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Monday, September 26, 2011

R.E.M., Goodbye

A few days ago R.E.M. announced they were retiring the band. After 30 years or so, they had done it all, seen it all and decided their time was up. On one level I was very sad, and the news of their exit was a cold stab to the heart. One of the greatest American bands of the modern rock era and of all time was to be no more. The tone of the announcement signaled there would be no reunions. This was the end. The entity, the spirit, the force that was R.E.M. was forever gone.

On another level, it was welcomed news. I fell in love with R.E.M. back in the early 80's. Murmur, Reckoning, Fables, Life's Rich Pageant, Document. That R.E.M. was the R.E.M. That was the R.E.M. that changed the music landscape, changed the music business and changed the world. They defined college rock, put it on the map and opened the door for all the rest. But they had become old men, like any other. Rich 50 year olds aren't lost, poor, confused, angry 20 year olds. As far as I was concerned, THAT entity died almost 20 years ago. The last 20 years has just been stirring cold ashes.

It's quite cruel and probably not entirely fair to dismiss the latter 75% of their career and output, but I want to. To preserve in my heart the infallibility of those early albums I can't put them together with all the rest. As fans, we are all critics of the art we love and hate, and it's part of the relationship. Had they quit in 1992 at the top of world, that would have been the best. Art does not exist in a vacuum without it's audience.

R.E.M's early career and music so coincided with my own personal growth and self discovery; the magic and wonder of the 80's, the whole concept of an alternative pathway and life style and ethos. Those first five albums are jewels of treasure, so perfect, so original, innocent and honest. So breathtakingly beautiful and penetrating, deep with integrity and soulfulness. A Perfect Circle, from Murmur. Or maybe Shaken Through. That's it right there.

The latter R.E.M. wasn't the same. From Green onward, my interest in their new material quickly faded. They had simply evolved into something else. I didn't like Michael's new clearer singing style, or the more overt politics. And the more poppish sound. For many of of us purists, it wasn't our R.E.M. I found their most popular albums to be my least favorites. If frat boys were singing alone, could it be as good? It wasn't.

This type of thing happens with most bands, it's not really their fault. It just happens. That original energy, so raw, uncompromised and new, eventually has to fade. And the currents of pop culture quickly change, sometimes overnight. If you look at just about any band that's managed to survive and put out more than a half dozen albums, or survive in the public eye for more than a few years, it's simply the passage of time and experience. You can only uncork that bottle once, and time and space move forward unceasingly. There's no going back.

Age plays a huge role in that early creative, expressive magic, it's undeniable. So much of that magic is tied into youth, post adolescence, and all that. We all felt that at one point. Only a few of us channeled that into expressive art, the rest of us spent it elsewhere. But once that life stage passes, it's over. I'm not 20 or 25 years old anymore, as much as I might like to be or try to act. And it's not 1983, and won't be ever again.

When you think of the Rolling Stones, does anything they produced in the 80's or 90's have any cultural significance or value vs. what they achieved in the 60's and some of the 70's? You could love the Stones with all your heart and have no interest in anything they did post Exile On Main Street. That would mean you'd have dismissed (and rightly so) 80% of their career (but virtually NOTHING of their value). Van Halen. The Ramones. Springsteen. Or a host of other bands.

R.E.M. wasn't a band, or a group, they were far more than that. They were a moment in time, a full page of history, a piece living culture.

Maybe their last couple of albums are really good, but I might never listen to them. And I don't know if I could ever connect with them like I did with the old R.E.M.

R.E.M. will always live on, even if the band isn't around anymore. And ghosts are far more fun to listen to than old rich men anyhow.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Reckoning: R.E.M. Are Done

An originally terse announcement on R.E.M.'s official site has been expanded to include each member's comments, but the sum of it is this:

R.E.M. have decided that Collapse Into Now was their last album, and there will be no more.

There's no need to question this. As Michael Stipe very correctly quotes in their farewell message, 'the skill in attending a party is knowing when to leave'. They leave behind them an awesome body of work, some of which is likely to continue to surface as though it were new in 25th/30th/50th anniversary collections.

They did what they set out to do and then some, and all that's left is for them to say goodbye. We wave farewell fondly.

Until the reunion tour.

Much of R.E.M.'s output appears with fair regularity on Altrok 90.5 HD2 - why not tune in and relive the good times?

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

An Altrok Bake Sale (Of Sorts)

Here's a bit of an experiment...

These are the songs we're playing a lot lately on Altrok 90.5 HD2. The links go to Amazon, and if you click on any of them and buy anything, you help keep Altrok running (we get a portion of the proceeds.)

Interested? Click away. (While you're shopping, why not listen to Altrok 90.5 HD2?)


Friday, September 09, 2011

Radio By The Numbers

(From an idea by Rob Pastorio-Newman; originally published at on May 25, 2001)

ALTROK scans the farthest reaches of the broadcast spectrum in order to bring you, the ALTROK reader, breaking alternative radio news. Today, we'll focus on Numbers stations.

According to the Numbers page at, Numbers stations are "stations that do nothing but read blocks of numbers, usually using a woman's voice, in a variety of languages and on innumerable different frequencies. All available evidence indicates that some of these transmissions may be somehow connected to espionage activities. These are the numbers stations, the most enduring mystery on the shortwave bands."

Recently, ALTROK had the privelege of speaking with the new program director at a prominent numbers station. Though his name and location cannot be disclosed, he was happy to discuss the new direction he's planning for his station.

ALTROK: Mr. [name withheld], what sort of changes do you expect to bring to the station?

Numbers PD: I have completely severed the station from its past. Before I got here, it was kind of moving forward, but not really letting go of the old numbers. You can't move forward swiftly, if you're looking over your shoulder.

ALTROK: Does that mean a change in your station's sound?

Numbers PD: The old numbers that were too obscure have been dropped, and the station is focused on 25-39 year-olds, with a female lean.

ALTROK: This is as opposed to the previous audience, who were CIA, KGB and Mossad operatives in the field, who depended on the codes within the numbers for their orders.

Numbers PD: Yes. They might be international espionage operatives, but they're not a big enough demo to build ratings on.

ALTROK: You've conducted research to further hone your station's sound.

Numbers PD: The station's old library was too large. We've found out what our demo really wants to hear, and we've trimmed the library to accommodate that.

ALTROK: And what did you take away from that research?

Numbers PD: Well, of all the numbers we tested from "1" to "10", we found the average was "5". So we'll focus on that.

ALTROK: The number "5".

Numbers PD: That's right. Occasionally we'll thrown in old favorites like "8" or "3", but our audience has spoken, and we're listening.

ALTROK: You don't think the audience will get tired of that before long?

Numbers PD: Hey, this is big business now. The numbers don't lie.

©2001 Sean Carolan

[Editor's note: This repost was brought on by my first-ever exposure to the classic parody of radio formatted to the ultimate extreme, "NINE!", which is available in it's monosyllabic glory here.]

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Melody Bar Fans: An All Eras Reunion This Weekend!

As we attempt to dig our way out of this blackout, there's a light beckoning to us from the end of this tunnel...'s an All Eras Melody Bar Reunion, and it's happening Sunday, September 4 at The Court Tavern.

There are many DJs (Drew, Iron Mike, Sean Carolan, Ed Wong and Trent among them) and two dance floors:
  • Classic tracks will rule the underground floor.
  • And since the Melody was all about new music when it was around, that's what we'll be playing upstairs.
Doors open at 7. Be there or be nowhere.

To prepare, why not tune in to Altrok 90.5 HD2, where we've always played both categories of the music mentioned above? Listen Online...MP3: HQ 192k, 64k; AAC+: HQ 64k, 32k
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Congratulations, you've found the hidden text.
Welcome to, also available at and Here's where the remaining listeners of several fine radio stations have retreated, regrouped, and built a replacement strong enough to stand on its own. It builds on the independent legacy of New Jersey's FM106.3, New York's WPIX and WLIR, Oklahoma's 105.3 The Spy, the pre-buyout mindset of KROQ, WBCN and WHFS and of every other alternative station that was destroyed at a moment's notice - not because they weren't making money, but because there was bigger money to be found elsewhere.
We've stood by as truly independent alternative rock radio died. Sure, something called "alternative" took its place, but we know for sure that anything that "tests well" with soccer moms just ain't alternative. (Even if some of us happen to be soccer moms.) So we've taken matters into our own hands.
This really is independent alternative rock radio, visible here at and audible at our web radio station. It has the classic music that fired our passions back in the day - or that we maybe only heard about from our elders - but it's mostly made of the new music that does precisely the same for us now. We're paying attention to scenes all over the world, watching the energy build, and waiting to see what it creates. Wherever it happens, we'll make sure you can hear about it here. We've been slowly building all this since 2001, and now that you've noticed us, we're glad you're here.
Of course, it's only here because you want it to be here, and it can only stay if you help it along - especially by checking out our advertisers (they support us) and by listening (the more that listen, the more visible we are.) Please use the "feedback" link above to let us know whether it works for you, and what you want it to be as the future unfolds. (And if you need help hearing it, let us know that, too.)