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June 2004





Michael Krasny Michael Krasny
Host of KQED radio's Forum talk show

Aside from avoiding the East Bay fleet of tarted-up Civics and Integras, Michael Krasny's Forum show is the main thing that keeps my 40-mile morning commute down Interstate 880 half interesting.

Like many talk shows, Forum covers a diverse range of issues and features many top-flight guests every week. Two things set it apart from the rest; Krasny himself, and choice of subject matter of the show – which is likely due as much to a strong production team as it is to Krasny.

Krasny seems able to cover all subjects with pretty much the same high level of informed interest, enthusiasm and eloquence. That's quite a feat when a typical week has him challenging the Israeli Consul General about Israeli military action in Gaza refugee camps, then talking with Brian Eno about his latest musical projects.

Forum does have some shortcomings. The daytime talk show format doesn't lend itself well to the hardball questioning that is sometimes needed to get the most out of certain subjects. (In fact, most interviewers appear to be soft-ballers once you've seen Jeremy Paxman in action, and that's especially true within the generally well-mannered cocoon of the American media.) However, Krasny is a good deal better in this respect than many nationally-syndicated hosts such as Terry Gross or Neal Conan.

Forum is on KQED FM (88.5 FM in the San Francisco Bay Area), weekdays 9 - 11am, and streaming online via KQED's website.

The Friday Night Gameshow Friday Night Game Show
Live 105

The antithesis of Forum, but almost as good a cure for the boredom of an Interstate 880 commute, the Friday Night Game Show is on Live 105 (105.3 FM) in the San Francisco Bay Area, 8pm - 10pm.  On Fridays.

The main draw of the show is announcer and scorekeeper Ben Johnson, though he's so whacked out that without the obligatory straight guy Madden, the show would get tired well before its two hours were through. "San Leandro, it's the jewel of the East Bay... shame it's cubic zirconia."

Still waiting for a good line about Alameda ...

Howard Stern Howard Stern
Host of radio's Howard Stern show.

Howard Stern's radio show is mostly crap. OK, so it's the kind of crap that you occasionally find yourself laughing at, sometimes despite your better judgement. But it's often misogynistic, exploitative and sometimes just damn bad taste - in my opinion.

Love him or hate him, censoring him is as easy as changing stations. But apparently that isn't easy enough for the conservative establishment in the USA, who seem to have taken it on themselves to codify their tastes and opinions as law, and want to outlaw anything that doesn't sit well with them.

Which brings me to why Howard scores an entry this time round. Perhaps not surprisingly, Stern has an opinion on what he views as conservative attempts to control the media, and misses no opportunity to sound off about freedom of speech and threats to civil liberties - after all, his current livelihood depends on it. However, I think in recent months he's moved considerably beyond his own self-interest. That's been reflected in things he has said, and also in the guests he's chosen to have on his show, such as Arianna Huffington. And he's probably the only interviewer who's asked her what sex with her in-the-closet gay ex-husband was like.

Cider With Roadies Cider With Roadies
Stuart Maconie

Who the hell is Stuart Maconie?

No, I hadn't heard of him either before reading this book. According to the front cover, he's apparently the "best thing to come out of Wigan since the A58 to Bolton".

Despite spending the first eighteen years of my life in Bolton, I don't recall ever making the short trip down the A58 to Wigan. There's nothing in Maconie's book to make me regret that, but there's plenty to like about the story he tells; growing up in a fairly typical northern working class environment, then embarking on a rather untypical occupation as a music journalist for the New Musical Express (NME).

My own distant recollections of the NME are that it was mostly a pile of wank. Much of the writing was reminiscent of the crap prose that graces a typical sixth-form magazine, with overblown metaphors and too clever in-jokes. Many of the album and gig reviews seemed to be an exercise in proving the writer's self-worth, overloaded with youthful cynicism and rarely conveying any genuine sense of the music or personalities under review.

Perhaps Maconie didn't write those particular reviews, or maybe his sensibilities have changed over the years, because this book isn't afflicted by any of that. Instead Maconie brings a self-effacing humor and honesty to bear, whether he's describing a hotel room interview with Nile Rodgers or mistakenly interviewing the wrong band instead of The Bluebells after a college gig.

But what comes through more strongly than his sharp humor is Maconie's enduring affection and obsession with the most basic essences of the music that he likes. It's not that he picks apart every note or word that a band produces; instead he focuses on the whole that – when great bands are at the top of their game – is always much more than the sum of their parts.

Of course, it helps that Maconie seems to like much of the same stuff I do. To date he's the only person I've encountered who lauds the Happy Mondays and also claims that Wichita Lineman is the best pop song ever composed. (I'm not sure I'd go quite that far, though it's sufficiently good to have made me add a Glenn Campbell recording to my collection.)

Maconie's description of the energy, circumstance and style of the Happy Mondays is both accurate and memorable: 'a style that is best described as crackhead Mountain Rescue Team or Mujahadeen Rod, Jane and Freddy'. In addition to the Mondays, he tips his hat to most of the Manchester scene that played out at the end of the eighties – most notably the Stone Roses – but perceptively downplays the commercial juggernaut of Oasis that arrived in the mid-nineties.

Maconie is circumspect about music journalism's place in the larger scheme of things, but defends his craft to the hilt. 'It is the daftest, most innocent, maybe the most honourable branch of journalism'. On the strength of this book at least, that might be a reasonable claim; he's damn good at it.

© Andy Currid 2004-2005