome."), giving jobs to the whitest, boringest broadcast-school gabblers they can find. Welcome (back) to my nightmare; all's right with the world.

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