Being largely homebound by the thought of dying while those around me are breathing, I find my television spends too much time in the activated position, and that gets me pondering the music of my youth as used in advertisements for beer and various medication. George Carlin once said that if he wanted to hear quality music, he’d watch commercials. I know how he felt.
Rock music and television long had an uncomfortable relationship. There were dance party shows in the ‘50s and early ‘60s like “American Bandstand,” and typically locally produced — I recall more than once sitting in the peanut gallery of “Buffalo Bandstand,” hosted by Joey Reynolds at Channel 7’s studios on Main Street in Buffalo, where I learned at an early age an example of the adult world’s fraudulence, i.e., lip-synching — and Ed Sullivan gave limited Sunday night space to rock groups on his televised variety program, once he discovered how lucrative his experience with the Beatles was.
The Woodstock Festival in 1969, and the documentary film that followed, demonstrated how much money there was in presenting musical acts previously regarded as “underground,” “all noise,” or “It’ll rot your brain.” Thus did television open up, a little, to rock — it’s easier to observe all of this now that pure rock music is dead, buried by something called pop — with after-midnight revues of bands largely encountered only on the radio. Cable television, notably MTV, opened the gates in 1980 by splintering audiences into identifiable demographic segments, with what amounted to all-commercials television, advertising certain favored bands with three minutes each of presentations the bands, and their record companies, independently produced and paid for.
I thought about all of this while watching my refuge from the all-election, all-the-time-except-for-pandemic-news broadcasts of CNN, Fox, MSNBC and the others, specifically, the cable financial news channels. They provided oblique references to the political campaigns but largely concentrated on business, trade, government policy and markets. MAGA hats and political promises had nothing to do with the versions of news offered by the Fox Business Channel, CNBC, Bloomberg News and similar ventures.
Thus was fodder for another Wayback Machine moment, when business news had an equally uneasy relationship with television. The day’s stock market quotes were published in late editions of newspapers at the time, and “Wall Street Week” on PBS was the one half-hour on television where grownups in business suits batted around matters of investment.
I watched that program with wonder. Wondering if I could master that environment and how rich it would make me.
I never exactly mastered it, it never made me rich, but these days I have access to a surfeit of experts spewing round-the-clock advice, actually competing for my attention as they spout predictions and comment. It’s a way of leaving the heavy lifting in life to younger and more adept people, like lawn mowing or installing storm windows.
During the recent campaign — which is evidently still in progress — it took about 10 minutes of blather from conventional cable news commentators for me to change the channel. Two minutes for Fox News. Fully informed on the matter of who said what on a given day, the turn to the financial talking heads was a calming experience. You’d think life at, and commentary from, the New York Stock Exchange would be frantic, unhinged and panic-driven. No, it was soothing, reassuring and a realization that this country and this world will go on, with available opportunities, no matter the election’s outcome. At business channels, they divine the future from data and practiced intuition, not tweets and claptrap for rallies, and they tend to dress better as well.
I did not always need to know how the markets in London or Singapore opened — up, down, optimistic, whatever — but it became a comfort to understand that analysts and players there pondered the future with less panic than the presidential candidates encouraged me to exhibit.
For those seeking votes for political office, the game was short, and in general ended on the night of Election Day. It is said that afternoon soap operas are popular in retirement homes because they provide continuity, with a sequential plot line — not much will change today but something will, to impact tomorrow — and so is the financial news channels’ approach to informing its audience.
I find that preferable to counting the house, or the mask-wearers, at a Donald Trump rally, or pondering whether the president-elect’s famous national reserve of empathy will cut any ice when dealing with Chinese or Iranian leaders.
Watch the money men and women and there’s always something good on the horizon. Let Wolf Blitzer or Jeanine Pirro into your nightmares and it’s a totally different view of every day that’s left.