As a young teenager growing up in the greater suburbs of Chicago, my knowledge of Better Than Ezra’s catalog started and ended with their 1993 breakthrough Deluxe, which didn’t come to my attention until Elektra re-released the album in 1995 and it quickly went platinum on the strength of #1 Modern Rock single “Good”. But just as quickly as I “discovered” Better Than Ezra they slipped off my radar in favor of the next light-alternative rock band to produce a well-written, flawlessly executed power-pop ditty that seemed to perfectly capture the American young-adult zeitgeist du jour.
(I use the term “discovered” extremely loosely here, as during the halcyon days before the Telecommunication Act of 1996 precipitated the implosion of commercial FM radio and MTV moved away from a programming panorama that highlighted videos from every genre of popular music over the course of any given week, “discovering” music didn’t take much effort nor was it something in which people – or at least people my age at the time – took a self-congratulatory amount of pride. In a major market like the greater Chicagoland area, the legwork required to find breaking artists was left up to the sea of disc jockeys flooding the FM dial; experienced, well-connected musicheads empowered to play songs largely of their own choosing and expected to be on whatever cutting edge existed before the internet flattened the music world once and for all. There was no real venue outside of limited circulation fan ‘zines or a savant record store clerk to get a band-knowing leg-up on your peers, nor was there a real need to do so, for there was a brief moment in time when the radio and MTV seemed to perfectly serve all the needs of even an avid music consumer.)
That is, of course, until I moved to New Orleans four years ago, a city where Better Than Ezra’s fan base still thrives, boasting in its ranks men and women of all ages and dispositions. Because while Better Then Ezra was a charming one-hit-wonder in many parts of the country, locally they are a band that formed at LSU in 1988 and have been consistently recording and relentlessly touring for almost 25 years and counting, long before and even longer after their time in the national limelight.
It’s a cool reminder that – even at a time when songs can get pinged across the globe within seconds of being recorded – music comes from somewhere; not just in the figurative sense of emerging from some mystical tranche of the creative ether, but in the literal, functional and geographic sense. The commoditized version of the product may drift in and out of cultural relevance, but the majority of the human beings making the songs that once dominated independently programmed radio stations and now surge through the Hype Machine ranks are actual people who live to make music. And even though there will never be a lack of manufactured tween pop-stars fueled only by widespread popularity, they will always be outnumbered by hardworking artists with enough perspective to understand the fickle and mysterious nature of the music gods and enough talent and wherewithal to make decent music regardless of how long their mainstream success lasts or whether it even comes at all.