“Rincorrere il Shitegeist”: Italian Commercial Radio

Aside from the brief fragments of Nicky Campbell’s often acerbic callers (I swear I once caught a disgruntled Brummie voice fighting with Campbell for the airtime to say this: “no, be fair Nicky, the problem with the Chinese is…”) I catch whilst making a morning cup of tea, or the even briefer snippets of ‘blokes’ phoning up to fawn over certified ‘legend’ Robbie Savage on 606 (apparently the greatest compliment one can bestow in this kingdom of, is to ask the legend for his opinion: armies of men eschew their chance to give their opinions, instead using their call to ask Robbie for his opinion! On the scant occasions when someone disagrees with Robbie, the legend’s rebuttal always seems to just be repeating “have you ever been a football player?” over and over again until the caller is disconnected), I never listen to the radio. This has its benefits. I remember Simon Mayo’s ‘confessions’ being driven to first school. Then I used to be subjected to the distilled inanity of first Chris Evans, then Kevin Greening and Zoe Ball, then just Zoe Ball on their respective breakfast shows on the school bus (didn’t Evans once play that song by Texas twice in a row, heralding it as the greatest song ever released?). Then we’d get the ‘treat’ of Steve Wright in the afternoon, and his ‘factoids’ delivered by his gang of obsequious buffoons ,with the bus driver who drove the little minibus. One song which Steve Wright seemed to always play was one I haven’t dared to look up, lest it becomes lodged in my mind forever, is one with the chorus line “Abra, Abracadabra/ I wanna reach out and grab ya/ Abra, Abracadabra/ Abracadabra”. The verses are shitter if anything. Anyway, that pudgy little minibus driver with the furrowed brow used to listen to Steve Wright religiously. That bus driver was the person who informed me about the terrorist attacks of September the 11th 2001. This is how he broke that news, with an air of smug ‘insider’ knowledge: “aye, have yous heard aboot the plane crash in America? Apparently a plane’s crashed into the empire state building”. Arms folded across ample gut. Knowledge delivered. I don’t know it this was just his half-heard/half-interested reinterpretation of events, or whether he had repeated this verbatim from Steve Wright; either way, as I’m pretty sure this man only ever listened to Steve Wright in the afternoon (or was it just that I only ever saw him at this time?), it serves as further evidence for hanging the DJ. I was also subjected to commercial radio once in my life at a particularly bizarre job I had as a student (until I started making my own mixtapes; thus severing myself from even the slightest chance of social interaction). The job was packing model trains. The radio station was “Radio City 96 point 7! Liv Liv Liverpooooool!” as the ubiquitous jingle would keep asserting. That jingle is still a deep furrow into my memory. I doubt it will ever smooth out.

Not ever listening to the radio has its downsides though. Songs, artists, even whole genres can pass me by. I mean, for example, I know who lady Gaga is, of course I do, but, aside from Poker Face, I really could not tell you a single other song by her. Not keeping abreast with the minutiae of popular music really reminds you of the ‘changing same’ ness of popular music. Art once it seems exactly the same: young, sexy, affluent, exorbitant, ‘urban’ is some vaguely defined, nonspecific way. Yet certain nuances make it seem like something is askew. If you’re caught up in the stream, then nothing seems to change, but f you get out of the stream, even for a couple of months, then resubmerge yourself, it’s sometimes hard to work out the back formation of how we got to where we are. It’s like a soap opera. If you don’t watch for a few weeks, then come back to it, the characters, storylines and dramas will all have moved on, sometimes to unrecognisable degrees. But the same sense of hysteria and anguish and hyperrealism will somehow make it feel exactly the same. So on occasions when I catch a music video, or hear a song on Radio 1 – or see a performance of ‘I’m Glad You Came’ by ‘The Wanted’ on ‘Saturday Download’ – I sometimes feel like Red from the Shawshank Redemption; a frightened old man; an anachronism in my own lifetime: “music video editing sure went and got itself in one heck of a hurry”. In the aforementioned performance by ‘The Wanted’, I actually caught myself asking (myself) “is that dancing? Are they doing a dance there, or what?”

So on our recent trip to Italy, it was really interesting to listen to quite a lot of commercial radio; to become reacquainted with this strange medium.

Of course, in many ways, it was like stepping back in time to the early noughties, listening to Radio City whilst packing model trains. The commercials are just as inane and advertise, as far as I can make out, the same raft of useless businesses; the kind of businesses – like garden centres and scrap metal dealers – that, if you know that you need then, then you already know where they are, and if you don’t know where they are, then you’ll never need them. They had the same faux-marriage teams of presenters; a ‘zany’ man and a life-affirmingly jovial woman. No matter what time of day we turned on the radio, it always seemed to be this pair of clowns speaking; maybe they were the only hosts?

But on closer inspection, there were big differences. First and foremost: the tunes. Now I know that there is a significant difference between England and Italy in respect to the pertinence of respective native languages within global popular music, so it is no surprise that the majority of the songs on Italian radio were sung in English (even some songs by Italian artists) – this even though the general infusion of English was nowhere near as high as it was, say, in Germany when we visited in February.

But it wasn’t just English. One of the most repeated songs was a Brazillian tune which was incredibly good; a sort of pop-bossa nova with female vocalist; very good indeed (but, because the song was in Portuguese, and it was introduced in Italian, I have no idea what the song was called, or who it was by; it is destined to remain one of those pop ‘ships in the night’, I suppose). I think there may also have been a couple of Spanish-language tunes as well?

There was the usual glut of shit as well, don’t get me wrong. Particularly worthy of reprimand would be a car crash of a song – which, now having checked on Wikipedia appears as though it may well have already traversed the arc of media hype over here too; see what I mean about being quickly out of the loop – by ‘Superheavy’, a super group consisting of Damian Marley, Dave Stewart, Dross Stone and ole Leather Face himself Mick Jagger, called ‘Miracle Worker’. By God. Dross plies her usual wares of aimless melisma in ‘idiosyncratic’ (read shite) fashion. Jagger sounds like someone doing a fiercely exaggerated and poorly studied drunken parody of Phil Cornwall’s Jagger from Stellar Street (I’ve actually just lost a lot of time rewatching Stellar Street on Youtube! “Ere Keif. ‘Ave you seen the date on vese marshmellows” is one of the funniest things I have heard!). I literally can’t understand any of the words Jagger is saying. God help him on the track on the album in which he sings in Sanskrit (according to Wikipedia)!

Another risibly dire track that got a lot of airtime in Italy, though I had never even caught a whiff of it before, was ‘The Lazy Song’ by Bruno Mars. Now then. I had heard the name Bruno Mars before. I knew he was, in some capacity, ‘famous’. Hearing this song in Italy, I didn’t even know that this song was by him. I had sketched out a some of the things I wanted to say about this truly hateful song. I had decided that the middle eight lyric – so often the home of phoned-in, arse-achingly bad lyrics – of “I ain’t gonna comb my hair/ cos I ain’t goin’ nowhere/ no no no no no n-no n-no no” might be the shittest lyrics I have ever heard. I was even going to cry ‘bring back Jason Mraz, all is forgiven’. I was going to say that Reggae, maybe more than any other genre, has been misapproprioated and dishevelled and sullied by desperate white men with ‘attitude’ for some thirty years now – and it needs to stop. But then I looked for this song on Youtube and saw that it had, at time of writing, 178,310,802 views. That’s one hundred and seventy eight million, three hundred and ten thousand eight hundred and two views. And I am one of them. Bruno Mars’ ‘The Lazy Song’ (the lazy song Jesus wept. It’s so banal it’s sinister.) has received far too much attention. I provide no link to this song. If, like me you have never heard it, don’t search it out. If you have, God help you.

There was one other saving grace… of sorts. Noel Gallagher’s song ‘the Death of You and Me’. Now I know that the start sounds like Oscillate Wildely by the Smiths, and that it pinches, verbatim, the melody of the end of that little horn part from ‘Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite’, but it’s quite pleasent, and sometimes that’s OK. It’s better than Beady Eye at any rate. And in the Italian sunshine, that was enough.

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