If you think nothing is yours
And if I think everything belongs to me
How wrong I’ll be
None of us have anything
There’s a place I have never explored
Another world we have yet to conquer
And until then none of us have anything
Those words, from “Until Then” off The Noise Made By People, have stuck with me more than any other lyrics in music. In typical Broadcast fashion, they’re simple, and sung unpretentiously, yet lend themselves to unlimited interpretation. They’re paired with creaky, heaving synths that near the end swell into a massive buzzing crescendo that was probably the loudest the typically quiet band ever sounded on record. Then suddenly, it stops, and reverts to silence — a beautiful sound is extinguished.
Trish Keenan died in January, 2011, after contracting swine flu while on tour in Australia. She was only 42 years old. At the time, I was living in a dorm room during J-Term and I woke up to the news from Pitchfork and couldn’t believe it. Again, I wish I had a better story, like I cried or went into a fascinating nihilistic tailspin. But all I did was turn on her music, and I listened to Broadcast’s whole discography all the way through that day, mostly through my crummy laptop speakers, I think out of hope it would somehow echo through the building and people would hear it and discover it.
Her death meant the context of the songs changed permanently, and because they tended towards being ambiguous, some of them, like “Until Then,” jumped out more than they had for me previously. Now I think Keenan’s lyrics describe an afterlife or possibly a parallel universe — a psychedelic kind of world separate from this one where I like to imagine her continuing to explore and find the truth. Normally, I don’t buy into such concepts, but Keenan’s greatest gift was her ability to make you believe, to provide thoughtfulness and hope in the face of cynicism and darkness.
In the wake of her death, there was a gratifying outpouring of appreciation for Keenan, including from a range of celebrities, and a lot of discussion about a band that was rarely the subject of online discourse. But then everyone moved on, as they do, and now I wonder if people under a certain age have any idea who this band is (even I’m probably on the very young side of Broadcast fans). It’s also become abundantly clear that bands like Broadcast aren’t a priority for the music press, which has become a monoculture that is obsessed with what is new and hip, not necessarily what will last. If music writing isn’t about preserving bands like this, that offer so much, then what exactly is being accomplished?
Ultimately, the responsibility now lies on fans of the band to pass this music down, almost like an oral history. One of the more satisfying experiences I had recently (back when I thought I would finish this series in a couple months) was attending a Keenan tribute show at Moon Palace Books, which featured local bands covering her songs. The entire room was cramped with people talking about Keenan, celebrating her art, and every singer did their best to interpret her songs, even though she had something intangible that will never be replicated. That was when I saw the impact of her music in more real terms: while Keenan was not a mega-celebrity, and isn’t a constant source of discussion now, there was this entire group of people inspired and moved by her music, many of whom were playing in their own bands. That’s the legacy I like artists to strive for rather than winning awards or generating buzz.
Keenan was able to inspire that kind of devotion while being soft-spoken and unassuming. She let her music do most of the talking and made songs that gave listeners the freedom to join her while she explored all of these different worlds. As a relative novice to music when I discovered the band, she was the artist who inspired me the most, who showed me the joy that could be had in hearing music that aimed to be intelligent, generous, and personal rather than just profitable. And she made me want to pay that forward, to try to convince people that there are amazing obscure artists out there who can change your life and are just waiting to be discovered.