Lost Art

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It’s time for another edition of Short Attention Span Theater, when I dust off fragments of posts that have been sitting in my drafts file waiting to see the light. First up, some outtakes from a post I wrote late last year about listening to music on AM radio. 

33. “For the Good Times”/Ray Price. At what age do we realize what love songs are actually about? In this beautiful Kris Kristofferson song, lovers who are breaking up decide to spend one last night together. Ten-year-old me understood that men and women fall in love (and fifth-grade me had already fallen hard for somebody), but to what actual extent I understood what Price was singing about, I can’t say.

28.  “One Less Bell to Answer”/Fifth Dimension. How deeply I understood the “one less bell to answer / one less egg to fry” metaphor back then I don’t know either, but the writer in me today likes it, even if it makes the singer sound not so much like a jilted lover but like fired domestic help.

25. “Yellow River”/Christie. Sometime in 1970, my parents bought an enormous console stereo, a giant piece of furniture that took up an entire wall of the living room. It had a turntable, and also the first FM stereo radio they’d ever owned. Because they liked country music, they found an FM stereo country station and would frequently fill the house with it. One of the songs the station played that fall was “Yellow River.” I am pretty sure I didn’t hear it again until Rhino put it on a volume of the Super Hits of the 70s: Have a Nice Day series at the end of the 80s, and the first time I played that disc, it was quite the “holy shit I remember that song” moment. (WABC-processed version here.)

There was a time when a radio jock manually played every element you hear on the air—started every record, punched every commercial, fired every jingle. Many of us prided ourselves on what was known as “board work.” I still take pride in mine, to the extent that I am required to do it nowadays. The stitching-together of programming elements can be done creatively, when one cares enough to think about it that way. The following paragraph is one example of a topic I should probably expand upon someday.

Some programmers would tell you to put a jingle between Billy Squier’s “Rock Me Tonite” and Julian Lennon’s “Valotte,” since “Valotte” is a far different tempo and starts with a cold vocal open. But you could also crank the cold vocal open so it starts really hot and take out the fade of “Rock Me Tonite” the instant the vocal starts without mixing the two. Trust me, it’ll be awesome. In this age of digital automation, creative radio board work is a lost art, but it doesn’t have to be.

This bit was, believe it or not, the introduction to a post about an edition of American Top 40 that I later changed to something else because I came to my senses.

We can’t really know how anything in life truly looks and feels to other people. One can describe the taste of chocolate or the sight of the color red, but what happens physically when one eats or looks—not to mention the constellation of mental images one experiences at the same time—would be different for each of us. And I am guessing my perceptions, if you could compare them to your own, would astound you, and vice versa. When we try to describe feelings, we’re on similarly shifting terrain. When I talk about love or trust or despair, you know the concept, but you almost certainly don’t feel those things the way I do.

We know this is true. We’ve experienced it when reading a review or a column or a blog post in which an author writes about a song, an album, a movie, or a book that affected him or her deeply—a work we’re familiar with, but one that does little or nothing for us personally. By whatever alchemy it happens, what that person experiences is vastly different from what we experience.

So when I write about how a single radio show feels to me like an organic whole that brings an entire season of my life into vivid detail, I need to remember that it probably doesn’t do the same thing for you.

Please plan to join us for a future edition of this feature, after my creative process fails a few more times.

7 thoughts on “Lost Art

  1. What was “Yellow River” doing on a Country station?

    Segues? Oh yeah. Try the last note of Isaac Hayes’ “Theme From Shaft” into the glissando that begins The Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back” (but hurry, because you may not be able to play Michael Jackson in another week). And Santana’s “Black Magic Woman/Gypsy Queen” into the Cars’ “Let’s Go”.

  2. Alvaro Leos

    If we’re doing random posts:
    What was you opinion of Shadoe Stevens era as host of American Top 40? Or for that matter, Casey’s stint as host of Casey’s Top 40 or post-1999 AT40? (There are plenty of airchecked episdoes for both on YouTube).

    1. Since you asked: I’m pretty sure I never heard a Shadoe Stevens edition of AT40, as I had ceased to be interested in top hits countdowns by then. One of my radio stations ran Casey’s latter-day show just before his retirement. Apart from having no interest in the music he was playing, I found him hard to listen to by then.

  3. Your last fragment resonates with me and is something I’ve given some thought to as well. I look at one of the charts I kept or hear a song from my college years, and images of where I was and what I remember feeling come back in a rush–how do I even begin to communicate those, either verbally or in writing? It seems like you’re hinting at another question: should I even try to do so? (My first inclination is yes, even if it’s only as an exercise to improve those skills.)

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