On my share the music blog a few weeks ago, I blogged about the remarkable music video for Robert Miles’ 1994 song Children. (Watch the youtube video here Note: this link might die, and you’ll have to search through youtube again for it). It is a great song (one of the pioneering songs in the dream trance era) and reminds me of all the train trips I took in Europe. Everything about the scenery was unusual to me; though travelling is always a drag, remembering the way scenery flew by was always an upper for me.
I heard this song exactly once in Ukraine, but it felt as though I had heard it several times before. I was in a dance club in Lutsk, Ukraine at around midnight with a teacher friend of mine. I think it was winter and I attended some wacky holiday nightclub with friends. The teacher (a daughter of my vice-rector) met up with another couple and we went to this dance club on the other side of town. I remember practicing how to say, “Would you like to dance with me?” (Te hochite tanzilvate? oh, the Ukrainian language departed my brain long ago). Going to the club was a whim and something I never did (except overseas), but it seemed fitting for an evening of surprises. In front of the dance club entrance stood a grounded airplane (which was little more than a visual gimmick). I didn’t care for the club itself, but the music was intoxicating (I found all techno music incredible despite the fact I hated it when in US). I was immediately struck by the song (which appeared near the end of the evening). I remember asking Irina if she knew the name of it. She mentioned Robert Miles ‘Children’, a name which has stuck with me to this day.
Europe seemed to have a different relationship to their pop music by virtue of one thing: TV stations that played music videos nonstop (often without commercials). In US, you just didn’t have that anymore; everything had a TV commercial every 5 minutes, but on European satellite TV there was always some station that played a series of uninterrupted music videos. It seemed extraordinary. If you think about it, it seems strange that American MTV is so focused on reality shows (blame it on Viacom). In almost every European house I visited, people were watching music videos for at least 30 minutes a day– sometimes all day! Ukraine TV rebroadcast a German TV station that simply played music videos nonstop without commercials; apparently they made money when viewers called in and paid $1 to request their favorite video (or something like that). I remember my total surprise in 1995 when I went to my Albanian teacher’s house for Albanian lessons and saw the Everybody Hurts video by REM on the TV in the next room. I realized all my students in Albania must have seen the video by now; that was their way of ingesting American culture; in fact, American music videos were simply one brand of videos to appear randomly on European stations. Maybe there wasn’t a lot of Eastern Europe videos floating around, but there were lots of French singers and German singers (see Daft Punk’s remarkable video Around the World, which I actually talked about in a lecture about music videos). Music videos permeated almost every household I visited — old, young, educated, uneducated, wealthy, poor.
I went ahead and read all 1400 Youtube comments about the song (and for the video). It’s relatively unknown in USA, but in Europe, lots of people feel sentimental about the song. Most were teenagers or younger when the song came out. Robert Miles wrote the song when he learned that some dancers at one of his concerts were killed in a car accident; he wanted music that would calm them down and bring them out of the energetic euphoria from the dance halls. His dad was working with Yugoslav refugees and Europe was coming to grips with the horrifying and pointless Yugoslav war. At the same time Eastern Europe was reviving; a new innocence was in the air; suddenly Europe no longer seemed so passe or gentrified; the new Euro was starting and new entrepreneurs were popping up everywhere.
I remember feeling humbled by it twice when I was teaching there. Once, when my Albanian students went on hunger strike against their government to protest a fraudulent election. The other time came in Ukraine when students at my school staged a walkout. The board of trustees threw out the Institute’s president. I remember telling my students not to expect tangible results (though kudos for trying!) but lo and behold, the action brought the president back. (It had something to do with the fact that the institute was private and dependent on parent’s tuition.
We don’t see a lot of changes from the ground up in US institutions; on the other hand, the Internet has certainly changed the structure of everything. Suddenly Fortune 500 companies seemed less important or relevant. Suddenly we no longer had to rely on what one media conglomerate decided was relevant news or entertainment. Suddenly individual bloggers and videographers and podcasters mattered. Suddenly it no longer mattered what Time magazine or Ann Coulter felt about anything. The only relic of that age perhaps is our current reactionary leader.
Trivia note: The great video Everybody Hurts was filmed in San Antonio on I-10 freeway.