Watching the anti-quarantine protests and five o’clock follies, I am trying to take comfort in these words by Walt Whitman:
Meditating among liars, and retreating sternly into myself, I see that there are really no liars or lies after all,
And that nothing fails its perfect return—And that what are called lies are perfect returns.
Let’s get into the music.
Talking Heads – Fear of Music (1979) The Talking Heads’ third album is very much a transitional piece. You can hear some glimpses of where they are headed, into the full-blown, Brian Eno-assisted soundscapes that populate their next album, Remain in Light, but for the most part Fear of Music is spare. The song titles are just as lean. Most are one or two words, reading like a cryptic poem on the sticker placed on the pack of the album: “Mind,” Paper,” “Cities.” “Air,” “Heaven,” “Animals.” After the surprise success of “Take Me To The River” on their previous album, the Heads are intentionally running as far away from mainstream success as possible, exploring African rhythms and Ddaist nonsense on “I Zimbra,” feral primitivism on “Animals” and cinematic isolation on “Drugs.” “Cities” races with frantic paranoia and “Air” is laced with sinister synthesizers and processed vocals. Even the songs with strong melodies serve as warnings. “No time for dancing/or lovey dovey,” singer David Byrne proclaims on “Life During Wartime.” Later, “Heaven” is merely a place where nothing ever happens. The Talking Heads were never this stark – or dark – again. Which is why Fear of Music is my favorite Talking Heads album.
Thom Yorke – Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes (2014) The Radiohead frontman’s second solo album is more likely to rattle around in your head after a deep listen than spring from your lips like a Broadway melody. The music is moody and cerebral. And as I found out when I saw Thom Yorke in concert in the fall of 2019, surprisingly danceable and energetic when dialed up to 11. My favorite moments are when Yorke stretches out and lets the tracks hypnotize. “There Is No Ice (For My Drink)” is a glitchy wonderland. “The Mother Lode” manages to combine ambient music with dubstep. I’m not enough of a cryptologist to pretend to know what these songs are about, nor versed enough in EDM to compare this to other, similar pieces. What I can say is that Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes is a solid listen that helps place Radiohead’s The King of Limbs in context.
INXS – Kick (1987) Nearly 25 years after the death of lead singer Michael Hutchence, the music of INXS remains ubiquitous. The Australian band’s pop prowess is undeniable, but they always had trouble crafting great albums around those magnificent singles. Kick, their sixth album, is the one time everything clicked. OK, it helps that five of the dozen tracks here were big hits, but the other seven are no slouches. Opening track “Guns in the Sky” plays like a set of expectations the band will need met before delivering the hits. It sets the table nicely for the great run of “New Sensation,” “Devil Inside” and “Need you Tonight.” The first half concludes with “The Loved One,” the only cover on the album. The second side includes another amazing run of “Never Tear Us Apart,” “Mystify” and the title song. You’ve heard these songs so many times I don’t need to describe them. Kick was so big that even the songs that weren’t singles ended up being recognizable. Knowing the songs’ omnipresence you may question needing to own the album. The answer is yes, of course you do. Because even though you’ve heard them a million times, once you get done playing Kick, you’re going to want to flip it over and play it again.
Berwanger – Exorcism Rock (2016) Singer, songwriter and guitarist Josh Berwanger has been a fixture on the Kansas City music scene since The Anniversary broke through in the late ‘90s. Fans missing that great band might find the next best thing with Exorcism Rock. Former bandmate Adrianne deLanda contributes backing vocals on two tracks and former Anniversary producer Doug Boehm is back behind the boards. But you don’t need to know any of that to enjoy the infectious, hook-heavy songs. It’s impossible not to smile and sing along. The lyrics get catty sometimes – “Heard you on the radio/Song’s bad/I thought I’d just let you know,” goes the chorus on the title track – but the music is always sunny. Stir up Cheap Trick, Tom Petty and the Get Up Kids, another local favorite, and you’re getting close. I saw Berwanger last fall and the songs sound even better in person. I can’t wait to hear them again once all this blows over.
Paul McCartney – Tug of War (1982) Yes, this is the album with “Ebony and Ivory,” and yes that song is awful. But despite that transgression, Tug of War is a great album. First of all, there’s another, even better Stevie Wonder collaboration, the funky “What’s That You’re Doing.” Rockabilly legend Carl Perkins pops up for another duet on “Get It.” Jazz bassist Stanley Clarke also appears on two tracks. The most notable collaborator is producer George Martin, who wrote a great orchestral accompaniment for the title song and a very Beatle-esque horn line to “Take It Away.” Martin also added sublime strings to the affecting “Here Today,” McCartney’s tribute to John Lennon. Despite all this star power, McCartney is always in the driver’s seat. Side two kicks off with the upbeat “Ballroom Dancing.” Later, “Wanderlust” adds another composition to McCartney’s awesome ballad songbook. By the time you get to “Ebony and Ivory,” almost hidden away as the last song on the album, it starts to make a little more sense in the context of the album. Tug of War is easily found in the sale racks at a cheap price and should be an easy purchase next time you see it.
Peter Tosh – Legalize It (1976) Reggae guitarist Peter Tosh had a lot to prove on Legalize It, his solo debut. After coming up in the Wailers, Tosh was eager to establish himself as more than Bob Marley’s sidekick. Although the title song is a strident political statement (with supporting cover art), the rest of the album is surprisingly playful. “Ketchy Shuby” is a light-hearted look at love and “Whatcha Gonna Do” manages to stay perky despite a narrative about running afoul of the law. Think of it as the reggae equivalent of “Here Comes the Judge.” The most heartfelt moments arrive in the middle of the album. “Why Must I Cry” is an emotional breakup song written with Bob Marley. The next song is an excellent Rastafarian hymn, “Igziabeher (Let Jah Be Praised).” Legalize It successfully established Tosh as a star in his own right and ranks among his best work.
(Above: Local Natives embrace “Villany,” one of several standout tunes performed during a swift, damp autumn concert at Crossroads KC in Kansas City, Mo.)
By Joel Francis The Kansas City Star
With thunderstorms looming on the Doppler radar Saturday night, indie rockers Local Natives took the stage ahead of schedule and wrapped up before the weather portion of the local news aired. No umbrellas were needed.
Crossroads KC was about a third full, with most of the crowd standing comfortably in front of the sound tent.
The Southern California quartet expertly generates songs that serve as atmospheric pieces with anthemic vocals. Their sound recalls the National and Fleet Foxes, with a splash of Radiohead and Talking Heads. Electronic textures compliment the soaring, earnest vocals and make the music both easy to dance to and sing with.
The versatile musicians traded roles frequently throughout the night, performing in front of a white curtain, frequently backlit and visible only as silhouettes. The lighting was even more dramatic when the wind whipped through the curtain.
While the scope was cinematic, the songs were compact. It took the band just 80 minutes to deliver 17 songs. “Coins” opened with a funky stop-start rhythm that lifted a lot of hands into the air. Opening act Charlotte Day Wilson joined the band for a duet of “Dark Days.” She danced at her mic between verses, relishing the moment.
One of the night’s most powerful moments came on “Colombia.” Accompanied only by his guitar and Taylor Rice on piano, Kelcey Ayer sang about his mother’s death. The somber moment hovered as the rest of the band returned to the stage for the crescendo.
Somehow, that number segued into “Fountain of Youth,” a poppy new song that references a female president and bounces with a chorus of “We can do whatever we want.” Although the songs were polar opposites, the journey was flawless.
Local Natives’ third album, “Sunlit Youth” was released a little more than two weeks ago, but the crowd seemed familiar with the material. Several of its songs — including “Villany” — drew generous responses. The set list was pretty much split between new songs and material from “Hummingbird,” the group’s second album. A few songs from their 2009 debut were included for good measure.
One of those early songs ended the night on discordant and satisfying note. With Nik Ewing’s bass galloping over noisy guitars, “Sun Hands” recalled “Boy”-era U2. The most boisterous and least contained number of the night ended with low feedback — and rainclouds — hanging in the air as the band waved goodnight.
Setlist: Past Lives; Wide Eyes; Villany; You and I; Breakers; Mother Emmanuel; Airplanes; Ceilings; Heavy Feet; Coins; Dark Days (with Charlotte Day Wilson); Masters; Colombia; Fountain of Youth; Who Knows Who Cares. Encore:Sea of Years; Sun Hands.
Spring arrived on the calendar several weeks ago, but Mother Nature didn’t get the memo until recently. The half dozen songs that follow don’t explicitly mention chirping birds, budding flowers, sun dresses and deck parties, but they certainly conjure the feeling.
“Starting a New Life” – Van Morrison
Van the Man throws off the shackles of winter in the jubilant first verse of this song:
“When I hear that robin sing, Well I know it’s coming on spring, Ooo-we, and we’re starting a new life.”
In a little more than two minutes, Morrison and his buoyant country/folk melody captures the romance of the season and the essence of why so many couples get married in the spring.
“Starting a New Life” was one of the first songs Morrison wrote after relocating from Woodstock, N.Y. to just north of San Francisco. Although the move wasn’t his idea, he was clearly relishing his new surroundings.
“Satchel Paige Said” – The Baseball Project
For many fans of the nation’s pastime, spring doesn’t arrive until Opening Day. Wind chill and even snow are mentally eliminated once the boys of summer line up along the base paths.
Dream Syndicate’s Steve Wynn and Scott McCaughey of the Minus Five and Young Fresh Fellows teamed up in 2008 under the name “The Baseball Project” and cut 13 tributes to their favorite sport.
“Satchel Paige Said” sounds like an outtake from Tom Petty’s “Full Moon Fever.” McCaughey’s lyrics draw on elements of Paige’s biography and his famous advice: “Don’t look back. Something might be gaining on you.”
“Radio Head” – Talking Heads
Generation X is littered with great bands that take themselves too seriously. Perhaps the only common element shared by Pearl Jam and the Smashing Pumpkins is that neither band wants to provide its audience with the opportunity to laugh.
But the biggest and most serious of all Gen X bands is Radiohead. Which makes it even more delightful that they titled their first album after a Jerky Boys gag and named themselves after this supremely silly Talking Heads track.
But even if the English quintet had chosen another moniker, “Radio Head” would deserve a footnote in music history. David Byrne’s song about a man who can pick up radio transmissions with his noggin is set to a poppy zydeco rhythm that makes it the perfect song for that first spring car ride with the windows rolled all the way down and the stereo turned all the way up.
“Bowtie” – Outkast
Once the temperature swells, the unshapely layers of winter clothing are shed. And when the flimsy summer apparel is donned, it’s time to strut. Urban radio stations bank on this transition, building their warm-weather playlists around the singles designed maximize swagger.
The funky horns on this cut from Big Boi’s half of “Speakerboxxx/The Love Below” will make any stroll seem like a parade. The hip hop equivalent of ZZ Top’s “Sharp Dressed Man,” this track exudes more than enough confidence to turn a timid Romeo into a pimp daddy for one night.
“April, Come She Will” – Simon and Garfunkel
Ah, the fickle fancy of spring flings. On “April, Come She Will,” Paul Simon uses the changing seasons as a metaphor for a girl’s elusive affection following a brief affair. Thematically, the romantic longing of “April” was echoed on “For Emily, Wherever I May Find Her.” Both songs hover around the two minute mark. The economy of Simon’s lyrics and arrangements and the power of Art Garfunkel’s vocals make both songs potent vignettes.
Although it was written three years before the film, “April, Come She Will” is used to great effect in “The Graduate” as Benjamin Braddock chases the heart of Elaine Robinson.
“Springtime for Hitler” from “The Producers”
You don’t have to be an English major to see the metaphor in the title song from Bialystock and Bloom’s failed musical. As chorus girls parade around in beer stein bustiers, and pretzel tassels, the faux fuhrer solemnly intones: “Springtime for Hitler and Germany/Autumn for Poland and France.” Any remaining sensibilities are purged when storm troopers in a Busby Berkeley-style dance form a swirling swastika.
The coup de tat that saves the song from being an anti-Semitic nightmare comes from the fact that Mel Brooks, a Jew who fought the Germans at the Battle of the Bulge, gleefully wrote all the lyrics to this brilliant satire. (That’s his overdubbed voice delivering the line “don’t be stupid, be a smarty/come and join the Nazi party.”)
(Above: Widespread Panic jam with DJ Logic at a 2008 show in Charlotte, N.C.)
By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star
Call it hippie-hop. The surprise appearance by DJ Logic late into Widespread Panic’s sprawling set at the Midland Theater Tuesday night set both the evening and the audience on its ear.
Singer John Bell may have been claiming “this ain’t no nightclub” during the jam band’s faithful cover of the Talking Heads song “Life During Wartime,” but Logic’s turntables and the mood of the room said otherwise.
Logic’s scratching added another texture to the Georgia-based jam band’s already expansive palate. As the evening’s wild card, he pushed and challenged the Georgia-based jam band to meet his challenge.
Percussionist Sonny Ortiz responded by soloing around a loop that Logic provided. Keyboard player JoJo Hermann sprinkled some ‘80s synth sounds into his normal B3 repertoire. The result was a jam/rap hybrid somewhere between Snoop Dogg and Ratdog.
The timing couldn’t have been better. The sextet was three hours into their set and had just wrapped a marathon performance of “Hatfield” when Logic -– who was in town for his own engagement at Crosstown Station -– and his turntables rolled out of stage left. Based on the legend of Fort Scott, Kan., Native Charles Hatfield, the song was the biggest moment so far. With the house lights up for the chorus, the crowd enthusiastically sang along.
As the band made its way from “Hatfield” into “Fishwater,” the crowd predicted the number and erupted. What had been bob-and-weave dancing before turned into some serious getting down. After several minutes of “Fishwater,” the group suddenly doubled the tempo kicked into the Heads number. Panic covered the Heads song “Papa Legba” in their first set, but thoroughly assimilated everything but the signature guitar riff into their own monolithic sound. “Wartime,” however, felt and sounded like the second coming of “Stop Making Sense.”
Although nothing topped their half-hour with Logic, there many other memorable moments throughout the night. A marathon reading of “Diner” primed the pump for “Hatfield.” Hermann channeled Billy Preston during a medley of the instrumental “Disco” and the song “You Should Be Glad.” Earlier in the night, he applied Stevie Wonder’s clavinet sound to “Worried.”
“Barstools & Dreamers” started with a slap bass and slide guitar intro and drew the first signs of fervor. Bell unleashed a guitar solo in that number that sounded like his instrument was strung with barbed wire. The instrumental “Party at Your Mama’s House” was the product of acoustic and slide guitars, slap bass and buoyant percussion. It felt like sipping lemonade on the back porch then kicking a soccer ball around on the beach.
Tuesday night was the band’s first two shows in town, and the Midland was far from sold out. Although the floor was packed, there were acres of empty seats in the balcony. Panic probably could have packed the house by playing a one-night stand, but brevity and efficiency seem to be less important than passion and ability.
When the band finally said good night, they had been performing for nearly four hours (including a 40 minute intermission). Anyone wanting more would have to wait another 20 hours until the start of tonight’s show.
Better Off, Little Kin; Worried, Gradl; Barstools & Dreamners; Jack; Lil’ Drums; Papa Legba (Talking Heads cover); Party at Your Mama’s House; Ribs and Whiskey. Intermission. Let’s Get Down to Business; Disco; You Should Be Glad, Diner; Hatfield; Fishwater (with DJ Logic); Life During Wartime (Talking Heads cover, with DJ Logic); drum solo (with DJ Logic); Fishwater (with DJ Logic). Encore: Nobody’s Loss; Fixin’ to Die.
(Above: Bill Shapiro appeared on television in Kansas City in 2008 to celebrate 30 years of his radio show, “Cypress Avenue.”)
By Joel Francis
Late at night, the house is silent.
Everyone is asleep, or so it seems. In a bedroom, a dim light shines through the blankets peaked around a small figure sitting up under the covers. The sound of tinny music can barely be heard.
The boy beneath the sheets is still, but his heart is racing. His hands tremble as he fine-tunes the radio under the covers with him. He thought it was lost forever, but he has found it: the jazz radio station carrying the songs of Dave Brubeck and Shorty Rogers. It was only late at night he could pick up the phantom AM signals from stations in exotic places like New Orleans. Forget sleep, he had found something far more important.
Fast-forward 50 years.
Today, the city – Kansas City – is alive. Cars zoom past on the interstate, clearly visible from the law office’s window on the 20th floor near Crown Center. Visitors scurry in and out of the renovated Union Station.
A train blows by in the distance. The stress of daily life is lost in this picturesque, birds-eye view.
The scene is quite different, but the boy, now 62 years old, has not changed. The passion for discovering new music still burns within.
Today Bill Shapiro doesn’t hid his love of music; on the contrary, he broadcasts it. Shapiro has hosted the weekly radio show “Cyprus Avenue” for more than 20 years on KUCR 89.3 FM, the University of Missouri-Kansas City, National Public Radio affiliate.
Taking the show’s title from a song on Van Morrison’s “Astral Weeks” album, “Cyprus Avenue” has become one of KCUR’s highest-rated local shows.
Shapiro has found freedom on the airwaves. Unrestricted by playlists generated by demographic studies and corporate interests, Shapiro plays the music that excites him in hopes of engaging his audience.
“He has a lot more information and insight into groups that commercial radio doesn’t know about,” says Robert Moore, KCUR and “Cyprus Avenue” producer and music director. “A show like his would never happen on commercial radio because they don’t break down artists. They just play one format.”
While commercial radio serves a bevy of Bachman-Turner Overdrive and saccharine teen pop, Shapiro slips his sophisticated audience the Velvet Underground, Stevie Wonder and Uncle Tupelo, all linked by a common theme for a given show.
When Beck’s “Midnite Vultures” was released in 1999, no Kansas City radio stations would pick it up, despite heavy play from MTV and VH1. “Cyprus Avenue” not only spotlighted the album, but buttressed it with Prince’s “Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic,” forming a fitting tribute to both.
Shapiro sprinkles his shows with information from box sets, liner notes and magazine interviews, but for the most part he lets the music do the talking.
His inspiration may come from a television special or an album passed onto him by a friend.
More often than not, Corky Carrol, co-owner of Village Records in Overland Park, Kan., points Shapiro to a quality release. The two usually talk once a week about scheduled new releases.
“It’s strange to think that this is the only place to hear Elvis Costello or Nick Drake on the radio,” Carrol says. “You know at least for two hours you are going to get a solid effort, not a couple of good songs then Celine Dion.”
Says Moore, “He turns the public on to new groups they won’t hear anywhere else. Unfortunately, it won’t have any impact on commercial radio because it is run by corporations. It’s expected that this is what non-commercial radio does.”
“Cyprus Avenue” may be popular, but Shapiro has yet to reach the notoriety of Murray the K. Sure, he gets calls at the office from fans and fan mail isn’t unexpected, but for the most part Shapiro is anonymous. That’s fine by him.
“Other than family I don’t think I could tell you a specific person who might claim to be my biggest fan or a longtime listener,” Shapiro says.
Carrol has supplied Shapiro with music for more than 25 years and is a regular “Cyprus Avenue” listener. Carrol says he has bought “thousands and thousands” of albums for Shapiro.
“It’s hard to get one past him, but there are a few records he’s missed,” Carrol says. “His purchases are all over the board. I think the only thing I haven’t sold him is a classical record.”
A hit all over the country
The diverse playlists on “Cyprus Avenue” have made the show successful not only in Kansas City, but all over the country. During much of the 1980s, “Cyprus Avenue” was distributed on NPR’s satellite uplink system.
“In those days you could buy an hour of stereo time for $40,” Shapiro says. “I thought it was worth a shot and was willing to invest a couple thousand dollars.”
Several stations picked up “Cyprus Avenue” and it became a hit in Minneapolis and a dozen other smaller markets, but when satellite costs rose, Shapiro pulled his show.
“I knew it wasn’t going to grow because it didn’t fit the NPR format,” Shapiro says. “People think public radio should be country and jazz or folk for the adventurous.”
But Shapiro wasn’t content with confining the show to his hometown. He decided to give the satellite one more try, this time with a national sponsor. “Cyprus Avenue” proved to be popular, running in more than 40 markets, including Detroit, San Francisco and Jacksonville, Fla. Unable to find a sponsor, expenses were mounting and Shapiro was faced with a decision.
“I decided I could either earn a living as an attorney, or I could get in my car and drive across the country and build ‘Cyprus Avenue’ into a radio show,” Shapiro says.
For the second time, “Cyprus Avenue” was pulled from the uplink
“We just weren’t penetrating the major markets,” Shapiro says. “Today radio is a secondary medium. People don’t care about shows, they care about stations and that’s why radio is as homogenous as it is. Advertisers just want a demographic to sell their product to. I don’t fit that mold. I knew I’d never get the audience I wanted.”
Compromising the show to build a bigger audience would be counteractive to everything Shapiro was trying to do – share the music he loves with his friends. And if his only contact with these friends is through the radio, so be it.
“A lot of people use the TV as a companion. My stereo is my companion,” Shaprio says. “I alwasy have 30 to 50 unopened CDs at home. They come to me faster than I can listen to them. There is always part of my head saying, ‘Is this something you want to take further and put on the radio?’”
When Shapiro listens to music at home, he makes sure it gets the audio treatment it deserves. At age 12, Shapiro built his own Hi-Fi system from a Heath kit. That system has been upgraded and replaced many times since.
“I’m a sound freak,” Shapiro says. “I have more money tied up in sound equipment than most people have in a home. I wasn’t to hear it as well as I can hear it. I buy all the gold CDs and audiophile stuff.
“To me, music is as important as oxygen and food,” Shapiro continues. “When I’m home, I have music on 24 hours a day. In the car, music is on the whole time.”
Hooked by a phonograph
Shapiro got hooked on music in 1942 when an uncle gave him a phonograph player for his fifth birthday. A family friend in the jukebox business kept Shapiro supplied with records once they were too scratched for commercial play. At age 12, he discovered Brubeck, Paul Desmond and West Coast jazz.
Shapiro tried music lessons – he tackled the piano, vibraphone and banjo – but his musical aptitude was mental, not physical. He spent his time amassing records and building playback systems.
“Whatever money I made went into getting more records and improving what I had,” Shapiro says.
Shapiro migrated across Missouri and graduated pre-med from Washington University in St. Louis in 1958 with the intent of becoming a doctor.
Still an avid jazz fan, Shapiro would often get together with friends and play records. Then he saw Elvis Presley’s first appearance on the Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey show. Shapiro was hooked on rock and roll and spreading the gospel of Elvis.
“I didn’t know who or what it was, but it had the same impact on me as hearing JFK was shot,” Shapiro says. “I can still visualize that room and the TV set and here we are 50 years later.”
To a generation of buzz-cut, starched-collar squares, Elvis represented the rebellious, darker side of 1950s adolescence.
“Presley was a lightning rod from my generation, a button-down generation,” Shapiro says. “There was a whole side of our lives – smoking cigarettes, sipping beers, getting lad – that was never talked about, and here it was in our living room. I immediately became a hard-core rock and roll fan.”
By the time Shapiro graduated, he had abandoned the idea of being a doctor. He headed north to the University of Michigan and enrolled in law school. With his law degree in hand in 1961, Shapiro decided he wanted to be a tax attorney. He heard that New York University had a graduate tax law program, so he went to the Big Apple. One show on Manhattan Public Radio planted the germ that would become “Cyprus Avenue.”
“It was a thematic program,” Shapiro says. “They’d take someone like big-band arranger Fletcher Henderson and play arrangements done by different bands. They might play a combo version next to a big band version. I listened to that show religiously. In later years, I got thinking that there was so much richness and social impact in pop music as in jazz and I could do the same thing.”
Shapiro had finally found his calling, but after three universities and seven years of higher education, a career shift was not going to happen.
“By this time my family and I had spent a lot on higher education,” Shapiro says. “If I’d know then what I knew no, I would have been in the music business. It just wasn’t in the cards.”
The jump from disc jockey to tax law may seem extreme, but Shapiro says his work is extremely satisfying.
“Tax law is not what most people think it is,” Shapiro says. “It is the most creative part of the law, because what we do is planning. You might want to buy your partner out. If you do it one way, Uncle Sam takes a hunk. If you do it differently, you save money.”
Shapiro left New York in 1962 and returned to Kansas City to work and start a family. As his family grew and Shapiro flourished professionally, he became involved with broadcasting, but it was television that proved to be Shapiro’s stepping-stone to radio.
Deeply involved with public television’s early on-air auctions and fund-rasiers, Shapiro’s good deeds did not go unnoticed. A high school friend working at KCUR called Shapiro and asked if she could take him to lunch and discuss fund-raising methods. At the end of the meal, she asked if there was anything she could do for him. Shapiro asked for an audition to do a public radio rock show.
The dream was starting to materialize. Shapiro arrived at the studio with a stack of records for the show and hoped that the manager liked it.
“My first show was called ‘Ballads by Rockers.’ It was all ballad material done by people thought of as screamers,” Shapiro says. “He (the manager) says, if you can do that every week, you’re on.”
As Cyprus Avenue entered its second decade on the air, Shapiro realized new music and artists – particularly rap and alternative – were not striking the same chord with him.
“I’ve known for a long time I’m the generation these people want to rebel against,” Shapiro says. “I respect the fact that the music says this to the previous generation,” he says, emphatically holding up his middle finger. “There is a need to shake up the status quo.”
Shapiro doesn’t mind the envelope pushing done by newer artists, he just doesn’t get it musically. The Talking Heads and Beck are about as modern as Shapiro gets with “Cypuss Avenue.”
But Shapiro’s show doesn’t need Moby and Soundgarden to be effective. “Cyprus Avenue” is a discovery process – for both Shapiro and for listeners – of influential artists and the impact they’ve had on music.
By showing listeners the roots of music, Shapiro leaves the listener naturally curious of the modern amplification and integration of this process.
“Cyprus Avenue” isn’t a forum for Shapiro to amaze everyone with his knowledge. It’s a platform for him to share his love of music and enlighten listeners who don’t fit commercial radio demographics.
Jackie Nixon, NPR director of strategic planning and audience research, says that shows like “Cyprus Avenue” are what NPR is all about.
“We treat our listeners with respect and intelligence and try to produce programming that makes people think as well as entertain,” Nixon says.
For Shapiro, those sleepless nights in the early 1940s were a discovery process.
“It was like going into a cave with a flashlight and all of a sudden – bang, something is shining back at you,” he says.
Shapiro has not forgotten that feeling and tries to instill the same feeling of excitement in his listeners.
“I think I broaden the awareness of the intelligence and importance of popular music,” Shapiro says. “I lift it out of the aural wallpaper and let people know it can be a powerful element. That it shapes opinions and tells a lot about where we are and where we are going.”