radio radio.

is there anybody alive out there?

radio radio.
not my radio but the exact model

In the early 70's, my family lived in a white-brick ranch house shaped like a C, with the bedrooms at one end, the living room in the middle, and then the dining room, kitchen and family room at the other end. We hadn't been there that long before my parents realized we were not going to survive without air conditioning, so they put in a folding door at the entrance to the bedroom wing (for lack of a better term) and then they could air condition that side of the house while we slept.

I was 5 or 6 when this happened and I hated it. I didn't like being cut off from hearing my parents watching TV at the other end of the house. One night my parents found me curled up against the door with a stuffed rabbit, sobbing. My mother's solution to this was to give me her ancient GE clock radio -- the exact same model pictured above.

And this, my friends, is how I began my love affair with music. I have had insomnia my entire life and now I had something to keep me company. I loved turning the dial to pick up different radio stations, and began to realize that I was hearing people talk to me from places like Chicago and Detroit and sometimes late at night, Memphis. The town I lived in had a local station, WSJM, which played Top 40 during the day and deeper cuts at night (I did not know this at the time. I looked this up.) but that didn't mean much until a couple of years later, probably about the time I figured out that the music came from records and not from musicians in the studio playing the music live. (I did not ever think that there were tiny musicians inside the radio, although I understand that this is common, and also hilarious.)

A record player came next, also one that had belonged to my mom, who played piano and loved music and hung out at jazz clubs in Chicago when she was in her 20s. Her favorites were Johnny Mathis and Ahmad Jamal and Sinatra, and quite honestly I never understood why she was always so surprised I turned out the way I did. I got a tiny black GE transistor radio to take to the beach, and I'd sit in the car and hold it up to my ear and quietly sing along. Not long after this I was old enough to ride my bike to the library and similar distances. The library was books and records, and two miles the other way was the small department store that had a tiny records section in the corner. I used to ride there every week to get their printout of the Top 40 singles.


again, not the actual radio, but the exact model

I cannot tell you what initiated this behavior - the store was next to our grocery, and back then you could say to your kids, go in there while I shop, and it wasn't weird or dangerous. This was how I started looking around at the records and found out about the existence of these song lists on paper I could just... take home. So it became a thing that I did, and sometimes if my mom was in the store without us she'd bring one home for me, and then I got old enough to ride my bike further than the end of the subdivision and could get it myself.

I'd play a game where I'd mark the songs off that I heard on the radio, and then started to think, "I want to buy that." The first time I spent my entire allowance on singles, there was a new rule instated that I could not do that. (I do not understand why.) They cost less than a dollar, even cheaper if there was a sale. I remember paying 33 cents, but that is anecdotal and not backed by data, and I am not doing the research at this moment to confirm this or I will never finish writing this newsletter.

All of this bubbled up like an ancient oil well when I watched the panel Bruce Springsteen did with Nona Hendryx for the Land of Hope and Dreams conference. He talked about the record Labelle did with Laura Nyro (Gonna Take a Miracle) and because I am a cultural vacuum cleaner I wrote it down and downloaded it to listen while driving around. As soon as I heard the first song coming out of my speakers I realized that I knew this record, and after spending more in-depth time with Laura Nyro's catalog, pinpointed it to an intersection of the songs she wrote in the late 60's that were covered by other people, from Three Dog Night to Barbra Streisand, and hearing some of them late at night on the radio, and I know with certainty that I checked out the Labelle/Nyro album from the Lincoln Township Public Library, my absolute favorite place from the ages of 5-10.


Gonna Take A Miracle

Listening to that record and the rest of Nyro's catalog was this cosmic convergence of identification and recognition, where you know you know something but you haven't heard or read or thought about it in forever, and connecting with it again re-opens or activates that particular chain of synapses. It feels like the closest I will ever get to teleportation, and I think I will be finding time this summer to drive across the state and go poking around the old hometown. I visited once in 2003 while driving cross-country and it was entirely more rural and isolated than I remembered. I stood in front of our old house talking to my mother and going, "HOW did we live here? WHERE did we SHOP?" and her saying, "I got you out of there!"

current work!

WHY PATTI SMITH MATTERS was out for peer review this spring so I had time to do other things, like:

i'm a cartoon!

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