Economy May Cue Changes in the Rock Scene : * Pop: In tougher times, listeners will be looking for music that speaks to their fears and hopes (you listening, Bruce?). And maybe outrageous price markups on CDs will cease.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Who, at this time a year ago, could have predicted that:

* The Soviet Union would be as dead as Elvis?

* The general public would come to understand "Kurds" as something other than a word appearing in the same rhyme as Muffet and tuffet?

* Enraged Guns N' Roses fans would almost re-create the last scene of "The Day of the Locust" in a St. Louis amphitheater?

* An unglamorous band named Nirvana would be promoted to rock 'n' roll Valhalla (or at least the Top 5)?

* By mid-May, Peppers Golden Bear would turn into Peppers Not-So-Golden Silence?

A daunting chore, this prognostication business. But after a year as strange and tumultuous as '91, a certain confidence begins to swell in the self-appointed seer. Call it the Cole Porter Effect: Anything Goes.

For what it's worth, here goes anything:

* Radio-Free Orange County has outlasted European communism--but it won't for long. Finally, in 1992, local rock fans will get a radio station that will be discernibly, palpably their own. KUCI-FM, the student-run UC Irvine station, is moving ahead with a long-discussed power boost that station officials hope will turn it from a nonentity on the dial into a presence, at 88.5, for a good deal of the county.

It will be a boon to local bands, who figure to get regular exposure, and to any rock fan tired of the predictable offerings now on the tuner. College radio being what it is, KUCI probably will have its exasperating side (let's hope the deejays resist the urge to play grunge-rock and speed-metal all the time), but it also figures to be a place to turn for a welcome sense of freedom and surprise.

* Last year's year-opening Orange County Pop Beat column offered a wish (even I was too sensible to call it a prediction) that rich rockers might whip out their checkbooks and make a much-needed gift to their fans. I called for Springsteen, Jagger, McCartney, Michael Jackson, et al, to start buying commercial radio stations and running them as break-even businesses focused not on maximizing profits, but on offering a full spectrum of good, adventurous music of all eras and styles.

Maybe we can start--haltingly, qualifiedly--to turn that wish into a prediction. Stupendous new recording deals are putting more money into the pockets of superstar rockers than they possibly can spend on self-gratification, so perhaps they'll take the suggestion and help give radio back to the fans. The commissars may be finished in the former Soviet Union; it's time for the consultants to be driven from the American radio scene, taking with them their odious, narrowcasting formats.

* A recession economy will be as troublesome to glitzy popsters like Jackson and Madonna as it is proving to be for George Bush. Many fans just won't be in the mood for ostentation and the flaunting of an all-consuming, near-pathological drive for Success (the Grail of the Milken-Trump era). Instead, people will be looking for firmer values in toughening times, for music that speaks to their fears and hopes. Here's hoping that Bruce Springsteen's long-awaited new album will give them what they're looking for.

* Scared by dwindling sales, record companies and retailers finally will stop fleecing customers with the outrageous price markups on compact discs. Manufacturing and packaging costs for CDs are about what they were for the now-extinct LP. So why does your local record store charge $4 to $6 more for a CD than it used to for vinyl?

* The most compelling political issue confronting American musicians in 1992 won't be drugs, censorship, race relations or the fate of the rain forest. It will be the debate over universal health insurance. Every year, we hear stories about benefit concerts staged for rockers who get sick or get hurt, and can't afford to pay their doctor bills--for the simple reason that playing in a band is a job that rarely carries fringe benefits. An effective national health plan would be a particular boon to the vast majority of musicians who live close to the economic edge and face being wiped out by a single mishap.

Among the more clearly foreseeable happenings to watch for on the local pop scene are a number of new albums either ready for release, or in progress:

* Doctor Dream Records will be busy. Joyride's debut album, "Johnny Bravo," is due in February, to be followed by a new Swamp Zombies album, tentatively scheduled for March release. The album, the fourth for this band of folkies with a punk attitude (or is it punks with a folkie attitude?), will be the Swamp Zombies' first to depart from an all-acoustic format.

Also due to begin work on new albums early this year are the Cadillac Tramps, another Doctor Dream band, and art-metal dudes Mind Over 4. Medicine Rattle also will make its album debut in '92.

* T.S.O.L.--the post-'83 version of the band--will release a retrospective album called "Hell and Back Together" in February or March. D.D. Wood, the country-rocking wife of T.S.O.L.'s singer, Joe Wood, also is about to begin work on her first album for Hollywood Records. It's tentatively titled "Lexi's Room." Also look for a debut album from the ska-flavored rock band, No Doubt.

* Vinnie James and Altered State, the two Orange County-based rock acts to debut on major labels in 1991, expect to be back in the fray in '92. James plans to record a new album for RCA, which he says will feature more introspective themes than the politicized "All American Boy." Altered State is hoping that the February release of a new single, "Ghost Beside My Bed," will give its deserving Warner Bros. album, "Altered State," renewed commercial momentum.

* On the concert scene, the lack of an indoor arena freezes Orange County out of the biggest winter tours, at least until 1993-94, when the Anaheim Arena is expected to come on line.

Until then, cold-weather concert-going requires a ride to Los Angeles or San Diego, or a visit to the smaller local venues.

* The Coach House's '92 schedule opens with T.S.O.L. on Friday, followed by local shows by Cracked Actor on Saturday and reggae band On Root on Jan. 9. Gregg Allman plays the Coach House on Jan. 10, backed by the Mike Reilly Band. Guitar ace Danny Gatton plays his Orange County debut on Jan. 16, Etta James brings her classic, sassy R&B; to San Juan on Jan. 17, and hard-rock band Badlands returns on Jan. 19. Jonathan Richman, always a charmer in concert, plays Jan. 22, and Orange County '70s rock heroes Honk stage one of their periodic reunions on Jan. 25. Bela Fleck & the Flecktones are back on Feb. 12, and Arlo Guthrie, who played a fine show at the Coach House in '91, returns Feb. 14-15. Roots-music fans can go for Commander Cody on Feb. 19, or the horn-driven Roomful of Blues on Feb. 21. Coach House perennial Dave Mason comes around again on March 20. And legendary jazz violinist Stephane Grappelli returns on May 3.

* Bogart's in Long Beach continues its strong diet of local bands and touring alternative rockers. Among the highlights are Richard X. Heyman and They Eat Their Own on Jan. 9, Firehose on Feb. 7 and NRBQ on Feb. 8.

* Country fans can look to the Celebrity Theatre for shows by Alabama, with Brooks & Dunn, on March 14, and by Kenny Rogers and Trisha Yearwood on Feb. 8-9. The Crazy Horse Steak House features Dan Seals on Monday and Tuesday, Marty Stuart (Jan. 13), Billy Vera (Jan. 20), Kingston Trio (Jan. 27), Larry Gatlin & the Gatlin Bros. (Feb. 3-4), B.J. Thomas (Feb. 10), John Anderson (Feb. 17), and Marshall Tucker Band (Feb. 24).

* Rap music, formerly a regular feature at the Celebrity Theatre, disappeared during 1991 after a shooting incident outside the theater during a December, 1990, Ice Cube show prompted anti-rap pressure from city officials. The music returns, albeit in lightweight form, with a March 13 show at the Celebrity by Marky Mark & the Funky Bunch, fronted by a younger sibling of one of the New Kids on the Block.

* Folk fans can look to a Jan. 25 date with Happy Traum, one-time sideman to Bob Dylan and author of numerous guitar instruction books, at Shade Tree Stringed Instruments in Laguna Niguel. Rosalie Sorrells comes to the Anaheim Cultural Arts Center on Feb. 8.

* Mel Torme and Maureen McGovern revive old pop standards in "The Great American Songbook" show at the Celebrity on Feb. 2. The Kronos Quartet turns the Robert B. Moore Theatre at Orange Coast College into a chamber of the avant-garde on Jan. 25. Christian pop singer Sandi Patti plays March 14-15 at the Anaheim Convention Center.

For the Record Los Angeles Times Saturday January 4, 1992 Orange County Edition Calendar Part F Page 2 Column 1 Entertainment Desk 1 inches; 18 words Type of Material: Correction Radio station--KUCI, the student-run radio station at UC Irvine, is at 88.9 FM. The wrong frequency was given in a story Thursday.
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