Looking Back, Forging Ahead

Thinking about the upcoming launch of Conduit has stirred memories of some of my favorite bygone music resources. Perhaps you’ll remember these great underground music luminaries from the past as well.

Most recently, there was this summer’s sadly triumphant final wing flaps of Other Music. As anyone who ventured into that tiny NYC store can attest, OM was a sonic wonderland, an amazing place where you didn't leave with anything you had come in looking for. Instead, you departed with a bank account-crushing grip of musical gems far greater than anything you previously knew existed. Flipping through the bins brought about a shortness of breath, a claustrophobic anxiousness that had nothing to do with the store’s small size. It was the panic that most music fans experience in exceptional record stores, that feeling of, "Oh my god… I have to get out of here or I'm going to be completely ruined financially!" My time inside the majestic confines of Other Music usually devolved into a quest for survival. "One more… two more things, then straight to the check out. I won't look at another rack, I swear, I'll just walk out of here… wait, what?!? A compilation of classic funk covers on steel drums? Someone help me!"

It was one of the greatest record stores and musical institutions in the world, and I was sad to see it go. I get it though. It's tough to survive in the music industry these days. At some point, the OM staff probably just threw up their hands thinking, "Why are we fighting so hard?", finally succumbing to the mainstream current that they had been paddling so valiantly against for decades.

I was working at the fledgling internet radio start-up GoGaGa.com around the time that another amazing musical resource threw in the towel. Option magazine was, for a long time, a musical message in a bottle floating in a sea of media pablum, and I would grab hold of it as often as I could. It's where I first learned of the legendary radio show Solid Steel, among about a thousand other absolutely indispensable bits of musical knowledge. Having just joined the tiny staff of GoGaGa, a place trying to share a similarly deep eclectic freeform aesthetic in the form of a streaming music site, the news of Option calling it quits caused the world to stop for a moment.

GoGaGa's founder, Joe Pezzillo, read Option Editor Steve Becker's final article aloud in our small office just after it arrived in the daily batch of packages. We had been using the magazine as a map to find the best new artists, new releases, and new labels. I tried to find some artifact of that final letter online, but sadly, like the magazine itself, it has vanished. It read something like, "We've loved what we were able to do. We've loved sharing our passion for the musicians who have been featured in our magazines. Still, no matter what we do, no matter how hard we try, people still just listen to Brittany Spears." It was funny, but none of us were laughing. The commentary cut a bit too close to home. Here were three people, in 1998, dumping their guts into an internet radio station that was trying to bring that same spirit of adventurous eclecticism to the world with virtually no budget. The fact that Option was essentially giving up wasn't exactly encouraging. I imagine it felt something like seeing a nearby ship on your radar screen suddenly vanish just before you were engulfed in the same churning, unrelenting waters of the dark storm ahead.

Against incredible odds, GoGaGa did soar for a couple of years, making a huge impact on a small group of listeners across the globe. Those music freaks among us who thought they were alone had suddenly been united in the first wave of the pre-Napster internet music revolution.

Eventually, GoGaGa would reach it's own Option-like event horizon. I was lucky enough to be a part of the station until the very end. This is what I wrote then about the mix that I want to share an excerpt of here at the start of Conduit's existence:

"This was the last mix to broadcast out of the freeform studios of GoGaGa. For this final chapter of my experience there, I wanted to put together something unlike my previous sets, and pay tribute to the 'not so serious' attitude that had driven the original GoGaGa. I also wanted to show off a few new tricks like having Billie Holiday disappear down the tunnel of an imagined train station (thanks to Flanger). And I wanted to say goodbye to all of the listeners that I had come to know over the years. By the time I aired the program, most of them had already left. The station had been looping endlessly for several weeks. I'm not sure if anyone heard it then or not. I was the only one there that day."

I'm sharing "Act III" of this mix that I later dubbed "Every Woman Is A Lake" with you now for a couple of reasons. First, I still think it's beautiful and full of generally overlooked material. Secondly, going into whatever experience you have with Conduit, I hope it becomes a cherished little bit of musical bliss in your life. As Bjork alludes to at the end of this set, getting a mix from a friend is a remarkable gift - something that I feel has vanished a bit in our digital age.

Finally, I want to share this quote from the late Maya Angelou: "People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."

At the beginning of Conduit, I can't help thinking about that quote. For however long Conduit can spin a musical tale into your ear, for everything that we're all going to try to bring you, I sincerely hope you enjoy it. Labors of love in the musical world don't always last forever but they are always purely beautiful. Hats off to you for being in on this musical secret so early.