Note: This post in my third contribution to the blog hop: Remember That Time… (this week:) The Radio. Emily and Ashley are hosting this summer ho down, check out the other posts at the bottom of any of their posts.
I can’t remember a time when music didn’t drive me. I was singing along to popular songs, from the time I could speak. My mother and father both loved music, and I remember that they often had a radio on. Hence, my love affair with music started with the music they loved too, and eventually became my own: Petula Clark; The Mamas and the Papas; Simon and Garfunkle; Neil Diamond, The Jackson 5 (Oh how I loved little Michael!); Peter, Paul and Mary; Johnny Cash; John Denver; The Monkeys… and the list goes on, and on, and on. Despite the pop slant to the list above, my interests were fairly varied, from the start. I loved Pop, Folk, Rock, Jazz, and almost anything else that was played for me. As a young girl, I would often get together with my friends and we would compare our 45 records. For the longest time Johnny Cash was my all time favorite. The man could do no wrong, in my young mind. I think I had most of his singles at one point, and could sing along to every one… even if I had no real idea, what the lyrics meant.
In my tweens, my tastes definitely fell hard toward pop, more than any other genre. I listened to Casey Kasem’s countdown each week, and felt personally slighted if my favorites didn’t score well on the list. From a young age my friends, siblings, and I put on “shows” for my family and neighbors, well past an age when it was cute. When Grease came out, I was already in high school, but my brother and I learned every song and performed them for anyone who would watch and listen… whether they wanted to or not. Those who have known me for a long time, will tell you that I’ve always sung along to the radio (still do); I’ve always had a song in my head; I’ve collected musical technology: record player, radio, boom box, Walk Man, iPod (I still have the very first one, with dials that actually turn), and the various next “generations” of each one. If it played music, it was worth saving my babysitting money, my waitressing tips, or the money we eventually had in our account, to have the best sound. When I look at a car today, I’m almost as interested in the sound system as I am in the mileage.
Before I had anything slick or cool, I had the classic turn table that most kids my age had. It played 45s, which required the iconic little yellow adapters, as well as full size LPs. To this day, we still have a nice turn table, and approximately 300+ albums, that my husband and I collected throughout the 70s, 80s and 90s. Since switching to CDs (something I did very reluctantly and much later than others), the albums have been lovingly stored in boxes. We still take them out from time to time, to dance around with our kids… to some of the “coolest music ever made.” Generally, they agree.
However, I truly fell in love with music, and my ability to hold it— own it, when my father sent me what was the coolest radio ever, at the time. I got it somewhere around 1971, as a birthday present. It was bright orange, round, with shiny silver dials, and required a small 9-volt battery. We took turns daring each other to stick our tongues to the end of the battery, to see if we needed a new one… and watch each other cringe at the small shock, a bonus to its overall magic. That small radio brought music right into my hands. It meant that I didn’t need my mother’s permission, or need to be in her car. It sat in my room, beside my bed, and the music coming out of it was “my precious.”
The year my father was killed (1973), John Denver’s Leaving on a Jet Plane was my song. It mirrored my sense of loss, having been far from him when he died. Remembering how we’d gotten on a plane and left him, that song brought it all back so sharp and tender. I somehow imagined that John Denver knew all about what I was going through, and that song was written for me. My radio was that much more important after the loss, as I felt it was something that my Dad had chosen especially for me. It tied me to him in a way that seemed critical, as I grieved my enormous loss. I slept with it; I took it to sleep- overs; I listened to it every day.
The radio went everywhere with me, for years and years. It was small and had pretty good sound, by the standards of the 1970s and AM radio stations. The really popular music was always on AM, when I was a young girl living on the south shore of Boston. I would hold that radio near my head at night, so my mother wouldn’t hear it and tell me to go to sleep. I would call in and request sappy songs from my favorite shows, and wait to hear them played. One summer, I had a huge crush on a cousin and Neil Diamond’s Shilo by Neil Diamond was on the radio all the time. I called in one day, dreaming of our future, and the DJ played it for me. When I hear it now, it just reminds me of the innocent angst I felt that summer, and how handsome mu cousin was at the time. He died in a plane crash, five years ago. He was 43.
As I got older, my little radio eventually lost its allure for listening to music, and simply became a tie to my Dad. Today, it’s skeleton sits in my office, something sacred from my Dad, that I can’t let go of. When he was much younger, unaware of its importance, Middle Man took it and decided to play with the electronics— some ill fated effort to make something else. I have no idea where the innards, the electronics, or the shiny dials, went. Today, there is only a shell— a reminder of so many days and nights, listening to that radio and the music I loved so much, and missing my father.
From my radio, I moved on to a turn table with a built in stereo and cassette player— the latest magical musical machine, to play my maturing list of favorites: Fleetwood Mac (first album I have owned on my own, my aunt bought it for me); Pablo Cruise (first album I ever bought for myself); The Doobie Brothers (first concert I ever went to); Journey; the edgy sounds of The Talking Heads… as they burst onto the scene, utterly outside my small town’s norm. The fact that David Byrnes yelped out words in French, made it that much more attractive, to my 16 year old brain. I had that stereo all the way through college. It was the best I could afford, and I loved it.
In college, my radio— my stereo was my prize possession. Away from my small town, the small views, and my family, I ripped off my preppy clothes and called myself punk. I wore head bands across my forehead, flat boots, belts with metal points, a dozen black rubber bands around my wrist, and more makeup. Looking back, it was almost funny… but then, the Go-Gos were everything I wanted to be. I wanted to dress like them; I emulated their ballsy approach; I played their album often and loud, singing at the top of my voice. No doubt, I drove some dorm/house mates crazy.
I found my way to others: Talking Heads; The Police; Billy Idol (so sexy!); The Violent Femmes (amazing!); Peter Gabriel; the B-52s; Depeche Mode; Blancmange; The Cure; and on, and on, and on. My radio was always on, and when I fell in love with a song, or an artist, I bought the album and played a hole in it. In 1983 I called in to my favorite Boston station, WFNX, and won the single Under The Milkyway Tonight, by identifying the group, The Church. I thought I’d won big, and played it to death.
I followed my future husband on his radio show, Breakfast of Champions, on the MIT station, WMBR. I called in and requested Blue Monday every week, but he never played it… until his last day on air. “This is for a friend, who’s called in every week. My final show, final request.” I was in my college science class at the time, Walk Man radio pressed to my ear (behind a stack of books), and let out a loud yelp. The song still sends a jolt through me.
When I was young, my radio was my friend. It went places with me. It kept me safe at night. It made me feel connected to people I loved, music that was sacred; it was an integral part of my life. As times have changed and the way we listen to music has changed, I’ve let go of my radio. I listen in the car, always, but I don’t keep one in the house. I don’t take it to bed, or listen waiting to hear my favorite song called out. But each time I turn it on in my car, I unconsciously go back. I feel that same connectedness, that same magic. The magic is in the music… but the music still lives in the radio. I go there and I fly away.
To listen to some really great music (and ok, that’s in the ear of the beholder), hit the links/names of groups in this post. Takes me back… Share your thoughts in the comment section. Check out the Tales From the Motherland Facebook page, and hit like. It’s a nice thing to do.