Two favourite discoveries early in my undergraduate years at UVic were campus radio and Cinematica, the latter of which introduced me to Fassbinder and Fellini and all kinds of genres, directors, and left-field ways of film-making I'd never known to consider.
Alongside my steady juvenile diet of TV before university independence, whole afternoons passed with me listening to AM (and later FM) radio stations; and just like today those commercial, ad-revenue-reliant stations played a fairly small selection of songs over and over and over. (To the point that last weekend, I heard a song—sappy dreck: "If Wishes Were Horses" by Sweeney Todd—I'd been exposed to a huge number of times in the late 1970s and then not again until 2013. I was still able to recall most of its lyrics. Talk about the effectiveness of brainwashing-through-repetition!)
At UVic the radio station featured eclectic programming that reflected the anti-mainstream and anti-commercial radio tastes of the DJs. Listeners could hear American banjo music from the 1940s one hour and then industrial bands from Germany (Einstürzende Neubauten) and England (Test Department) the next, all the while being given a kind of education about just how limited in scope the radio stations off campus in fact were.
Since then I've remained impressed at how so-called alternative or independent music has maintained its cachet and kept a tenacious subculture of devotees who seek out websites that review must-hear (but, relative to Gaga or Kate Perry or the latest flavour-of-the-week, completely obscure) bands and musicians. And buy their music, of course. And attend their concerts.
There's still campus radio, of course, and as far as I know it still tends to feature music that never plays on any commercial stations (and more or less abandons those bands as "sold out" once they attain a modicum of popularity).
Anyhow, what I'd love is for alternative publishers to find the same fervent and dedicated audience, one that makes the effort to track down authors on 'small labels' and read them, talk about them, and, generally, spread the word. Rescue them from total penniless obscurity, in other words.
I know the fantasy's sort of ludicrous and certainly it's asking for the moon. Instead, though, what sells more or less is what's promoted by the Bertelsmann juggernaut (branding phrase: "media worldwide"; details: "Bertelsmann SE & Co. KGaA is a German multinational mass media corporation founded in 1835, based in Gütersloh, Germany. The company operates in 50 countries and employs in excess of 104,000"), or what's selected by national prize committees, "Heather's Picks," and public radio popularity contests about what the nation reads.
I bring this up because I've been reading a pile of intriguing independent press books lately—Anatomy of a Girl Gang (Arsenal), Juanita Rose: My True Life (Pedlar), The November Optimist (Gaspereau), The River: A Memoir of a Life on The Border Cities (Biblioasis), Fresh Hell: Motherhood in Pieces (Demeter).
|Oct 30 Fresh Hell launch: with the author-as-zombie|
Were I in a Groundhog Day scenario, only in this version every single time I wake up I'm at the entrance of a new location of a bookstore chain, my predication is I'd never see one of those titles. Not one. They would, in other words, be written and published and sell well under 500 copies in large part because they fail to attract media coverage and bookstore promotion. And without that fantasy independent press subculture to seek them out, buy them, or promote them, grassroots-style, by word of mouth, etc, they remain virtually invisible, little Davids that the Goliath can squash without even noticing they exist.
That really was a digression that verged on a rant. More to the point: I interviewed the author of Fresh Hell a few weeks ago. The article appears in the Vancouver Sun.