I Finally Bury a Long-Dead Friend

 

I Finally Bury a Long-Dead Friend

 

Begin the day with a friendly voice
A companion unobtrusive
Plays that song that’s so elusive
And the magic music makes your morning mood

Off on your way, hit the open road
There is magic at your fingers
For the Spirit ever lingers
Undemanding contact in your happy solitude

Invisible airwaves crackle with life
Bright antennae bristle with the energy
Emotional feedback on timeless wavelength
Bearing a gift beyond price, almost free

All this machinery making modern music
Can still be open hearted
Not so coldly charted
It’s really just a question of your honesty, yeah
Your honesty
One likes to believe in the freedom of music
But glittering prizes and endless compromises
Shatter the illusion of integrity

For the words of the prophets were written on the studio wall
Concert hall
And echoes with the sounds of salesmen

Spirit of Radio – Rush

I’d sit alone and watch your light
My only friend through teenage nights
And everything I had to know
I heard it on my radio

You gave them all those old time stars
Through wars of worlds – invaded by Mars
You made ’em laugh – you made ’em cry
You made us feel like we could fly.

So don’t become some background noise
A backdrop for the girls and boys
Who just don’t know or just don’t care
And just complain when you’re not there
You had your time, you had the power
You’ve yet to have your finest hour
Radio.

All we hear is Radio ga ga
Radio goo goo, Radio ga ga
All we hear is Radio ga ga
Radio blah blah, Radio what’s new?
Radio, someone still loves you!

We watch the shows – we watch the stars
On videos for hours and hours
We hardly need to use our ears
How music changes through the years.

Let’s hope you never leave old friend
Like all good things on you we depend
So stick around cos we might miss you
When we grow tired of all this visual
You had your time, you had the power
You’ve yet to have your finest hour
Radio – Radio.

Radio Gaga – Queen

 

                I’ve loved broadcast radio ever since I was a little child. Late at night (sometimes past midnight! Ooo…) I would turn on my AM radio shaped like Superman and slide under the covers to listen to my favorite stations. Going up and down the dial I would sometimes get Mexico, but usually I listened to rock-and-roll programs.
                As I got older and my radios/stereos got bigger and better I discovered FM stations. And LPs. Now I was really rocking and rolling.
                But as was the case with some friendships, things changed. The relationship soured.
                I was a disk jockey for ten years during (mostly) the 1980s. I got tired of hearing the same songs repeated – I joked that I suffered from Bachman Turner Overdose. The name was a pun on one of the more overplayed groups.
                My job as a DJ, in my mind, was to share music with the listener. Here’s a good song, here’s another one. Here’s a rare track you probably haven’t heard before, but I hope you like it. Here’s something brand new. Yes, that was the Rolling Stones, but here’s Budgie! Yes, that was Boston, here’s Badfinger!
                A show had a flow and ebb. Slow songs giving way to fast songs and then back to slow songs. In between I would pepper information about the songs. “That was Larry Knechtel on bass on that song by the Doors. He was later a member of Bread. Can you believe a person from Bread playing with the Doors?”
                I left the business when I graduated law school. I moved to a large town to practice law where there were, at that time,  four stations that played rock music. I am too far away to get any rock stations from St. Louis – so I have to rely on these smaller markets.
                Two of the stations were quite far away – one changed over to country music and the other has become a band of static. I occasionally can hear what they play, but it is usually white noise.
                That left the oldies station and one last rock station. Presently, the oldies station plays mostly music from the late 1970s and 1980s, including Michael Jackson and Madonna. And lots of BeeGees. The disco stuff, not the older songs. That’s fine if you like that kind of music, but I do not. I want my oldies station to play …well … oldies. Beach Boys, Chuck Berry – when was the last time you heard Fats Domino on an oldies station?
                And the rock station … it aggravated me from the first time I tuned in. The DJs were mostly canned – I heard the same announcers while driving through Vermont. The local ones were awful. They mispronounced names. They got the songs wrong.
                When Linda McCartney died, Chrissie Hynde said her next album would feature a photo of her taken by Linda. The DJ said, “It doesn’t say here whether the photo was taken before or after her death.” I’d guess before.
                Another DJ said “House of the Rising Sun” was the biggest single the Rolling Stones ever had.
                My Facebook status often stated what the local dolt on the radio got wrong that morning.
                If you are going to be an announcer, it’s okay not to know everything, but check the pronunciations and facts before you say them.  I wasn’t a perfect DJ – I mispronounced names (I don’t think I ever said “Yehudi Menuhin” the same way twice … he did an album with Ravi Shankar I used to play the album on my New Age show), but only once. And I kept lots of reference books nearby to check session men, producers, writers, etc.
                By the way, the local morning dolt mispronounced Ravi Shankar’s name during his Beatles show.
                At the station I worked at in 1989 our clueless program director wrote this on a Left Banke CD – “mention this group features Steve Martin”. I had to write underneath – “not THAT Steve Martin”. I still hear him on the air when I drive through the city in which he works (I don’t want to say which one).  I expect he is telling everyone John Legend is his favorite Beatle.
                Back to the local “rock” station… I once described its format as Red Neck ‘n Roll. Zeppelin, Aerosmith, Skynyrd, repeat. A Facebook post of mine said if you tune in to the station and they are NOT playing Zeppelin, Aerosmith, or Lynyrd Skynyrd I would give you a dollar. One person posted. “Damn, you’re right.” 
                Every few weeks the station would change the songs. The artists would stay the same though. Every few hours they would play “Turn the Page” by Bob Seger. A few weeks later every few hours they would play “Hollywood Nights”. But always Bob Seger. Always Bob Seger.
***
                I got a new car in July. Well, new to me. It has a CD player as well as an MP3 player. My wife lets me use her ipod and I filled it with songs I have on CD but have not heard on the radio since … well, since I played them.
                My old car only had a cassette player – it was a 1999 model. I listen to cassettes but they would wear out or I would get as tired of hearing them as I was tired of listening to the radio.
                On the Thursday before I got my car (on that Saturday), I had the oldies station on. They did their top-of-the-hour station ID. “WQRL,” it said (real station).
                “Cue Home Depot commercial,” I said.
                A Home Depot commercial came on.
                I shut off the radio and haven’t listened to it since. I finally accepted the fact. My friend is dead.
                Now I listen to CDs or my ipad/pod for music and audiobooks while I drive. The issue of bulky, flimsy and repetitive cassette tapes is behind me. So is broadcast radio.
                There may be stations that broadcast the way they used to, somewhere.
                 There is an independent public station in Carbondale that plays an eclectic mix. A woman who once worked with me at the local NPR station works there and plays her jazz and big band favorites. She fled the NPR station when it went to all-classical – they would have gotten rid of Morning Edition, All Things Considered and (gasp) Prairie Home Companion if they could have gotten away with it. She is knowledgeable about the genre and has a good voice. I like her show. I like a few others – one fellow plays folk music – but some of it still has the taint of a bad college station. Oh boy, more punk raga… Happy 1987 everyone…
                Perhaps someday I will explore satellite radio and see what choices it gives me. No DJs or commercial interruptions sounds good, but are their playlists diverse enough to keep me from running my car into a tree? “Turn the page .. Woo-ooooo-woo-oo-oooooooo….”
                Goodbye old friend. I have happy memories of for sharing that Superman radio and using you to test out the stereo I got for Christmas. 
Well you can’t turn him into a company man
You can’t turn him into a whore
And the boys upstairs just don’t understand anymore
Well the top brass don’t like him talking so much,
And he won’t play what they say to play
And he don’t want to change what don’t need to change

There goes the last DJ
Who plays what he wants to play
And says what he wants to say, hey hey hey…

And there goes your freedom of choice
There goes the last human voice
There goes the last DJ

Well some folks say they’re gonna hang him so high
‘Cause you just can’t do what he did
There’re some things you just can’t put in the minds of those kids

As we celebrate mediocrity all the boys upstairs want to see
How much you’ll pay for what you used to get for free

Well he got him a station down in Mexico
And sometimes it’ll kind of come in
And I’ll bust a move and remember how it was back then

The Last DJ – Tom Petty
Original material copyright 2013 Michael G Curry
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2 thoughts on “I Finally Bury a Long-Dead Friend

  1. We were fortunate to get to be DJ's in the waning days when vinyl discs were truly jocked, Mike. Childhood and teenhood good remembrances of Radio in its twilight years for me include late-night sessions from an IN station that spun live C&W for truck drivers and took requests at 'Ernie's Truck Stop'(not as cool as rock, but be 7 years old and hear Red Sovine's 'Phantom 309' ballad for the first time while drifting off to sleep at 1 AM…plus lots of comedy offerings from Bill Cosby, Jerry Clower, and others), teen mornings listening to KSHE when I could coax it in, bellylaughs during the High School drive shared over the misadventures of 'Chicken Man'. When radio really -was- a comfortable old friend who passed the time with you when you were trapped in a sleepless night, or on a bus ride way too early in the AM, or a weekend shopping trip with your folks.

  2. Very well put. Funny you mentioned Chicken Man (I LOVED CM btw). I was assigned to make two weeks worth of five-minute bits to replace CM. I created elves who worked and lived at the station. I am very proud of the productions.
    I ran into the morning man from those days some years back and he told me how much I would love their production now. It's all on computer now.
    I used a two-track reel-to-reel — Bob Marley had better equipment in Jamaica in 1964 — and used my toe to press the record button while one hand spun the turntable with the background music album and the other pressing the special effects cart button. All while hoping no one started shouting in the hallway.
    “All done by computer,” I said, “where's the fun in that?”

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