[Today: Getting hip before the internet...]
Back in the olden days of the 1980s, information about bands didn’t travel the straight line of internet wires – instead it took the winding back roads of word of mouth and personal recommendation. Cool new music was often cloaked in secrecy and enjoyed by a select group of those ‘in the know’. Now anyone with a DSL hookup and sufficient determination can be ‘in the know’ about anything, especially a new band or album. Distribution channels being what they are today, the ideas of ‘alternative’ and ‘indie’ are almost oxymoronic, and life in a small town probably isn’t quite as boring as it used to be.
But before the internet, the idea of alternative music was very real. Around my high school (Springfield High – Go Millers!) fans of groups like The Cure and Depeche Mode were sequestered away in secret societies, where membership was hard-earned and meant being a virtual outcast from the rest of the student body (it also meant buying and using copious amounts of eye-liner, regardless of gender). But in truth, discovering anything that wasn’t on the FM dial or MTV was akin to getting into a speakeasy with a secret knock and password. Metal, punk, hip-hop, and other non-mainstream genres were years away from anything approaching national marketing, and finding out even basic information about underground bands required a level of proactive effort that would stun anyone who takes AllMusic.com for granted.
And yet the stodgy old coot in me misses the days when it was harder than a couple of mouse clicks to find out everything about a band. Hip-hop started filtering into my circle of friends around 1986, a full two years before Yo MTV Raps! hit the airwaves, so any clues about rap were relegated to word-of-mouth, “listen to this” experiences. There’s no question that, because it was exotic music that lived on the fringe of the mainstream, hip-hop had extra appeal for teenagers in a slow-paced small town, and by my senior year (1987) it was definitely in the mix at every clandestine keg party. In particular, Sir Mix-A-Lot’s Swass, LL Cool J’s Bigger And Deffer, Run-DMC’s Raising Hell and the Beastie Boys’ Licensed To Ill served us and served us well.
How far is the South Bronx from Springfield, OR? It’s a distance that can’t accurately be measured in miles alone, but the gap is significantly smaller than it used to be.
Listen: Raising Hell [Run-DMC]
Listen: Posse On Broadway [Sir Mix-A-Lot]
Listen: The New Style [Beastie Boys]
Listen: Get Down [LL Cool J]