Lo-fi legend Lou Barlow has played in three of the most influential indie bands of the last quarter century: Dinosaur Jr, Sebadoh and the Folk Implosion. And while he’s still recording and touring with the reunited Dinosaur (whose Farm was released this summer), his main concern these days is his solo career. Goodnight Unknown (Merge), Barlow’s second album under his own name and the follow-up to 2005’s Emoh, is his best collection of songs in a decade and features guests including Dale Crover (Melvins) and Lisa Germano. Barlow also recently joined Lara Meyerratken in Ben Lee’s new incarnation of Noise Addict, which released It Was Never About The Audience for free last month. Barlow (backed by the Missingmen) is opening for Dinosaur throughout October and part of November. As if that double duty wasn’t enough, Barlow will also be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week. Read our Q&A with him.
Barlow: This cable channel appeared on my local provider nearly two years ago. On the channel guide, instead of the name of a program (i.e. “7:00-7:30 Everybody Loves Raymond”), Current TV would read “raw content” or something even more oblique. The shows didn’t run in half-hour blocks. They were about 10-15 minutes long, starting whenever, it seemed. The shows were either hardcore in-depth gonzo-journalism pieces or annoying shots of big-city nightlife with smug DJs and their awful sunglasses. So I was a bit put off at first. The phrase “too cool for school” comes to mind. The journalism seemed interesting, but I wasn’t necessarily prepared (via a program name, etc.) for something about modern slavery at 10 a.m. It made the experience too dissonant for me. Also, they ran a little time bar at the bottom of the screen on every segment (a la YouTube and other web-based vid content), which I found distracting. The whole package seemed a premature, very self-conscious attempt at linking the web and broadcast television. Then, one day, I happened to tune in at the beginning of a show in which the lead singer of Gwar, unmasked, lead a journalist on tour of his hometown, Richmond, Va. It was hilarious, casual, real. The interviewer then went and hung out with some other Richmond hardcore artist types—great. Shortly afterward, a show called infoMania popped up, a hipster version of The Soup (E!’s highlight show featuring reality and talk show clips with running commentary by a comedian host). infoMania is a near carbon copy of The Soup but focuses on ridiculous web-based and hard-copy material. too. Most significantly, there is a segment called “Target Women” (hosted by Sarah Haskins) that could be the funniest thing on TV right now. She chooses a different theme, say, hygiene, and examines the ways the media exploit a woman’s presumed fears and desires through TV shows and advertising. It’s brilliant. It has the off-the-cuff feel of a good blog/fanzine rant and the production values of a cable-access show. So, now I’m hooked. I don’t mind the time bar, and the music content is way indie: Animal Collective during the hourly what’s-hot-on-the-web stats, a best-of Take-Away Show (the French web series that captures all our favorite precocious indie stars emoting in public places), a Death Cab For Cutie documentary, etc. My other favorite is SuperNews!, a half-hour animated thing that lampoons web trends. (The Facebook, MySpace and Friendster icons share an apartment; think Three’s Company.) You have to see it to believe it, really. I’m still surprised that my Facebook page isn’t flooded with links to these cartoons. They are timely and perceptive, as if invented by an über-brain living on a mountain overlooking Silicon Valley. Current was in the real news recently when two of its fearless and attractive journalists were captured snooping around in North Korea, then rescued by Bill Clinton. I learned then that Al Gore is a supporter/founder of Current, which explains, a little, why they have been able to mount this experiment for the last two years: As the web becomes more powerful, this channel becomes more relevant. It all makes sense to me now. The web and broadcast content of Current are meant to be cross-referenced, creating this gigantic alternative media presence, the keyword being “alternative,” but in, like, a good way. There’s a focus on VCC (viewer created content) that could take on a life of its own as the channel grows. And I hope it does.