The Legacy of Trish Keenan: It’s Hard to Tell Who is Real in Here

Let’s face it: a lot of musicians sound like assholes. Music as a medium lends itself to mopey whining or egotistical displays of bravura and skill. Think of any breakup song ever written or any long guitar solo. This isn’t even necessarily a criticism, because it’s sometimes fun to listen to and I like my share of socially maladjusted artists. But I’ve also found in recent years that I really like it when musicians sound nice, even though that’s often associated with being boring.

That might all spring from “Come On Let’s Go,” which is the first Broadcast song I loved and Trish Keenan’s most endearing performance — one that shows how a single song can totally color your perception of a performer. It’s about a nearly taboo topic in music: being a kind, caring, generous person.

This is the second single off The Noise Made By People, and it’s quite a contrast to “Echo’s Answer.” While that song is inscrutable and bewildering, “Come On Let’s Go” is immediate. It’s the purest pop song the band ever made and it was easy for me to embrace the bouncy sound, Trish’s warm voice, and the straight-forward, relatable lyrics. The positioning of these songs as the first two singles that appear consecutively on the album has linked them together in my mind, and I believe it was a conscious strategy by the band.

Part of it is showing the range of the band in two songs, a way of saying “look what we can do” to the listener. They can make a perfect, catchy pop song, then follow it up with something strange and baffling that barely resembles a song at all. Functionally, “Come On Let’s Go” also serves as a gateway into Broadcast’s music. As a less experienced listener, this is the song I gravitated towards because it was so simple and got stuck in my head, and my love for it helped me get into all of their other songs like “Echo’s Answer.”

Once I got into those songs, there was a period where I didn’t listen to “Come On Let’s Go” much, and I’m ashamed to admit at times I felt like I’d “moved on” from it. Now I’ve come full circle as I’ve gained an appreciation the craft of a pop song, especially one that holds up as well as this one after almost 20 years. In fact, some of its lyrics might resonate now more than they did when the song was originally written.

No lyrics describe life in the social media age as well as “it’s hard to tell who is real in here” and “what’s the point in wasting time on people that you’ll never know.” Now more than ever, it’s really easy to get caught up in what other people think and to spend tons of mental energy endearing yourself to strangers who don’t actually care about you. Whenever I find myself doing that, this song echoes in my mind. It’s like a gentle pep talk from Keenan to stop being so stupid.

It’s not like these lyrics are revolutionary concepts, but there is something about Keenan’s delivery and the warm sound that makes them feel that way. She is just so matter-of-fact and sincere about it: “yeah, I’ll be your friend forever and I’ll always be here.” That is one of the deepest, most human feelings there is, and there aren’t as many songs about it as I feel like there should be. And this really shapes my perception of Keenan, who comes across in her music as such a caring, genuine person, which forms a contrast with so many other artists. “Come On Let’s Go” is one of the songs that separates Broadcast from other electronic/psychedelic bands who twiddle on their instruments but don’t make that human connection.

The ironic part of “what’s the point in wasting time on people that you’ll never know” is that it can apply so easily to the artists we listen to and obsess over. A lot of loving music is forming that one-sided connection with an artist, where they mean the world to you and have no idea who you are. I didn’t know Trish Keenan, and she wasn’t a very public person, but through songs like this I feel like I did. She felt real and I never sensed an ounce of pretension or acting in her music. If this isn’t who she really was, then she was an even more incredible and convincing performer than I realized.

The Legacy of Trish Keenan: The Impossible Song

Sometimes I hear a song and instantly think it’s amazing and everyone needs to hear it this instant and it’s an absolute crime, a travesty that this song isn’t getting showered with praise. Then I listen to it like five or ten more times and realize that actually it isn’t that great and I should probably chill out with the knee-jerk reactions. Other times, I love a song for awhile and then it kind of fades away, and when (if) I go back to listen to it, I still like it, but I don’t remember why I loved it. And even with most of my long-term favorite songs, my enthusiasm for them is often slowly decaying each time I listen to it as I run out of new things to discover in them.

“Echo’s Answer,” which Broadcast released as a single in 1999 and then included on their first full-length, The Noise Made By People, defies that typical life cycle. It might be the only song I’ve heard where I feel like I love it more every time I listen to it, and I’ve listened to it hundreds of times. I don’t have a great story of when I first heard it and like, time stopped and I just looked out the window for eight straight hours listening to it on repeat because I could feel my entire life changing forever. I just remember gradually going from liking it to loving it to now where I hear it and think “HOW DID THEY DO THIS. HOW CAN THIS HAPPEN.”

No experience could be more emblematic of Broadcast. Their music doesn’t necessarily make the greatest first impression, but it always lingers in your memory and never ages. What sounds simple on the surface becomes more complex and inscrutable with every listen. There’s never that moment where it’s “solved” and it’s time to move on. It reverberates forever, like an echo that gets answered infinite times.

What remains remarkable about this song is just how little is going on in it.   There’s no chorus, no hook, just that lonely keyboard part, a ton of space, and Keenan’s sighing vocals. I always think it’s more like a musical painting: the sound is not about telling a story with a clear meaning, but about creating a moment or an image. I picture Keenan standing on a mountain, whispering her words into the wind and hoping for an answer. Sometimes it feels lonely, other times it’s warm and soothing because of the calm sound and her voice. Either way, it’s always beautiful and bewildering.

The placidness of “Echo’s Answer” is audacious, maybe even defiant. It’s so the opposite of what many people expect from music, which is that feeling of getting instantly swept off their feet by a song like they’re a character in Garden State. I cynically wonder if a song like this would ever really find its audience in today’s music landscape, which is so based on virality and getting that instant reaction that feeds algorithms. Subtlety and sophistication are skills that are rarely rewarded with popularity, especially now, but they make songs like this last forever.

I’m not here to rank Broadcast’s songs and albums against each other, which feels like a pretty pointless exercise. But I do think of “Echo’s Answer” as their most defining song as well as their clear creative breakthrough. Anyone who wrote them off as being just a kitschy throwback act after their first singles had to feel like a big idiot when they came out with this. It obliterated any comparisons people had made to other contemporary bands and really put Broadcast into a world of their own, one they explored with so much artistry and depth over the next several years.

The Legacy of Trish Keenan: Before We Begin

When I named this blog “The Noise Made By People,” I didn’t really think about how big of a gamble it was to name it after one of my favorite albums. After all, there is a lot of music I listened to back then that I don’t even really like anymore, and some that is downright embarrassing. But over the years, as so many artists have come and gone, the music of Broadcast has remained the one constant of my music fandom. I didn’t even process it as a risk because some part of me knew that would be the case.

All of music is so subjective, and I’ve learned it’s not really worth trying to convince people to care about anything that really matters to you. But I’m still motivated to write by some sense of justice — the feeling that some artists simply deserve a chance to be heard, or credit for doing something great that hasn’t been given to them. A lot of that motivation came from loving Broadcast so much and feeling like any amount of effort would be worth it if I could get one more person to experience this band.

Despite my love for them, I haven’t really written at length about Broadcast, at least not since the beginning days of the blog. I’m motivated now out of fear that their music could completely disappear from the consciousness. Trish Keenan’s tragic death means there won’t be a trendy reunion tour where everyone looks back on their music, and other writers have become so obsessed with newness that there is no incentive for them to look back at a band like Broadcast. I don’t think they’re going to be included in the canon of their time, even though I don’t believe there was a better band during their existence.

Maybe that’s overstating things, and I’ll admit it’s hard to separate my more objective evaluation of the band with what they mean to me personally. The truth is, I never felt like someone who was necessarily predisposed to like psychedelic music. Drugs terrify me and I’ve never done them, I don’t really care for a lot of the hippie stuff that has often gone hand-in-hand with it, and even now I rarely feel like I fit in with that segment of music fans. A lot of the credit (or blame) for my taste goes to this band, because their whole discography functions as an argument in favor of psychedelia as a form of escape and a way to expand the mind.

And Keenan was the perfect guide for a psychedelia newbie. Their music always makes me think of Alice in Wonderland, with Keenan being this ordinary woman who is thrust into a strange universe that she needs to make sense of. She was an incredible singer, but in part because she didn’t show off with big notes or consciously mind-blowing lyrics. She was just very human and there was a sincerity in everything she did, and when it was combined with their often strange retro-futuristic music, it was magic.

What I find most satisfying about looking at Broadcast’s music in order is how they didn’t follow the dispiriting path so many artists take, where they start out being super exciting and show tons of promise, then gradually recede towards bland normalcy in an effort to appeal to more and more people. They started out in a place that was kind of ordinary, then with every record they built on their sound, explored new areas, and took their dedicated listeners with them on a journey. The end result is what I would consider the most rewarding music I’ve listened to, and it’s why I always use this band as an example of doing things the right way.

Their first singles were released in the mid-90s and compiled on 1997’s Work and Non-Work, which as I mentioned before, isn’t the type of debut that really blows you away and makes you certain that the band is destined for greatness. And reading really deep between the lines, I don’t get the sense that the band was ever incredibly proud of these early songs. It’s really good music, but it doesn’t quite feel like Broadcast, or at least not what they would become.

I don’t have a time machine, but I speculate that part of the issue was timing: these songs were released when this type of loungy downtempo electronic music was at the height of its popularity. In particular, the band was burdened by comparisons to Stereolab and perceived as kitschy and nostalgic. This wasn’t helped by the inclusion of “The Book Lovers” on the Austin Powers soundtrack, which is still very weird to me.

These early songs mostly establish one aspect of the band’s sound, which is their ability to mine the past and create a sense of nostalgia in their music. They were particularly obsessed with the 60s band The United States of America, and on Work and Non Work, it sometimes sounds like they’re emulating that band more than they’re finding their own sound. But in hindsight, it’s also easy to hear some of the seeds for what would make this band so special on their ensuing albums.

While these are their least musically adventurous songs, that makes them a real showcase for Keenan as a relatively traditional singer. The band was still tinkering with their sound and figuring out what worked, but she was captivating from the very beginning. She always struck me as very shy and thoughtful, and it comes through in her singing, which has this humble quality to it. On these songs, she sings with more directness than she would in future releases, but she already had that quiet confidence and human quality that added so much to their music.

Still, the songs on Work and Non Work aren’t the ones I tend to revisit when I go back and listen to Broadcast, even though they’re really quite good. That’s more a testament to the strength of the rest of their music and the way they evolved so naturally than an indictment of these songs. The band took their sweet time following up on these singles, which would become routine for a group that always seemed to think through everything they did and never compromised their art in any way. And on their next single, they found their identity as a band, creating a song that to this day still doesn’t feel like it should have been possible.

I’m Still Obsessed With a WWE Storyline

A lot has changed in professional wrestling since I started watching as a kid in the late 90s. Back then, WWE was in the midst of its renowned “Attitude Era” when characters like The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin were at their peak and the show was geared towards young men, which resulted in a lot of car crash TV techniques, bizarre outlandish storylines, and a high level of violence. Today’s WWE is different: it’s now a publicly shared company and about 10 years ago shifted towards family-friendly PG fare, with a deeper focus on in-ring athleticism. But by far the biggest change in the company in my time as a fan is the portrayal of the women.

Back in the Attitude Era, women were essentially objects. They were run out there to titillate the crowd and were often featured in “bra and panty” matches, mud wrestling, and various other degrading activities. While there were always a couple women who could actually wrestle, they were overshadowed by the slew of models WWE signed for their looks and then trained into mediocre/bad wrestlers who worked sloppy 2-3 minute matches.

In the last couple years, WWE has undergone a “women’s revolution,” where they’ve started recruiting women who are real wrestlers and put them in more high profile matches. This charge was led in part by Charlotte Flair and Becky Lynch, first on their developmental show, NXT, and then on the main shows Raw and Smackdown. With the addition of former MMA star Ronda Rousey to the division, WWE has finally put some effort into some semblance of gender equality and has by far the deepest women’s division it’s ever had.

Despite this, some residue from the previous era lingers. Vince McMahon still runs this company and has made a habit of booking cute blonde women as champions, regardless of their in-ring ability. The women get more screen time, but they still rarely feel like complete characters, usually falling into a couple broad archetypes: the heels are Regina George mean girls while the babyfaces are just happy to be chasing their dreams and are always hugging each other and crying. I’m about 99% sure that WWE doesn’t have any women writers on its staff, and it’s evident in the way many of the characters are portrayed.

Meanwhile, WWE has gleefully marketed and hyped its self-proclaimed “women’s revolution,” but the only reason it needed to happen is because they were so shitty in the first place. Fans largely catch on to this, and I think it’s part of what is fueling this Charlotte/Becky storyline that I wrote about last month. Because Becky doesn’t really fit WWE’s mold for a champion: she’s kind of quirky, she’s attractive but not in the very specific way Vince McMahon likes, she’s got an Irish accent and an unusual speaking voice, she’s not blonde, etc. All of this fan resentment over the direction of the women’s division is now coming out in the Becky character and the crowd’s response to her.

When we last left off with our hero, she was chasing Charlotte’s title after “turning heel” at Summerslam, and was in an ambiguous character direction where she was acting heelish but getting huge cheers. To WWE’s credit, they’ve stayed the course with this and are finally writing a storyline that is worthy of the women performers that isn’t draped with their “look at what we’re letting the women do!” sloganeering. At the Hell in a Cell event, Becky reversed one of Charlotte’s moves for a surprising fair win. On the next episode of Smackdown, she celebrated in grand fashion in one of the best promo segments on the show in a long time.

If it wasn’t obvious before, this segment made it clear that in WWE’s mind, Becky is unambiguously a heel. She’s gloating, rubbing her win in Charlotte’s face, calling her a bitch and then beating her up. The announcers fall over themselves defending Charlotte and portraying her as sympathetic (which, to be fair, she kind of is). But the fans are still purely behind Becky, because this is an exciting character we’ve never seen before: a woman who simply doesn’t give a damn. After so many obnoxious heels and flat, goody-two-shoes babyfaces, it’s refreshing to see a woman character who has an edge, who is brazen and does what she wants, the way men like Stone Cold Steve Austin did at the height of the show’s popularity.

And Becky has real depth as a character, in part because Rebecca Quin is such a good performer. Sometimes in WWE, it feels like a flip is switched and someone becomes a totally different person when they change their heel/face alignment. This is the same character the crowd loved before, but she’s gained a new focus and has stopped caring about what anyone thinks of her. And now that she’s champion, she’s very proud of herself and is lording it over everybody while egotistically basking in the fans’ love of her.

I want to talk about Becky saying “bitch” at the end of this promo. Because to someone over the age of eight years old, it shouldn’t be a big deal to hear the word, and I’m sure if anyone who doesn’t watch wrestling is reading/watching this, they’re wondering why the crowd is gasping at it. Part of it is that WWE has been in this very safe, corporate PG era for a long time now, so any swearing has become somewhat unheard of. But also, wrestling has this effect on you where it sort of turns you back into a little kid when it really works, so in the moment I was like “OH MY GOD SHE SAID THE B-WORD. THAT’S A BAD WORD. THIS WOMAN IS OUT OF CONTROL.”

And as ridiculous as it sounds, WWE letting Becky say “bitch” might be the clearest sign that the company is fully invested in her now. The only other people I’ve heard say the word on TV recently are Roman Reigns and Brock Lesnar, who are the two top stars in the company. It’s trotted out on serious occasions when they want a character to look badass. When the guys did it, it just came off as tryhard and misogynistic, but Becky being a woman and delivering it with perfect comedic timing made it work in this instance.

WWE is not a very admirable company and I’m loath to give them too much credit for a story that has been partially told by accident. But this story is sneakily pretty progressive compared to a lot of other media. How many other TV shows have a storyline between two women that isn’t about a man, where both characters feel real, have flaws, and their motivations make sense? Not very many, and I hope WWE sees the success of this feud and does more of this, because they have the talent to do so. This is what a “women’s revolution” actually looks like.