June 05, 2005

Bye-bye Miss American Pie

How ironic -- and strictly coincidental -- it is that less than a week after I find my turntable has gone to rock 'n' roll heaven, the one "golden oldies" radio station New York has had for the past 33 years, WCBS-FM, has booted out its DJs in favor of a more "contemporary," "eclectic" format? It's another tiny passage into middle age.

One day, "It's my party and I'll cry if I want to"; the next, it's "All I want to do is have a little fun before I die...." I know the lyrics to each song equally well, but I had a head start on "All I wanna do," seeing that the woman who made it famous found a copy of my friend Wyn's first book of poems, The Country of Here Below, in a used book store, and contacted him about the rights to Fun, his poem. (Or maybe she had her people contact him. He's a poet. Poets don't have people like commercial musical acts do.)

Leslie Gore sang, "you would cry too, if it happened to you," in an almost-innocent voice, as if she were having a bad bouffant-hair night at the sock hop. That was a song you could shimmy to.

Whereas if you listened to my friend Wyn, the poet, recite, "All I want to do is have a little fun before I die," he is resigned, his tone one of defeat, of inescapable sadness. Sheryl Crow prettied up Wyn's poem and made a fortune in her interpretation. Otherwise, the poem's words could barely keep you from crying yourself into a fetal position, precluding any further movement.

Granted, I am not much of a radio listener these days. It seems to be part and parcel with my lack of recent driving experience. In high school, in college, the drill was the same: open car door, find comfy position in drivers' seat, buckle up, crack the window, light a cigarette, and turn the radio on. Watch, rinse, repeat.

My friends' older sisters all listened to Leslie Gore backed by Quincy Jones' production. In elementary school, we danced to Motown. Summer camp brought Simon & Garfunkel, CSN&Y, Joan Baez, Judy Collins, Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger, and all the other peace-loving folkies the counselor-guitarists played. Woodstock played a factor.

I sang for peace before I knew there was a war on. I wish I still could, but my innocence went the way of disco and New Wave music. Now I can neither forget there's a war on nor can I find contemporary lyrics to obscure the news of it.

Junior high brought Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon, Cat Stevens, James Taylor et. al. into the mix. Then Bruce Springsteen. ("Born to run" still brings into sharp focus waiting at the school bus stop, while my friend sang "tramps like us..." incessantly for months, and we watched the horses across the way make their way around the ring.)

The off-White Rabbit made his appearance in musical form courtesy of Jefferson Airplane. Grace Slick's higher education coincided with my mother's, at the same Manhattan college, formerly a finishing school.

The building, less than three blocks from my apartment, and just around the corner from the mayor's townhouse, is one of the more desirable blocks in my zip code, and it has long since been redeveloped into prewar co-op apartments.

Buying back my mom's dorm room could set you back far more than four years' tuition during her tenure there. Now, I suppose, the hot and cold water emerge from a single tap, and the lighting is far more flattering, both falling among the minor changes in the renovation.

A larger change? My radiologist is situated on the ground floor of my mother's old college. Mom drank Dewars and played bridge at that location; I visit it only to have my annual mammogram.

Questions? Answers? Here, on this very blog, you can go ask Alice. Logic and proportion have fallen sharply dead in the 21st century, and it is all I can do to feed my head. I've asked the off-White Rabbit, and he is equally clueless.

Billy Joel and his ilk came to my attention in the mid-70s, roughly the period of high school despair into depression years that make it impossible to listen to any song in hot rotation from '75 to '78 without stirring up feelings of places I've been and don't care to return to.

College: dancing to disco, hearing my first Blondie album and realizing that she sang in a new style, one I had to decide purposefully whether I liked it or not. Talking Heads. Joe Jackson. Lene Lovich. Elvis Costello. Most of the singers who signed contracts with Britain's Stiff Records label.

The record company's theme, silkscreened onto their T-shirts was, "if it ain't Stiff, it ain't worth a fuck." I liked them and more.

I could dance and smoke and flirt and drink all night, and who knew where I might be sleeping come sun up. In the pre-AIDS era, the worst thing that could happen (Jack the Ripper aside), was I'd get pregnant, and that, circa 1980, was easily taken care of.

My antidepressant intake alone would have granted me a get-out-of-pregnancy free card, not that, in those days, I needed to stack the deck. I am terrified that it would take only one new Supreme Court Justice to overturn Roe v. Wade.

I wasn't into the East Village, NC-17, pierce-body-part-with-safety-pin decorative self-destructive version of New Wave, preferring the R (not suitable for children unaccompanied by an adult or guardian) rating.

I chose the road taken by the upper class child who likes her creature comforts too much to sacrifice them. People who drive Volvos generally don't pierce much more than their ears.

I associate different music with different periods of my life. Every stage has its soundtrack. Almost half way through my 40s, I'm just not sure what cuts to select for the decade, or whether they will, in retrospect, select themselves.

Post-college, I knew I was too old for the clubs when my then-girlfriend, nine years my junior, took me to dance at Limelight, a deconsecrated church reinvented as night club. The music was termed "House." Lightly clad women danced in cages suspended from the club's ceilings.

I took one look and thought: the dancers must wear Dramamine patches so they don't get dizzy. My next thought was, this place must have a hell of a lot of liability insurance. And if that was "house" music, I would prefer to stay home.

With that awareness of liability insurance and fire exits, is it any wonder the allure of new music began to escape me at that moment in 1992? Or that today I am saddened by the loss of one of the few radio stations for which I retained some fondness, the one that never seemed to change, has finally marked (as Don McLean sang) the day the music died?


Blogger GuusjeM said...

Ah, the ablity of music to instantly transport back to another place and time! I too miss radio stations with real playlists. Great post!

9:07 AM  

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