Listen to this track by spacey Modesto California indie rock conceptualists Grandaddy. It’s “Miner At The Dial-A-View”, the next-to-last track on what is considered by many to be their best record; The Sophtware Slump, released in 2000.
This song is a part of a loose concept about technology, connection, and the space between them. That was a pretty top of mind theme during the era out of which this song and the album off of which it comes was released. Sitting at the edge of a new century after a decade when the Internet and its influence on commerce, leisure, and communication was soaked into the cultural landscape, the connections with technology and with each other as a result had come out of the pages of science fiction, and into real life.
There was lots to explore when it came to confronting that, and in making sense out of the coming future. There was certainly no turning back from the ride that technology was taking us on. We’re still on that ride today.
In the light of this, what is the “Dial-A-View” as described in this song? And how does it connect with that greater theme of technology and connection?
Grandaddy is helmed creatively by Jason Lytle, with this particular effort being a virtual solo record. Lytle played all the parts himself as well as writing all of the songs. But, what came out was a record that was compared with the best of the era, which was one that allowed bands to push the boundaries a bit thematically and musically while signed to major labels; see also the Flaming Lips, Sparklehorse, The High Llamas, and Mercury Rev. This was just before the music industry really began to lose their shit when it came to that sort of thing, and turned to sure-fire formulas instead.
The concept around this record wasn’t exactly presented in the same terms as, say The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway or 2112. But, it does share some of the same characteristics, with a recurring character in an android (and possible doppleganger for Lytle…) named “Jed”, and with a setting that is decidedly futuristic. In this world, humanity has branched out into the universe. Here, other planets are mined for their resources, with earth for many just a distant memory.
That’s the gap that the Dial-A-View helps to bridge. It’s a device that helps its user to look back on the earth, and reconnect themselves with it – kind of like Google Earth! In this case, it’s a miner on a distant world, looking on the faded glory of his home on earth, pining for a lost love he left behind. His assertion that he will someday return home is full of pathos. Because, somehow we know that he never will see his home again, and that all he has left is the Dial-A-View, a lens that allows him to see something he’ll never have again.
Along with Radiohead’s Kid A, this was a definitive statement about saying goodbye to the twentieth century, and facing an uncertain twenty-first. It was about finding oneself in a world defined by technology, with all kinds of cool innovations to expand our connections across great distances as a result. But, it was also a time when we felt strangely disconnected too, with less time in each other’s company in favour of time attached to our devices. This would become more apparent as the 2000s turned to the 2010s, making The Sophtware Slump something of a prescient work.
After two albums after this one, Grandaddy broke up, with Lytle striking out on his own with a solo career. But, in 2012, the original line-up gathered again for limited dates.
They’ve also re-issued the first three records in their catalog with new vinyl versions of those albums. You can learn more at grandaddymusic.com.