UPDATE: I was reminded how impossible it can be to earn a living as a writer — even if you’re as talented, knowledgeable and experienced as Ed Ward — when I found out that, after a series of broken contracts and reneged promises over the last year, Ed finds himself on the verge of eviction from his modest apartment in Montpellier, France. A Facebook fundraising page has been posted, and it directs you to a “donate” button on his tres enjoyable blog about his current hometown. I’d invite anyone who liked this story or has liked Ed’s NPR work or other journalism or just thinks it ain’t right, to give what you can. And you can re-post this story or send friends to the Facebook page. Ed has less than two weeks, until October 15, to get right with the landlord. Thanks.
I was reminded of how good Ed Ward is on the way home from work yesterday listening to his story about Sugar Pie DeSanto on Fresh Air. When Ed’s on his game, which seems like most of the time these days, at least on the radio, you find yourself not just in violent agreement, but riffing along, bopping your head, gleefully exclaiming, Tourette’s-like, as his tale of this or that underappreciated cult figure, complete with mouth-watering music samples, unspools from the dashboard. It’s music criticism that comes damn close to being music. You pull in the carport, rush inside and download everything you can find by Sugar Pie DeSanto.
If you have any inkling of who Ed is, you probably know him from his longtime gig as Terry Gross’s “rock historian.” But maybe you were in Austin in the ’70s or ’80s and remember the implacable rock critic for the Austin-American Statesman, the guy who inspired bruised musicians to sport “Dump Ed Ward” bumper stickers, tongue-in-cheek or maybe not. Or if you’re really old you might remember him as a reviewer and editor for Rolling Stone when the magazine was still in San Francisco and still meant the world to people like me.
I remember him in Sausalito, post-Rolling Stone, when he was, among other things, west coast editor for Creem. I had abandoned higher education and the rock bands of New York to try the California dream I’d heard about in all those rock songs. My plan: well, I know a lot about rock music…
But, of course, I didn’t. Not compared to Ed.
I’m ready to sign on.
I’ve never quite shared the ardor. But I’ve long been fascinated by the socio-musico impact of these guys. More than just a fave rave of a certain demographic (thirty-something males?), they seem to represent to those fans — 80,000 of whom turned out in Golden Gate Park last night — some sort of watershed, a defining moment. A musical moment, for sure, but one that also goes well beyond.
A Beatles for their times.
And if you’re as suprised by that notion as I was (maybe not, 35-year-old dude), trust me. It’s based on unassailable empirical data — mostly close observation of guys like Joe Oh and Mike Lemme.
But let’s talk about Lemme.
For sure, Radiohead goes beyond the musical for this guy, a designer by avocation and trade. And you get what he’s “hearing” when you see the show. Where other bands load up on the latest in technological fidelity, the highest of def, for their video projections, Radiohead is cool enough and smart enough to understand that to go forward technologically, to refresh the whole concept of video projection at this point in the game, is to go backwards.