On Air Mix Tape

January 24, 2019

download-7First, we’ll get a little business out of the way. If you’re reading this and it’s still January of 2019, you’re in luck. A few weeks ago, my brother Kevin and I went to my favorite radio station, WUMB, and recorded an hour-long radio show, “Guest Mix,” that will air this Saturday, January 26 at 1 p.m. If you’re so inclined, please listen! We promise a magical mystery tour that will not disappoint. . .

Kevin would insist on saying the song choices are mine (he does have a reputation to protect), but he does have to acknowledge he is the reason I love and listen to radio in the first place. In middle school, Kevin was the one who figured out how to connect our TV antenna to the radio so we could listen to the infamous Charles Laquidara on Boston’s WBCN and Dr. Demento on Portland’s WBLM even though we lived in the New Hampshire hinterlands.

 

Kev also made mixed tapes with clips from these radio shows plus tracks from his collection of Columbia House and RCA Record club albums, and he’d play them on the bus for away basketball games where it seemed universally accepted by all of us he was in charge of the entertainment. When Kevin became a DJ in college, I followed him into the broadcast booth, literally paging through the list of what he’d played to get ideas of how to set up my own show the following day.

 

But other than music and a mutual love for our mom’s mac and cheese, Kevin and I have never had a whole lot in common. We chose different paths almost from the beginning, and I think even we are a little surprised we live only a couple hours rather than a few thousand miles away from each other now.

 

But music continues to connect us, whether we’re talking about what’s new or getting nostalgic for what’s not. Kevin and I still listen to radio too, though his favorite station is WERS from Emerson College, and mine is UMass Boston’s WUMB, the station where our show will air.

 

So thanks to WUMB, especially DJ and musician Brendan Hogan who was a great tour guide for this trip. While I won’t divulge the playlist (you need to tune in for that), you can have an idea of what we chose from the breadcrumb trail of album covers I’ve scattered throughout the post. I encourage guesses for the tracks we played!

And if you haven’t listened to WUMB (or Kev’s favorite WERS for that matter), check them out. There is still great radio even without a satellite feed, and if you’re worried about your smart speaker listening in, just know Big Brother might learn a thing or two by getting an earful of Steve Earle, Richie Havens, Ani DiFranco, Emmylou Harris, and all the other rabble rousers always on the airwaves of the stations that still matter.

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Kev and me with Brendan Hogan. If I look slightly overwhelmed, it’s because I was thinking of all the amazing musicians that have played in this very studio. Jayhawks, Richard Thompson, Alison Krauss, and more. Truly hallowed ground!

While I was entrenched in myriad everyday tasks having absolutely nothing to do with writing, a copy of the Fall 2010 Louisville Review arrived in my mailbox and reminded me that there are delights in the world other than the daily chores of living and making sure I get enough fiber in my diet.

This issue of Louisville Review includes Chapter 7 of My Brief History of Sex Education, which I cleverly re-titled “The Integrity Test,” and of course I won’t let on what happens in this excerpt other than saying there is such a thing as an Integrity Test with multiple choice questions you answer by filling in dots with a No. 2 pencil and I did have to take one way back when. Whether I passed or not is for you to discover on your own. (FYI, the Vegas oddsmakers put my chances at 6 to 1 against).

While it may seem odd for me to publish chapters here and there before publishing the book itself, it’s actually pretty standard in the small world of literary publishing and it also worked pretty well for Charles Dickens a long time ago so I figure it’s okay. Not that I’m comparing myself to Charles Dickens, if only because my entire book is about the length of one chapter in David Copperfield and I don’t have nearly as many cliff-hanger endings. 

But seeing another portion of the book published made me feel a little better about my chances at getting the entire manuscript in print all at once, and it also put me in the mind of how often we only remember the bits and pieces of things rather than remembering the whole.

When my friend Holly read a chapter I’d published in the magazine Prairie Schooner, “Method Acting,” she remarked that it was amazing I’d remembered so much because her memories of high school were “sketchy at best.” But aren’t all of our memories sketchy and it’s just that I remember sketches she’d forgotten? I might remember school plays and band concerts and first dates gone horribly awry because I was intimately involved, but don’t ask me if or when the basketball team went to the state championships or who any of the prom queens were or what the art or home ec or history teachers were like because I flat out cannot tell you. And it’s not because I don’t think that stuff is important, because I know that in high school everything is important to someone, even if what was important for someone else was spending as little time as possible in school and being done with it as soon as possible. Memories aren’t always good.

Sculpture by my friend Reynard Rochon–he calls it “Alone in My Room.” I call it “How Memory Becomes Art.”

But back to the bits and pieces—isn’t that how our memories are formed in the first place? Except for frat boys knowing verbatim all the words to Animal House and Caddyshack, don’t most of us remember only parts of what we wholly love? We remember scenes from movies, images from books, how a painting makes us feel rather than each individual brush stroke. And it’s the whole, complete feelings that those individual details leave us with that is so important, isn’t it? So below I will honor the memorable sections of songs, in part because music is the undercurrent running through My Brief History of Sex Education, and in part because I suspect music is the undercurrent of life (or perhaps the big raging river) for most all of us.

And since I think we all know and love the obvious—like the bottom end of White Stripes “Seven Nation Army” or the Emergency Broadcast System intro for the Breeders’ “Last Splash” or the first pounding piano chords of the Jayhawks’ Hollywood Town Hall that told you not only was the incomparable Nicky Hopkins still alive but that real rock and roll might have survived the eighties after all–here are some that might be new for you. And yes all of these are relatively old songs, but if I used current ones how would that really test the theory that they’re memorable? Give me a little credit.

The Pretenders, “Middle of the Road”

The 5-second vicious purr Chryssie Hynde spurts out before her harmonica solo (3:21). And yes, she can do it live too. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wsnMFfMmV8I

ELO, “Do Ya” 

You’d think Jeff Lynne, with all his over-the-top orchestrations, might be a sedate guy, but there’s a lot of great growl in ELO songs, and my favorite part of my favorite ELO song is where he sings “Aw. . . look out. . . ” (3:25) and so the song ends. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5bci283mfNs

Steve Miller Band, “Take the Money and Run”

The handclaps (0:35 and 1:16). I am a big fan of the use of handclaps, and these are my favorite post-Motown, post-Beatle, but I’d love more input if you have suggestions!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jZwLsvO6YTw

Crosby Stills & Nash “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” 

Where Stephen Stills sings “Can I tell it like it is. . .” (at 3:40). The song is so long, there’s no way you’d keep on listening if he didn’t break it open halfway through and he sure does it well.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l4FNqNTfc18

Maria McKee, “Sweet Relief”

The crystal-clear “wooo” Maria McKee sings at the end of this great Victoria Williams song (2:26). Maria can do joy like no one else.

http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=maria+mckee+sweet+relief&aq=f

Harry Nilsson, “Jump Into the Fire” 

As you may already know, as a young child I imprinted on Harry Nilsson like a baby duck to its mama, so he has to be here—beginning with the drum solo, a bass line that digs so low I’m pretty sure only elephants can hear the rumble, and then, um yeah, everything else that follows (3:58) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ySsnE3aB36I

I’d love to hear your own suggestions of what I’m sure I’ve missed. . . and in the meantime go way, way, way down to the bottom of my blog and subscribe. Facebook is becoming passé and it’s the only way I reach most of you; trust me when I say you don’t want to miss a thing.

I feel a kinship with the late Harry Nilsson and not just because we both do our best work in our bathrobes. Nilsson Schmilsson was the album I most adored growing up, one of the few eight-track tapes my parents owned and, I’m pretty sure, the only one they owned that wasn’t a “best of.” Best of the Doobie Brothers, Best of Linda Ronstadt, Best of Kris Kristofferson–you get the picture. In addition to their small pile of eight-tracks, my parents owned about 500 record albums, mostly jazz and classical, but I was not allowed to use the record player myself because in sixth grade I’d heard the rumors about Zeppelin IV having devil messages you could hear if you played their album backwards and since I didn’t own Zeppelin IV, I tried finding the devil messages on my 45 of Abba’s “Fernando,” and ruined the needle.  (In case you’re wondering, there were no subliminal messages to be found on “Fernando.”)

But Nilsson Schmilsson was on eight-track, so I listened to it over and over again, dancing and jumping off the couch for the fast songs, lying down to stare at the ceiling to sing along to the slow songs, and being utterly amazed when I’d tell friends how much I loved this album only to have them tell me they had absolutely no idea who Harry Nilsson was. How could they not know him? Harry Nilsson was the best!

But Harry Nilsson was just the best out of a collection of five “best of” eight-tracks my parents owned, and the only other music in my life still consisted primarily of whatever songs I heard on the on soft rock station that came in on my clock radio, whatever I sang in church or in the school choir, and whatever I heard Joe Guyotte play on his boom box in the back of the bus as we headed to school. There was so much else in the world, but this was the world I lived in, this is what I remember. I knew for a fact that Harry Nilsson was the best (and in some ways I still believe this), but what are the facts when placed against more than just my own recollections?

I’m dwelling on this because last night my mom phoned me up and as I settled down to await her effusive praise on my nostalgic posting about her old racing days, she instead proceeded to tell me all I’d gotten wrong . . . she and Dad ice raced on Newfound Lake, not Winnipesaukee, they were road racers not stock car racers, I’d misspelled Bryar Motorsports Park, and my dad did not smoke cigarillos but proper cigars (and here my dad shouted from the living room that I’m right and Mom is wrong, because they were cigarillos, and I said “Yeah, they were Swisher Sweets,” and Dad gave out this anguished groan and said, “No! Garcia Y Vega!”)

“I was five!” I shout back, “Give me a break!” but then I go and edit the blog accordingly.

Maybe this is why I call my blog “Fact or Fiction.” While I am always convinced I’m telling the truth, my facts are seen through my lens and there are always extenuating factors. I was five! I was drunk! I was in love! My parents only owned five eight-track tapes! There are endless reasons a memory may be skewed, making whatever we recall seem more like fiction than fact, however certain we are it’s the only truth, the absolute truth.

So I’m thinking I would love to have an endless store of excuses for why my facts are off, why my memory is shot full of holes. What else is there besides youth and love and the mixing of memory with various mind-altering substances that makes us misremember the past? What else is there besides the simple fact of not owning enough eight-tracks?

Thanks to Joe who helped me figure out how to include the cool lettering.

I await your suggestions. . . (in my bathrobe).