Thursday, August 23, 2007

personal morality and public religion

I was just catching some of the latest that Cristiana Anampour wrote about those "Teen Mania" youth rallying publicly in Frisco for a stronger sense of personal morality.

On the one hand, I see those groups. Major league crowds of young folks turn out. Do I know kids like these, committed as they are? Yes. I can tell you that their commitments came about not because of the rally group, but rather they were looking for someone to rally them on such matters, and the group came along.

Can they sustain that commitment? Some will, most won't. I say that with sadness. Because I really believe that they are far better off (happier, more whole, more able to devote to one another, and less likely to get disease) by not having sex at least until they have first wound their lives into another's. I really believe that some things are better off not tried; I've seen too often when someone tries these activities and gets hooked or has it turn ugly or even deadly. I've seen bad attitudes on one thing infect attitudes in other parts of their lives. I've seen with my own eyes and in my own life that self-control is critical to becoming a healthy adult, and how lack of it can stand in one's way.

Is our youthful "moral decline" all the fault of the "godless pop culture"? No. The urges are biological, psychological, and sociological. The body is geared to desire. The mind is geared to love intimately and be caught up in another. The soul longs to fit in, not just because of peer pressure but because people are inwardly constructed to be a person among other people and not someone separate or alone. Those things are part of what God has put into them. However, pop culture as it is now constructed talks a good game of individual freedom, while it undermines the discipline and ridicules the self-control needed to make it real freedom instead of a stealth captivity. There's a lot of good going on in pop culture, some really-true truths from people whose aim is still true, even if they misfire sometimes. (Who doesn't?) And many kids have gotten pretty good at finding it -- in fact they do a better job of finding it than my own "do your own thing" generation did at that age. (Not hard to do...) They're also smarter, if not wiser, about their own sexuality. But most of the time, pop culture celebrates the kind of lives that wreck a person or causes them to lose their sanity, or at least keeps them spending. It feeds a constant craving of attention or excitement, laying itself prostrate before the almighty buck, titillating and stimulating until the mind can't think straight from all the sensations and complications. Increasingly, it breeds a cynicism about living that rumbles ever louder under its ground.

But aren't I afraid of the right wing, the lurking fascists, the dominionists? Yes. From the part of Christianity I deal with, I know them well. I know how they kinda slip their ideas into everything. I do know how much they believe that they should be in charge of our country and our world. (I can say that about some of their opponents too; those opponents are just much less likely to use stealth and force to get there.) But not all conservatives, evangelicals, or even fundamentalists are dominionists; in fact they predominate only in some parts of the Pentecostal camp. Most people who are out there cheering on the conservative causes are ordinary people who live their lives pretty much like everyone else, with all the crazy quilt of conflicts between their morality and decision-making in daily life that everyone else has. And sometimes they choose better, and sometimes they don't. I am completely unafraid of those people, even as I must stand against the confining social vision and love of the halls of power of Dobson, LaHaye and dominionists, whom I do sometimes fear. The ordinary conservatives are every bit as much a part of America's backbone as the left's ordinary people, and like anyone else they have every right to a full place at the table - including a right to have a say in determining what that place is. These people are not an enemy. The more certain sectors (mostly from the Democratic Left) treat them as an enemy, the easier it will be to coalesce them with other ridiculed middle-Americans into a new silent majority, to once again be manipulated by politicians. That's why I hate so much to see them lampooned, ridiculed, and dismissed. We're still paying for the last time we let that happen.

It is not anti-freedom to try to develop a sense of public morality, one that stretches beyond just the issues of pluralism. It is not anti-freedom to publicly encourage stricter forms of personal morality -- public address is the only forum wide enough for it. A weak sense of personal and public morality erodes the ground on which freedom stands. Does that mean I'd support the Teen Mania rallies? No. I don't think their approach is real enough, it encourages youths to bypass important questions. But I don't oppose it either, because I really do believe in encouraging a clear moral vision for one's personal life, and that can only be done if the culture allows social space for it. It does not do so now, as proven by the constant protests against them. And we all eventually pay for that. That, I believe, is an absolutely critical public issue.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

radio playlist, 19 August 2007, WUSB

Bob Longman Sun August 19 2007 11:30am-1:10 pm
WUSB 90.1 FM Long Island NY and coastal CT
includes Down Home Country fill-in.

The Family Who Prays -- Louvin Brothers
Stormy Waters -- Jimmy Martin/Sunny Mountain Boys
Come Thou Fount -- Claire Holley -- Sanctuary
Not What I Had In Mind -- Kelly Willis
He'll Have To Go -- Jim Reeves
The River's Gonna Run -- Sam Bush -- Laps In Seven
Honky Tonk Blues -- Hank Williams
Cowboy Camp Meeting -- Sons Of the Pioneers
Horse Wrangler -- Roger Welsh
Watch Man -- Hope Nunnery -- Wilderness Lounge -- N
Ticket to Heaven -- Tammy Rogers
Unglamourous -- Lori McKenna -- Unglamourous -- N
You Don't Have Very Far To Go -- Lucinda Williams -- Tulare Dust (Haggard tribute)
Silver Wings -- Marshall Crenshaw -- Tulare Dust (Merle Haggard tribute)
Thank God I'm Free -- Vicksburg Quartet
Why Me -- Kris Kristofferson
Whispering Pines -- Johnny Horton
Tears Falling Down -- Rosanne Cash
The West Was Burning -- Martha Scanlan -- The West Was Burning N
Walk On By -- Ian Moore -- To Be Loved -- N, R
Up Above My Head -- Maria Muldaur & Tracy Nelson
Death Don't Have No Mercy -- Marie Knight -- Let Us Get Together -- N
I Heard the Angels Singin' -- Eric Bibb
In the Evening When the Sun Goes Down -- Ella Fitzgerald
3 Minutes on 52nd St -- Lionel Hampton
Goody Goody -- Ella Fitzgerald

This week's show was pre-empted by special coverage of the Riverhead Polish Town Festival, hosted by Matt Mankiewicz and Teresa Zapolska. Teresa was in fine spirits and lots of good friends of the station and of polka stopped by at the fest to see here. A good time was had by all.

The pick on this week's abbreviated show was some first-rate pop-rock from Ian Moore. Are you listening, radio folks?
The description of the Watch Man in Nunnery's first verse gives such a strong mental vision...
When left to my own instincts, it's either Ella or Nat. Here, Ella briefly turns soul singer. Wow.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

A review of the return of WCBS-FM

In New York radio, the big news this year has been the return of the mother of all oldies stations, the big fish in that medium-sized oldies pond, WCBS 101.1 FM. It departed from the scene two years ago as the ratings were dropping, not only in key demographics like mid-20 year olds and males (not the target audience anyway), but also in the 30s and 40s year olds. older males, and women. No advertisers, no station. (There was little hard evidence that ads had ceased to be effective, but one could hardly resist concluding that it had started to happen.) So, they changed to a Jack-format. There are several of these around the country -- faceless, characterless, almost voiceless, iPod shufflers. They boasted "we play what we want", which meant that they had jack-poor taste. Would that sell in New York? It quickly became clear that it wouldn't. Then, CBS brought in a PD who used to run a major SF Bay Area oldies outlet until it folded (similar demo problems, plus owner problems). I heard that and thought, oh my, they'll bring the oldies back when this jack thing is all jacked out. Sure enough, that's what they did, keeping that Jack director.

Okay, Bob, so enough radio shop-talk. What's the station like?? It's pretty much like what it was the last two months before it closed. Their morning and early afternoon shifts are familiar voices, the music of the '60s thru '80s is featured, Mr. G (my fellow Hofstra alum Irv Gikofsky) is back doing morning weather, they still try to bring on radio legends as best they can. They key on personalities, which is important anywhere but is crucial in New York. The last few months before closing, they had made futile changes such as dumping doowop and lessening ballads. Those changes only made things worse. They've undone that in a minor way, by once in a while playing a "Hall of Fame" pick (with a brief lead-in to say it's coming). Indeed, those lead-in montage/announcements for older oldies and for country (which is also segregated out of the main mix) may be the best new thing they're doing, because they need to create a trained/educated/spoiled audience that's easier to keep because there's few other places for them to go to get the quality they want.

Problems? A few.

Their flattened signal makes the songs, especially the mid-60s stuff, have a sound like the record's trying to be heard past other noises. If it wasn't so 'brightened', it'd be almost like having the voices wash out. Do that to recordings that have that problem to begin with (like 'Dancing In the Streets' or 'Go Now'), and it becomes really difficult to pick out the voices. The percussion becomes like sand. They need to address this, through both their broadcast settings and getting clearer copies of those songs, because it's quite distracting at times, and those recordings simply sound better on some other stations.

Also, they could try expanding the format. I hear you -- "are you nuts? It's already unmanageably large!" No, it wouldn't be. I mean expanding in both directions, selectively. I find it hard to believe that the audience would go running if once in a blue moon they heard, say, "Count Every Star" (the Ravens) or "Nature Boy" (Nat Cole) or "Dream a Little Dream" (Louis & Ella). Or for that matter, "The Game of Love" (Santana & Branch) or "Bailamos" or "Could I Have This Kiss" (Enrique Iglesias). The key is to be selective, with high-quality tracks that don't sound like big band or hip-hop. This is called "spicing". It creates enjoyable radio experiences others don't have, it's too rare for noticeable turnoff, and it spoils the audience. For all their playing on peoples' memories, they sometimes forget that their listeners are still alive and are still making great memories, including while they're listening to your station. The main music, the 'audience education', and the spicing can all be part of that.

Also, they should become the place to hear famous artists upon their death. What made them so big in their kind of music? Once again, it's a way to spoil, and the death-time guilt and curiosity factors would lessen button-pushing.

In its later years, WCBS was slower than snails on things that were happening with oldies artists. Like, for instance, the pre-rock rock side of Louis Prima when it was getting popular thru its use in commercials, or Johnny Cash as his popularity rose. Many little waves of popular attention to oldies acts were just plain missed. I hope the new WCBS does better with that.

Anyway, it's good to have a broad-format station back on the FM dial. People can relax from tending to their iPod mix for a while.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

WUSB, Sun 12:30-2:30 pm, 05 August 2007

Know -- Christopher Williams
Hang Out With the Moon -- Diana Jones
I Got the Dirt On You -- Toby Walker -- Just Rolled In -- N
A Little Room to Breathe -- James O'Malley
Drip Drop -- Mint Juleps
On Broadway -- Mint Juleps
You've Got A Friend In Me -- Randy Newman
Love -- Joni Mitchell
Forgiveness -- Cephas & Wiggins
You Will Be My Ain True Love -- Alison Krauss & Sting -- A Hundred Miles or More -- N
Tu Te Vas (You'll Lose A Good Thing) -- Los Straightjackets -- Rock En Espanol N
Sugar -- Ethel Waters
Louisiana 1927 -- Sonny Landreth
Masquerade -- Sam Hill
All My People -- Hope Nunnery -- Wilderness Lounge -- N
Unglamorous -- Lori McKenna -- Unglamorous -- N
I Second That Emotion -- Smokey Robinson & the Miracles
You -- Abra Moore -- On the Way N
In This Temple... -- Sufjan Stevens
Woke Up This Mornin' -- Eric Bibb
Eyes On the Prize -- Mavis Staples -- We'll Never Turn Back -- N
Getting Somewhere -- Allison Moorer
Something New -- Lisa Moscatiello
Seahouses -- Dave Bainbridge
You Still Believe In Me -- Beach Boys
Eyes of A Child -- Moody Blues
Ice Cream Song -- the Dynamics -- First Landing -- N
Water To Drink -- BR6 -- Here To Stay -- N
Waters of March/Rhapsody In Blue -- BR6 -- Here to Stay -- N
Love Is Here To Stay -- BR6 -- Here To Stay -- N

Delectible new stuff from Toby; he may be talkin' to you..... Classic Moodies, with a slightly different end mix.
Politically-charged Mavis -- hey, she really was there, and still is. Bainbridge of
Iona doing solo wonders. Landreth doing Randy Newman. Smooth soul
from the Dynamics. C-Dub starts off; the acappella Brazilian jazz of BR6 finishes off.