By Jeremy Essig
By Jason Robinson
By Hans Morgenstern
By Joseph Hess
By Peter Gilstrap
By Julia Burch
By Jeremy Essig
By Nathan Smith
1. To paraphrase William Burroughs: If you're doing business with a musician sonofabitch, get it in writing.
2. Being a music critic in St. Louis is a curious job, considering what else is out there. Post-Dispatch critic Kevin Johnson is a nonentity when it comes to covering underground music in Our Fair City (has anyone ever spotted him at the Way Out Club? The Galaxy? The Upstairs Lounge?), and the few monthly rags covering local music lack personality. They're no fun. As a result, it's often hard to tell when a local music critic is doing an effective job; lacking interesting competition (The Industry? Don't get us started), one covers music in a vacuum. Zines? Not around here. It's a shame, and a drag, and indicative of a lazy, uninspired fanbase. Where's the Jet Lag for the new century?
3. Lydia's Trumpet was one of the best pop/rock bands this city has ever seen. Most who saw them during their heyday a few years back would agree. Songwriter/ vocalist Ray Kirsch had a beautiful, distinctive voice; his songs were just as unique (especially "Iowa" and "Dim the Wine"); and the band wove beautiful guitar melodies around a steady, gentle rhythm. The problem? They were making their music in a city without any sort of musical infrastructure. Lacking an infrastructure, they gigged and gigged for a few years, failed to make a splash anywhere outside of St. Louis and finally petered out.
We mention Lydia's Trumpet because they're a heartbreaking casualty -- among many others -- of this gaping hole: excellent, professional musicians who, had they been in a city with all the elements in place, stood a good chance of selling records nationwide (and deserve a boxed set). It's not a question of size, either; cities of similar size, such as Minneapolis, Detroit and Cleveland, have more solid foundations. Alas, because this city is missing creative nonmusician types interested in running record labels, bands with as much talent and inspiration as Lydia's Trumpet wander and then burn out.
4. It's dangerous and selfish to assume that "nothing is going on" in the rock community simply because one's personal tastes have shifted away from the music. We'll acknowledge that. Be careful when a music critic says there's nothing going on in a particular music genre at a certain time. Maybe there's nothing going on not because there's nothing going on but because he assumes there's nothing going on. Or maybe there's nothing going on.
5. Are the Strangulated Beatoffs the best band to ever come out of St. Louis? Good question. No, they're not. But they're one of the most inventive, and strangest, and totally inspired, and confusing, and doped-up, and laziest (as witnessed by their most recent St. Louis performance, about three years ago at the Creepy Crawl; they loaded a couch onto the stage, turned on a TV and watched it while they made noise). Their recent opus Reverse Child Psychology (Nihilist), which features a cover photo of a freakishly overgroomed poodle flying through space, contains songs called "Shunned by the Rave People," "Make Way for the Nazis" and "(I'm) Big Dick Black," among others. It consists of strange loops that rely on synthetic beats; as Nihilist Records chief Andy Ortmann recently said, "It could almost be a radio hit." Well, that's going a bit far, but it is a gem. (Ortmann's Nihilist imprint, formerly based in St. Louis, now resides in Chicago; their forthcoming tribute to the B-52's, Wigs on Fire, contains new music by a host of St. Louis musicians: former Bunnygrunt/current Fantasy Four member Karen Stephens -- as in the International House of Karen and Brain Transplant -- and Transplant alter ego Dick Lipstick and the Faggots and Statemachine, among many others.)
6. In 2001, most in the city is taking for it granted that the lot of commercial radio is a pile of crap. And it is, especially The Point (104.1 FM). But you know what's not a pile of crap? Hip-hop radio. We St. Louisans assume that every city in America has a hip-hop station. Guess what? That's not necessarily the case. We're lucky enough right now to have two hip-hop stations, an unprecedented occurrence for a city our size. On these stations -- Q-95.5 FM and The Beat (100.3 FM) -- the DJs enjoy a crazy amount of freedom to pump out their music in the form of mix shows, shows that wrestle for the ears of listeners nightly, and the result of such competition is wondrous, inventive St. Louis radio. Music aficionados around St. Louis collect tapes of St. Louis soul radio from the 1950s and '60s. Smart people are taping St. Louis hip-hop radio right now, because it's just as exciting and free and inspired as radio in the glory days of St. Louis R&B. It's that good. The result is a thriving hip-hop scene. If only the rock stations would take some chances. But that ain't gonna happen.
A new, improved Radar Station arrives May 23.