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« Indie Soul Stealer Speaking of Hearing Sound Opinions »

Feature Thu Dec 20 2007

Sound Opinions. In your Car. At the Movies.

The day I sat in on a taping session, a few weeks ago, Sound Opinions had a lot on their plate. While I'm unfamiliar with the medium of radio, it seemed like a generally hectic day around the studio as Greg Kot and Jim DeRogatis covered a number of segments for three different shows. They began by sounding off on both the new Wu-Tung and Ghostface Killah albums ("Burn" and "Trash" respectively, if you're familiar with their unique grading system) before interviewing reporters for two news segments, which then gave way to four callers discussing their year-end musical favorites, a healthy dose of station identifications before wrapping up by retrofitting the previous week's Tori Amos interview with intros and outros. And even though my head spun from the days' proceedings, the atmosphere around the control room was jocular enough for the two local critics to throw around a healthy dose of off-color jokes. "That one's off the record," one of the producers informed me after a particularly hilarious barb from Mr. DeRogatis. All in an afternoon's work, I supposed.

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Jim DeRogatis, Tori Amos and Greg Kot (photo courtesy Sound Opinions)

In case you're unfamiliar, Sound Opinions is the world's only rock'n'roll talk show, produced by Chicago Public Radio and hosted by the top music critics at Chicago's two daily newspapers, the Chicago Tribune (Kot) and the Chicago Sun-Times (DeRogatis). The show seeks to mimic the environment of friends sitting around ranting and raving about the music they love and/or hate. Topics on the show cover the top news stories, trends in the industry, interviews and in-studio sessions from artists in town, and album reviews, for which they have devised the aforementioned Buy-It, Burn-It, Trash-It method of critique.

I should probably admit at this point that I'm a big fan of these guys, both as writers and critics. These days, it seems that most critics favor a clever quotable over an actual discussion of music and that many of them—or so I believe—have lost their fandom, have forgotten what it's like to get wrapped up and carried away by a fine piece of pop, rock, soul or hip-hop. Not these two. Kot and DeRogatis are, first and foremost, music nerds (and I mean that in the best way possible) and it's refreshing to read and hear about the picks and pans of good old-fashioned fanatics, who just happen to listen to more music than anybody else. They are the godfathers of over-informed music dorks everywhere, slogging through a landscape filled with more sounds than ever before, delivering the goods on what to purchase, what to rip, and what to set on fire. Reading their columns and listening to their shows, I don't feel that they pretend to be the only voices in the wilderness, just a few who happen to have some microphones and nationwide circulation (and for that, if for nothing else, I am ridiculously jealous).

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Jim DeRogatis, Roger Ebert and Greg Kot (photo courtesy Sound Opinions)

But let us not forget: they are critics and as such, are fiercely contentious of the record industry's current malfeasance. On the day I watched the show, two news stories showcased the straw-clutching of large corporations for whatever power they think they still possess over the severely declining record and radio industries. First, DeRo and Kot chatted with Jeff Leeds, whose article for the New York Times detailed the current and infuriating state of radio. It appears that radio executives plan to combat the effects that the internet and Myspace and others have had on today's listener by simply playing a smaller amount of songs more often (a tune called "Apologize", which I've never heard and refused to seek out for this piece, was played more 10,240 times in one week—that's just gross). Tony Greene from the Oregonian followed, the man who broke the story of the University of Oregon refusing to kowtow to the RIAA's demands to hand over names and addresses of students who may or may not be downloading music for free. By dissecting these cases, Kot and DeRogatis reminded me that they will continue to fight hard for the future of music, not just rest on their laurels by mythologizing the past.

This past summer saw the launch of a new Sound Opinions venture, At the Movies. This exciting enterprise allows fans of the show and rock music to enjoy a night at the Music Box, hosted by the writers. July brought You're Gonna Miss Me, a documentary telling the story of Rory Erickson, the legendary lead singer for the 13th Floor Elevators, while November showcased Julian Temple's Joe Strummer: The Future is Unwritten, a surprisingly moving account of the life and death of the former Clash front man. The Strummer film and subsequent talkback with Kot and DeRogatis sparked in me a fascination for the future of At the Movies, and I hope that it blossoms one day into a larger event complete with panel discussions, musical performances, special guest interviews and that classic candid bickering. While I understand the need and desire to keep the proceedings intimate, a guy can dream about a Spinal Tap reunion, right?

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Recently, Jim DeRogatis was gracious enough to answer a few question I posed about At the Movies.

Gapersblock: What are your goals for At the Movies? Is it an extension of the show? A special event? Or a rotating series?

Jim DeRogatis: We always say in interviews that we think of the radio show as sitting with some friends on a couch in the basement fighting about music you hate and preaching about music you love. We came up with the movie night idea as a way to share space on the couch with a lot more people—as well as to do something fun and rock-geek-related every couple of weeks that might also raise a few bucks for Chicago Public Radio.

GB: New films about music aren't released that often. Would you or have you considered mining the vaults, dusting off some smaller or underappreciated films?

JD: We've never thought about it in terms of new films; it will be a mix of new and old. The Rory Erickson documentary was, in fact, two years old. And we have a long (long, long, long) list of rock movies we love that would be a real blast to screen in front of a big audience at a cool theater with everybody yakking about it afterwards. "Spinal Tap"! "Pink Floyd Live at Pompeii"! "The Kids are Alright"! "The Harder They Come"! Etc. etc. etc.

GB: In terms of the Strummer film: to me, it's about sharing our lives by sharing music. How do you do the same? How do you step back from your roles as critics to share and appreciate your lives through music? Can you?

JD: Actually I would say that everything we do—our articles in the paper, the books we've written, the radio show—is us sharing our lives with other people through music. Our roles as critics stem for only one thing: Our deep and abiding personal fandom. If we lost the radio show and all the writing work tomorrow, we'd still be corralling our friends on the street to rave about some band or movie or album we love. We (are) just (the) lucky s.o.b.'s to be paid to do it—but please don't tell our bosses that.

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Sound Opinions is a production of Chicago Public Radio, co-produced and distributed by American Public Media.

The next At the Movies feature film has yet to be selected but is scheduled to premiere in February at the Music Box.

Catch the radio show locally on Friday nights at 8pm and Saturday mornings at 11am on WBEZ, 91.5 FM and via podcast and streaming Monday mornings at soundopinions.org.

 
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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

Our Final Transmission Days

By The Gapers Block Transmission Staff

Transmission staffers share their most cherished memories and moments while writing for Gapers Block.

Read this feature »

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Transmission is the music section of Gapers Block. It aims to highlight Chicago music in its many varied forms, as well as cover touring acts performing in the city. More...
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