Ptarmigan

a grouse with completely feathered feet

3/16/2004

41

One of my goals in life is to write a book about singles that reached #41 on the Billboard charts, particularly with bands that never went any higher. Almost-hits, not quites. I've always loved the numerology of popular music; when I was in 8th grade I'd keep a compendium of #1s week by week (I did this even into 1988-1990, nearly all the way through high school, even when I moved to alternative radio. Glam metal ruled in Erie and on most days I thought no one else in the world liked the Replacements). Information was scarce and spotty, particularly outside the realm of top 10. There was something about watching the rise and fall of songs like skipping rocks and watching them sink at the Peninsula. I'd watch the songs--like ideas in America's mind--percolate up and reach an X point when they'd teeter and collapse. It was all a complex system of ephemera. I'm not sure if things are the same anymore. Scenes are themselves aching to self-typecast. It's the whole thing with identity politics, whether it's the product placement of Sprite or "I know this band and you don't" ministrations of the fuckyouarati. Of course, this probably has always happened, and my utter teenage isolation merely meant I wasn't taking part in this mini-branding. But something else changed. At some point (the year of the FCC deregulation?), pop died, and with it, grand heartland gestures. Now we have microshires. Radio conglomeration no doubt played a larger part, but the response as a whole has been retreat from the masses and food courts. Distribution will obviously be a problem--but the difference is, I get the sense that many bands don't aspire, even, to the popular, subversive center. (I really think Alex Chilton and Chris Bell really wanted to be, well, big stars--it's just that they were dealing with jackanapes from their record company). This is the same impulse that makes me want to create a nonprofit that sets up poetry kiosks in malls. Anyway, we're all #41s in a way, aren't we?

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