Sad day in England

DJ John Peel has died, prompting tributes ranging from Blur’s lead singer to Tony Blair. One BBC story even offers a link to advice for the bereaved, which may seem to be overstatement until you read the tributes.

It seems like something from a different era to pay such an outpouring of sympathy for a DJ. And Peel, to an extent, is indeed from a different era. The BBC only had a couple of radio channels in those days, not the sprawling network of digital enterprises it offers now. He was THE guy in the 60s, when everyone you’ve ever heard of had some contact with him, and he retained his status in the 80s.

But Peel was still active. While he was on vacation last week, the BBC attracted such guests as The Cure’s Robert Smith to fill in for him.

In the brash Internet era, perhaps someone would consider people like Peel to be dinosaurs. We don’t need gatekeepers anymore, we in the media are told every day. There’s certainly some truth to that, and some good as well. It’s great that I can turn on my Launch player and hear songs that I’ve already heard and rated. It’s great that I can spend countless hours at BigSoccer.com discussing all manner of soccer trivia.

What we’re losing, though, is the sense of community that comes from having common interests. We’ve totally lost it in the U.S., where cable TV shows that attract 1 percent of the audience are considered hits in a country that used to gather together and watch Lucy by the tens of millions. The bonds are stronger in England because, of course, it’s smaller, and because it has people like Peel.

That’s why losing Peel is so sad to me even though I didn’t spend much time listening to him. (In fact, this Radio 1 tribute to him is awful.) Today is a terrible blow for that common culture in England that I envy so much. I sense that loss is lurking in the consciousness of many who mourn him today.

Cultural disconnect

I couldn’t stand listening as ER went through another merry child-killing, so I put on the headphones and watched the Blue Man Group’s video for I Feel Love. That’s a jarring transition.

Related: Somehow, I love the thought that Sixpence None The Richer’s version of There She Goes is being used in an ad for the Pill. In case you only know them from their teen-movie hits, Sixpence was essentially a Christian band (and, actually, a very good one). The band members themselves seem rooted in reality — unlike, say, the all-male cast of lawmakers who keep refusing to let insurance companies pay for something that’s actually prescribed on occasion for things OTHER than uninhibited fornication — but I bet some of the less open-minded fans’ heads are spinning.

Song review: Ben Folds

It took me a while to warm up to Ben Folds. The first song of his I heard was Brick, which still feels like an admirable but clumsy attempt to express a complex feeling. I became a bit of a convert after hearing some of his more upbeat, wittier songs like One Angry Dwarf … and Army.

Yet he’s getting better at expressing emotional depth, especially on two songs from Rockin’ The SuburbsStill Fighting It, a melancholy search for small doses of happiness when adult life doesn’t turn out as dazzling as you’d expect, and the song I’m reviewing here (I know, my intros are too long), The Luckiest.

Folds probably knows at this point that his audience is going to veer toward the geeky demographic, yet he realizes this group has emotions that can’t be expressed in a Monty Python sketch or comic book. (Among the avowed fans of this song — “Weird Al” Yankovic.) You wouldn’t put The Luckiest alongside an ’80s power ballad or even Maroon 5’s She Will Be Loved. It’s simply not that simple. I like Maroon 5 just fine, and I don’t mind the fact that a vaguely pleasant melody hangs in my head what that song is over.

What Folds does is a little less palatable. He’s not brimming with confidence like Maroon 5’s Adam Levine. He’s in love, and he’s astounded that circumstances allowed such a thing to happen. How did I — how does anyone — find that person who means everything?

In one of the later verses, he sings of an old couple in which one dies quietly and is followed by the other a couple of days later, all events that seem perfectly natural and fitting in the world he’s describing. That’s a little too much for your typical pop radio station.

And that’s fine. I love this song, and I can’t listen to it every day. I have to be in a particular mood to reflect upon how improbable it is that we find that person. Maybe some people can’t relate — they haven’t found that person, or it all came easily to them. I can relate. I can think of at least 10 things that had to go catastrophically right in order for Jen and I to have ever had a chance — job situations, previous relationships, my temporary victory over self-doubt.

So when Ben sings about how different things would’ve been if one of us had been born 50 years before — hey, I get a little emotional.

I don’t get many things right the first time / In fact, I am told that a lot / Now I know all the wrong turns, the stumbles and falls brought me here

No one’s ever going to express that thought any better. Thanks, Ben