Further Down Behind the Masquerade

In January 1980, I officially took over as program director of my college radio station. If my whole life had been leading up to my first day on the air, my first three semesters at school had been leading up to the PD gig. I felt like it was the natural destination of a path I’d been on since that first day. I’d watched the station run, and I thought I knew what it needed. And what it needed mostly was me. I had a sense of entitlement, and I wasn’t lacking confidence.

I was anxious to get started, so I headed back to town a week before school started. I was still living in the dorm then, so I had to borrow an apartment from a friend. A few other colleagues were also back in town, so we planned to operate the station a limited number of hours each day, for the benefit of the two dozen listeners who weren’t still home on Christmas vacation. I took the morning show. I have often wondered in years since how many of the two dozen were listening between 6 and 9AM, although I wouldn’t have cared if nobody was. After I got off the air at 9, I would work the rest of the day implementing my brilliant plan for world domination. It was a thrill to be able to devote myself to radio and nothing but, for the first time in my life, and to know it would really matter.

I learned a lot as PD, although the biggest lesson didn’t strike home until years later. At the age of 20, I believed that being PD meant that whatever I wanted to do was self-evidently right. I often took disagreements with other staffers not as honest differences of opinion, but as evidence they didn’t know what they were talking about. In addition, I was a my-way-or-the-highway sort of manager, and I would occasionally threaten to take the highway myself if I couldn’t get my way. Only years later, thanks to the wisdom that comes with age, did I grasp the full majesty of my assholitude, and begin to understand that old saw about honey and vinegar. It’s a wonder I have any friends left from that time.

But back to that week in January (before all that) and the Forgotten 45 that brings it back. I’d become a Steve Forbert fan during my first semester at school. I was captivated by Forbert’s voice—he wasn’t always singing so much as talking in a musical way—and his quirky way with a lyric on his debut album, Alive on Arrival. Forbert’s second album, Jackrabbit Slim, was a slicker production with stronger, more commercial songs. The New Dylan hype was in full swing by this point, and album-rock radio was helping out. The album’s first track was its lead single, “Romeo’s Tune,” and it remains Forbert’s only Top 40 hit (although another song from the album, “Say Goodbye to Little Jo,” made it to Number 85). Forbert got his start busking for change in Grand Central Station with his acoustic guitar, but “Romeo’s Tune” is driven by an exuberant piano blasting one of the killer-est musical hooks you’re ever going to hear. Forbert is clearly having a ball performing it, and the record’s joy builds to the last lines: “Meet me in the middle of the night/Let me hear you say everything’s all right/Hold me tight in love and love is free.”

Which he follows with a yowl of delight, as anyone feeling something so good just naturally would.

“Romeo’s Tune”/Steve Forbert (buy it here)

(Nemperor 7525, chart peak #11, February 23, 1980)

9 thoughts on “Further Down Behind the Masquerade

  1. Shark

    “Romeo’s Tune” by Steve Forbert was an excellent Top 40 song. For some reason, it hasn’t withstood the test of time on the radio. One of our stations runs a 70s/80s oldies format and another station in the city where I live calls itself the “Retro-rock Station of the Region” but neither play any Steve Forbert. When you think of it, “Romeo’s Tune” sounded right at home on Top 40, Album, and Adult Contemporary radio but none of those formats lay claim to it today.

    Another great Steve Forbert song was “Get Well Soon.” I still have it on a 45.

  2. Magic Marco

    Keith Urban (Nicole Kidman’s current husband)has included a version of Romneo’s Tune on his new greatest hits collection. Steve has just released a new album called Strange Names and New Sensations, and continues touring and performing for a loyal following. (I think he’s in Scotland at the moment.)Damn catchy tune isn’t it?

  3. jb, I agree that Keith Urban’s version wasn’t quite as good as the original by Lil Stevie Orbit. However, the responses left by Urban-ites at YouTube to negative comments left by others were brutal. My feeling is “Get over it!”

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