Sunday, April 18, 2010

My Life Was Saved by Rock and Roll

One evening I turned on a New York City station and had the wits scared out of me.

It was AM, an all news station that was going through the police blotter when an errant signal bounced off a cloud somewhere over Plattsburgh and was picked up by my vintage 1956 Telefunken just outside Montreal. Two robberies in Brooklyn, a rape in Queens, I'm cocooned under the covers waiting for another day of elementary school to dawn frozen and dead and thinking, all things considered I'm better off here than there. Listen to the radio a little while longer, then turn it off and head to bed. Try and tune it in the next night and all you got was static so you'd flip the dial over to the standard, the one Mom and Dad listened to, a few pop favorites mixed in with some numbers from the early sixties, an AM collection of music, news, talk that was all the car radio was ever set to so you knew the call letters and frequency.

When the old man waltzed in with a spanking new 1972 Grundig, the old wooden Telefunken wound up in my room. That was fine, I dug radio. Even when it was in the living room, I'd punch in the short wave key and dial up whatever the internal antenna could find. Nighttime was best when solar radiation didn't cut your signals to ribbons but when evening fell, I usually had to hoof off to bed. Putting the old set in my room was like giving a jet-junkie a crew pass to dead head. I'd turn off the lights, turn the set on, let the vacuum tubes glow and spin short wave around the world.

Of course when it came to listening to daily radio, I being all of twelve dutifully turned it back to 800 AM.

When I turned thirteen though, I spun the dial over to CKGM, home of Ralph Lockwood in the morning. They played the pop rock and roll that Mr. Gaviett put on the speakers in his bus in an effort to keep us quiet on the twenty minute ride to school. It usually worked which says a lot about the singularity of purpose of my generation. Either that or we were simple minded enough to be amused by simple things.

At night, the set would be tuned to CKGM but grooving to The Band alone wasn't as much fun as it was when you were seated right across the aisle from Shirley. So I spun the dial around a little, caught what else was out there on AM and turned in. Then Friday rolled around and I had a little more leeway around lights out. I did the unthinkable, I punched up FM.

FM was what the Grundig played every Sunday morning; European classics, news from the homeland, PanAm ads. It was what accompanied cold eggs and chives.

FM on a Friday night was a different animal, which is why I went for the station Mom and Dad listened to just to be safe. When they weren't blaring the latest Volkspolka, they played what was then called "Easy Listening" and what you hummed along too waiting for the "ding" of the next floor. That was ok for a couple of Fridays but something was missing. I spun it over to CHOM.

CHOM was a new, adult rock and roll FM station that probably got launched when somebody put his reefer down long enough to listen to Steely Dan. People who listened to CHOM smoked marijuana. If you had CHOM on, you smoked marijuana.

I turned CHOM on.

There were a couple of cool station promos that tried to emphasize that if you were listening, you were cool. I doubt very much if I could parlay this to Shirley even if she were sharing a seat with me. Which of course she never did. Then there was the rock and roll, the mid-seventies album rock; Foreigner and Styx, Steely Dan, Led Zeppelin, Stones, Foghat, Kansas: I usually went to bed when the Eagles came on.

There are always fulcrum points in life. Some are defined by great drama, some great tragedy, some great elation. In my life some fulcrums have had their point of inflection defined by what was on the radio and so it was when I was listening to CHOM, not smoking marijuana (that would come in a few years and go just as fast) but somebody fatefully put Lou Reed on the turntable. It was Walk on the Wild Side and it cracked my life wide open.

Candy came from the island.
Fat, plummy kid in a frozen Canadian suburb greets this positively, thinking some kind of tropical island is coming up.
In the back room, she was everybody's darling.
Ok, she's friendly.
But she never lost her head, even when she was giving head.
Gnnneiiiiigh!
She said hey babe, take a walk on the wild side, and the colored girls go:
This being the mid-seventies, that was still ok.

FM radio and Lou Reed, that night, cracked my reality open and away from elevator music, beige carpets and pop hits. I tried to tune in New York City again just to get the rough, raw, edge Lou was singing about. I jumped back on to CHOM to see what else was out there to turn my reality on edge and heard a young kid name Warren Zevon sing about an exciteable boy.

Sorry kids, I was lost. I was on my way out of there that would, within ten years find me living in the Village while you were still impressed that you could afford an apartment almost in Toronto.

And it really got down to a Lou Reed number.

Good thing they weren't playing ABBA.

Bunny on.

2 Comments:

Blogger Thimbelle said...

Living out on the Great Plains as a teenager, we would park on the closest thing that passed for a hill, and - as the last of the sunset faded to black - try to catch a "real" radio station on the skip.

Everything local on the AM was hillbilly C&W, with "Your local Farm and Ag weather report, brought to you by the Southside Grain Elevator & Co-op" every hour on the 9's.

But on those rare nights, when everything was just right, we could get The King Biscuit Flower Hour on the skip from Chicago. We would turn up the volume, sit on the hood of the pickup, and watch the stars turn overhead while our impressionable ears soaked up all the rock-n-roll that we could before the static became unbearable.

Eventually, one of the FM stations down in The City got a license that let them max out the power on the transmitter, and our formerly FM-deficient corner of the world could get FM stereo. Suddenly, we all knew what was in the top 40 weeks before Rolling Stone hit the stands at the general store. More importantly, we had actually *heard* all of the songs & artists. Rock-n-Roll had arrived on the prairie, and things were never the same again.

1:38 AM  
Blogger cog said...

John "Records" Landecker on WLS, doing the boogie check boogie check ooo, ahh...

K-double-A-Y out of Little Rock leaking the Bleeker Street into the night air to find my mono earphone when I was supposed to be asleep...

But it was Little Tommy on KLAZ who seemed to cough an awful lot and opened the lines to guitar hero polls of the first order. Duane Allman, Lowell George, Clapton, Ritchie Blackmore, cough cough, gasp. let's hear this whole side, man...

6:14 PM  

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