Ongoing History of New Music

The Ongoing History of New Music, episode 986: Rock Explainer 3

This universe is very weird. And what makes things even weirder is that we often stop to question its weirdness even though it’s right in front of us. We’re too close and completely caught up in it.

Let me give you some examples. When someone takes a group picture, there’s always that person who demands everyone say “cheese” to get everyone to smile. But no one is really sure who was the first to employ the “cheese” trick for photography. In fact, in the early days of the camera, it was considered undignified to be captured on film with any kind of grin. Back then, the command from the photographer was “say prunes.” That’s why so many old photos have people doing the duck lip thing.

The earlier reference to “say cheese” comes from a Texas newspaper report in October 1943. Joseph E. Davies, a former ambassador to Moscow, gave away a secret in an interview. “How do I look pleasant no matter the circumstances? Just say ‘cheese.'” But Davies also admitted that this wasn’t his idea; he’d learned it from another politician.

What about something more current? When we enter the full address of a website in a browser, we type That’s a bit…unwieldy. The story of the URL is very complicated, but we can break it down like this.

The “http” stands for “hypertext transfer protocol,” the set of rules that govern transferring files over the interview. The “www” is for “world wide web,” which is where the URL lives. But what’s with the double slash and colin? That’s a holdover that was written for the Apollo moon missions. (By the way, Tim Berners-Lee, the guy who came up with this, is very sorry. If he could have it back, he’d come up with something better.)

Since we’re on the top of rockets, why is there a countdown to launch? Seems obvious, right? You tick down the seconds until the engines fire and the rocket leaves the pad. But get this: NASA took this idea from a 1929 silent film called Frau Im Mond (translation: Women in the Moon). It’s considered to be one of the first serious sci-fi films. For the rocket launches in the film, it features a countdown from six: “6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, NOW!”

Again, this is stuff right in front of our faces that we just accept as part of life without ever really questioning what’s going on and why we do this.

Now let’s extend this to the world of music. There are many strange things that we just accept as fact and regular protocol. But why? Let’s find out. This is volume three in a series I call Rock Explainer.

Songs heard on this show:

  • Zymotic, Explain It to Me
  • Ramones, Rock and Roll High School
  • The Fugs, CIA Man
  • Husker Du, Makes No Sense at All
  • Talking Heads, Life During Wartime
  • The Cult, She Sells Sanctuary
  • Muse, Hysteria
  • Peter Gabriel, Shock the Monkey
  • White Stripes, Seven Nation Army

As usual, Eric Wilhite has provided a playlist.

The Ongoing History of New Music can be heard on the following stations:

We’re still looking for more affiliates in Calgary, Kamloops, Kelowna, Regina, Saskatoon, Brandon, Windsor,  Montreal, Charlottetown, Moncton, Fredericton, and St John’s, and anywhere else with a transmitter. If you’re in any of those markets and you want the show, lemme know and I’ll see what I can do.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

Alan Cross has 38346 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

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