This Will Be My Testimony

Embed from Getty Images

(Pictured: Peter Gabriel performs in the 80s.)

I heard Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer” the other day, and it reminded me of something. Two things, actually.

Every town has a summer festival of some kind. In Macomb, Illinois, it was (and is) Heritage Days, held toward the end of June and centered around the city’s courthouse square. I don’t recall that my stations made much of it the first two summers I was there, 1984 and 1985, but the 1986 festival was different. We got a motorhome and set up a temporary studio on the square, and I spent most of four days in it.

At a community festival, you work long hours, you live on unhealthy festival food, and you have to be “on” all the time, friendly and personable as you visit with listeners, despite being tired and sunburned and ready to go home long before you’re able to go home. The experience is much easier if you’re one jock among several, but I was the entire airstaff of our FM station, the face and voice of the place, so the vast majority of the responsibility for the station’s presence that weekend fell on me.

“Sledgehammer” was one of the big hits of the moment in June of 1986, and it has forever after reminded me of that long, wearying Heritage Days weekend—and of a particular incident from that same weekend, which led me into another experience.

I am not a joiner. I support my community by contributing to charities that are important to me, but I have never gone out of my way to join a service organization, not since I quit 4-H when I was 15. At Heritage Days 1986, a man came up to our temporary studio and introduced himself to me. I’ve forgotten his name today, but I recognized it then—he was a prominent local businessman. And he started pitching me on joining the local Lions Club.

I listened politely as he told me that the Lions were looking for bright young men with much to offer the community, men such as myself, and that he’d consider it an honor if I’d attend the next meeting as his guest. I smiled as graciously as I could manage, but I was also noncommittal because, as I said, I am not a joiner. I thanked him for the invitation; he went on his way and I went on mine, and I figured that was it. Not long after, however, he called me to say that the Lions were meeting later in the week, and would I like to come and get acquainted with the group? I had no ready-made reason to say no, and I couldn’t improvise one on the spur of the moment, so I said the only thing I could: “Sure, I’d be happy to.” And after a single meeting, I consented to join the Lions Club because I had no good reason to say no, other than I am not a joiner.

I attended meetings the rest of the year, but in December, I got a new job and we moved out of town before I was ever officially inducted into the organization. I may have briefly considered joining the Lions in our new town, but I never did, because I am not a joiner.

The story itself is not particularly interesting. Of more interest (to me, at least) is how the memories associated with “Sledgehammer” have grown ever more hazy with each passing year. Far from seeming like a time I once lived through, the summer of 1986 seems like a country I used to live in, different in every way from where I live now, immeasurably far away in space as well as in time, a place where I was once considered to be a bright young man with something to offer.

7 thoughts on “This Will Be My Testimony

  1. Late getting here, so sorry about that. In the small town where I had my first job after college, I was invited, after a few years, to join the Lions. I delayed, and my boss – a Rotary man – counseled against it. I figured that mean an invitation to the Rotary was somewhere down the pike, so I waited. Thirty-five years later, I’m, still waiting.

  2. Mike Stenz

    So many folks would say they can’t even imagine “Sledgehammer” without that frenetic video. I can honestly say that I enjoyed the song on its own merits. I thought it sounded a bit like Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition.” I bought the 45 with the full 4:58 album version, and got to know it pretty well, before ever seeing the clip. At the time, I was living up the road in Rockford, where the only top-40 station, WZOK, would play the 4:02 radio edit.

  3. When I interviewed for a radio job many years ago, the station owner quizzed me about being a member of any civic groups or organizations. Like you, JB, I am just not a joiner. It seemed to me the only thing the owner was interested in was whether I belonged to the Optimists Club or Lions Club or some type of organization where I could rub elbows with any of the city’s big spenders and get them to spring for more advertising dollars because “it was good for business.” Now, don’t get me wrong…I have nothing against civic organizations. They get together and do wonderful things for their community and donate a lot of time and money to do it. I’ve found that many of those members, not all, but many, work at 9 to 5 jobs which allows them the time to contribute to their community. Since I work in radio, my work hours are day and night. It’s not uncommon for me to work a 10am to 3pm air shift, go on a few sales calls til 5pm, then drive 30 to 40 miles away to broadcast a basketball game that doesn’t end til 9:30pm. After that, there is a post game show to do and tear down of equipment followed by the drive home which concludes my “cushy work day” between 11pm and midnight. Of course my schedule isn’t exactly like that every day, but it is a common routine. Of course, I love it (most of the time) otherwise, I wouldn’t be doing it. I do donate my time to a lot of station events in the community by doing PA for youth games and providing music with my sound system for schools and many other things. When I interviewed for that job years ago, I could’ve have been the dumbest radio guy on earth, with absolutely no broadcast skills or reading skills and no technical knowledge, no ability to DJ, read news or do sports…but I probably would’ve gotten the job because I belonged to a civic group. Of course, I didn’t because, I am not a joiner.

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