Thursday, July 14, 2011

Farewell, Old Friend

As a child, I don't particularly recall music playing a major role in my life.  I vaguely recall thinking Paradise City by Guns 'n' Roses was an awesome song when I was something like 9 or 10 years old.  Growing up in rural Wisconsin, I recall Motley Crue getting a lot of airtime as well.  But I was never really into music.  I was just a kid and I never really had a reason to be, I guess.  Music was there, on the radio.  That was all.  Things changed for me in the 90's, after moving to Chicago.

I wasn't as quick to really catch on to the whole grunge movement, as I was a bit younger than would be required to be in the mainstream of it.  But when I hit 13, I stumbled across an "Alternative" radio station, playing  some good stuff.  I was particularly taken by Alice In Chains.  By 14, I was fully into music, and I found my musical home with that "Alternative" radio station.  That radio station was Q101, and it gave me what was at that time nearly unlimited access to a vast library of phenomenal new rock music that was nothing like anything else out there.  Q101 broke me into the world of rock music.  I fed on everything they played with the eagerness of youth in exploration.  I began asking for nothing but new CD's for Christmas, and spending weekend afternoons looking for imports and B-sides and other hidden gems at an out-of-the way used CD store that not many people knew about, trying to build my collection.

I gave up on the station from about 16 to 18 because they had lapsed into a mode of Lilith Fair driven softness and playing Creed songs 9,487 times a day that I couldn't stand, and I greatly preferred the hard rock coming across the airwaves from Rock 103.5 in the form of Pantera, Megadeth, Sevendust, and the beginnings of the likes of Godsmack and Disturbed, up until the day the station, who had been one of the top stations in the entire country for several years running, had its format changed by Clearchannel for no particular reason at all in 1999.  As an 18 year old male, seething with too much energy, aggression, anger and depression, the loss of an aggressive rock music outlet, the loss of something I felt was a part of me every day, was a crushing blow.

I begrudgingly went back to Q101 until I got to college and reveled in the rebirth of Rap through Eminem, Dre, Ludacris and Nelly, all in time for my hardest partying days.

But there remained Q101 in the background.  Every now and then through its constant curtain of Red Hot Chili Peppers (replacing Creed as the 9,487 plays-per-day artist-du-juor for about the past decade), there would be a glimpse of what the station used to be: a pioneer in the alternative music industry.  Every now and then I'd find something new and great coming across the airwaves, most recently over the past few years with artists like Manchester Orchestra, Cage the Elephant, The Mars Volta and Silversun Pickups.

None of those kind of artists ever got played enough on the station, however, which is part of what has always been wrong with the station.  They'd introduce us, every great once in a while, to something new and amazing, play it for about two weeks, and then promptly dismiss it to the bin of radio history, rapidly queueing up some adolescent trash like Three Days Grace, or else the seven millionth play of fucking Red Hot Chili Peppers' Californication.  They would also hard-headedly ignore things they should have been playing like Mumford & Sons or Mutemath or My Morning Jacket.  Yet still, that one gem every now and then kept the station mildly relevant, and the general mix of music was usually reasonable.

I will be 30 in two days, and for my 30th birthday, Q101 will no longer exist.  I don't feel crushed by this the way I did in losing Rock 103.5.  I feel more like I suppose I will feel when my dad's old dog Skeeter finally dies.  Limping and almost entirely blind, she is so far beyond her best years he tried to put her down a year ago, only to pull the trigger, muzzle to her head, and then watch her sprint away into the forest.  The next day, unspeakably, she was back on her spot on the couch as if nothing had happened.  Like Skeeter, Q101 has shown intermittent signs of life but has been on its last legs for some time.

This is the station's own doing, of course, obstinately refusing to embrace the new music that it should have been embracing, in favor of becoming something of an "alternative classic rock" station.

What I will miss most about Q101 is the same about what I will miss about Skeeter being gone: the fact that it was there.  Every day I knew I could turn it on and find something good, and that every now and then there would be just a glimmer of how great it used to be.  Finally, I will miss having the last remnant of a good rock music station in Chicago.

The list of artists this station has introduced me to over the past 16 years, both in the form of transcendent artists and in the form of one-hit wonders, is nothing short of staggering.

Alice In Chains, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Stone Temple Pilots, Soundgarden, Green Day, Smashing Pumpkins, KORN, Marylin Manson, 311, Social Distortion, The Offspring, Weezer, The Violent Femmes, The Joshua Tree, The Dovetail Joint, The Cure, TOOL, The Deftones, Silverchair, Sublime, Nine Inch Nails, KMFDM, Stabbing Westward, Rammstein, Foo Fighters, A Perfect Circle, Cypress Hill, Rage Against the Machine, Primus, Incubus, Rancid, Goldfinger, Sponge, Rise Against, Muse, The White Stripes, Blur, Radiohead, Cake, Ben Folds Five, Harvey Danger, Spacehog, Elastica, Andrew WK, Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Beastie Boys, Presidents of the USA

For all of them, and for everyone else I can't seem to pull off the top of my head...

Thank You, Q101.

There is now a gaping hole in this city's musical landscape.  I can only hope that someone will fill it, sooner rather than later.