Now that Interweb 2.0 has given us all the ability to generate “content,” everybody can fire off a blog post or YouTube a mischievous-cat video. We are linking promiscuously and globally and as a result our clicks are clamored for, our IP addresses tracked and our opinions solicited at every turn. Even news organizations are providing online spaces for reader responses. We’re in a frenzy over feedback, checking stats, perusing comments and refreshing like a mofo, all in the hopes that someone—anyone—is paying attention.
So meet Chris Hargrow, a local musician with a show on community access, CATV-19, who doesn’t know—or really care—if anyone is watching. You might have missed it. It’s called Optic Audio, and features live band footage from local and touring rock bands who play around town. It’s been on about three years, occupying the same slot: 11 p.m. every Tuesday night.
Hargrow is a guitarist in the punk band The Ocelots, but he’s also the mild-mannered dude who’s been working at Great Escape for the past 10 years. He knows a lot about toys, comic books and fringe noise bands, and has an impressive collection of Nintendo game consoles.
You might have also missed him on the scene. He’s a shy guy, one well-suited to hiding behind a camera and not one to exaggerate his hobby by glorifying how niche and practically invisible it is. He gets emails every once in a while from people who’ve seen the show. He eventually set up a MySpace page and posted one or two episodes, and some people have taken notice.
But neither Hargrow nor the station has any idea how many people are watching. The station isn’t permitted to sell ads, so it doesn’t have to sweat ratings—not that they could afford to buy them, with only $60,000 allotted for the yearly budget.
Station executive director Jim Gilchrist says Channel 19 wouldn’t have any use for the information anyway: they know they reach 200,000 homes in Nashville, and they know they have viewers because they get plenty of feedback. (Surprisingly, Opry stars who appear on Channel 19 routinely tell the station’s producer they get more response from those appearances than actual Opry shows.) The station’s goal is to give a voice to the average citizen, and as such, community access is the television equivalent of a blog: anybody who can navigate some basic equipment can do it.
And as far as Hargrow is concerned, he may as well be shooting his work into a vacuum. “I just like the idea of chronicling the scene,” says Hargrow, who makes no money from the station or the bands, whose permission he seeks before filming. “I’m not sure if it’s really worth doing, but I like doing it,” he says.
Hargrow, 32, grew up in a decade where you could still discover bands on television, when flipping channels still carried with it the thrill of possible discovery—when 120 Minutes still broke new bands, and when Friday Night Videos was an alternative to MTV. His record collection contains Deerhoof and Blonde Redhead, and he spent many a night at the all-ages punk club Lucy’s throughout the ’90s playing shows with his band Garage Sale, or watching Cat Power and Polvo make their first Nashville appearances.
During college, he roomed in a house near the Lipscomb campus on Crestview Drive with a rotating cast of tenants. A previous resident named Sonny Simpson, bassist for hardcore band Process Is Dead, left behind a stash of VHS tapes that he’d accrued from the tape-trading days when he moved out. It wouldn’t have much impact on Hargrow at the time, but he spent a considerable amount of downtime watching the seemingly endless collection of footage filmed at punk clubs throughout the Southeast. At the very least, it was his first exposure to the innate pleasure of making something for no other reason than that it might strike a chord with a few people.
Years later, a friend mentioned an interest in starting a show on public television. Though Hargrow had no film experience, he paid the $35 annual fee for membership and the $25 fee for four introductory classes, bought a camera and started filming rock shows. Three years later, he has 25 finished episodes. A lot of the shows repeat themselves, but in all, he’s filmed over 100 bands, including U.S. Maple, Character, The Privates, and +/-, all at clubs around town such as Ruby Green, The End, Springwater and the now-defunct Angle of View.
A typical episode features three bands (and a little Ninja Gaiden footage), and runs at the studio-mandated length of 28 minutes and 30 seconds. Sometimes the lighting is dark or the sound isn’t that great, but a recent show featuring footage of Horse the band put me so close to the group I could have sworn I felt their sweat.
And after three years, he hasn’t changed much about the show. He bought a second camera, and he’s talking with indie labels such as Merge and Kill Rock Stars to maybe also feature videos, but for now, he’s just going to keep filming local rock shows and putting them out there, documenting what happens here night after night.
He thinks it would be cool if it got people interested in going out to shows, because, as a guy in a local punk band, he knows how hard it is to get people to notice what you’re doing.
But if it doesn’t, he’ll probably keep doing it anyway. In an age of vanity projects in need of instant feedback, Hargrow seems like an anomaly. “If someone else sees the show and says it was pretty cool,” he says, “then that’s good enough for me.”