Radio is a challenge around here. For a variety of reasons. Content is the usual culprit and I am a picky priss when it comes to radio; I get crabby when the playlist is safe and easy. My female crush on radio personality Mary Lucia started the day she played the latest indie darlings - real indie darlings, not perform-on-the-grammys indie darlings - followed by "I Think I Love You" by the Partdridge Family. Totally unapologetic! How I loved her for that! So now Mary Lucia is the benchmark by which I judge all playlists. Don't give me your Coldplay followed by Nickelback! Your Michael Franti followed by Adele! I love you Adele, I really do, I just don't want you to follow Michael Franti or Coldplay or Nickelback. You'll shine so much more when someone actually thinks about the songs being played.
And subscription radio is not the answer because it has a canned, timeless, placeless presence that lets you float, unmoored and isolated, in Anywhereland, USA. It's like the sonic version of the movie "WALL-E". There could be things taking place outside your car windows but you'd never know about it; it doesn't touch you. Nothing touches you as you hurdle headlong into nowhere in your movable musical pod. Life doesn't touch you when you listen to subscription radio.
Do you know what does put me here, in this place? Aerosmith. Have you heard "Sweet Emotion" today? I have. TWICE! Oh - there it is again! New England LOVES Aerosmith. Aerosmith is in such heavy rotation here that you'd think they'd just dropped their biggest album. And it's not just the hits that we all know, it's deep tracks and B sides, playing right along side Rihanna and Katy Perry. It's so weird. Someday, I'm going to go up to a local and casually say, "Did you know that "Mama Kin" was not a radio hit in the rest of the world?" and just see if they start to cry. In Minneapolis, we love our Prince but the radio stations don't play "Soft and Wet" twice a day.
But even Aerosmith can get lost as you weave along these country roads................don't ever take your reception for granted, people. Reception, reception, reception! Radio is meaningless without good reception! When a good song comes on the radio, I get nervous, and I think "please don't take this away from me!" Just let me listen to the whole thing without having it crackle crackle away on me. Please? One day, I accidentally hit the seek button while listening to a story on NPR - and once it sought, it couldn't find my NPR station again. Gone! (crackle crackle) Poof! And I said out loud at my radio "I WANT MY FUCKING NPR! Now I will never know how Oprah was part of the neo-liberal era!"
Radio seems like a trivial thing to complain about. It seems petty. Like I'm looking for a fight. But we spend a lot of time in our cars and you can't underestimate the power it has in our daily lives. It informs, it entertains, it gives us a sense of place and it weaves a thread of memory through everything we do. Whether it's creating a memory or recalling a memory, radio is the unobtrusive soundtrack attaching itself to whatever is happening at that moment; it can make feelings and emotions magically re-appear in your car, seemingly unprovoked, out of nowhere, twenty years down the road. Pun intended. Like when Steve Winwood comes on the radio today and I float backwards to one of the most profound moments of my life..............when my friend, my lovely, sweet, never-uttered-an-unkind-word friend, looked me squarely in the face and told me she was going to die. Words that no 25 year old should ever have to say. And words that this 25 year old was mostly incapable of comprehending.
And a song made me feel it again, in my car.
Radio songs are not of our choosing. They are chosen for us, sometimes at just the right moment. Just when we need it most, we hear the mandolin of "Maggie May" and it's a gift because we didn't go out and choose it and press play. We didn't even know we needed it. It's as if someone sees that I need a little mandolin and a little Rod Stewart and a little sing along in the car to cheer me up. And voila. Happiness.
So when I'm driving down these country roads and "Maggie May" starts to crackle and fade out, I get mad. And I curse this out of the way location. Messing with my gift. And I long for a landscape littered with radio towers and cell towers and things that let me be who I am. And then I hear Liam in the backseat, quietly singing "Sweeeeeeeeeeeeet emooooooooooooooo-tion........" and it's just too much!
Sigh. Radio radio says Elvis Costello. Perhaps I am spoiled. Or perhaps I just didn't know what I had until it was gone. When you turn on your radio today, and it doesn't suck, and it doesn't crackle and fade away, be grateful. And if you get a little mandolin, say thank you and keep on truckin.'