Saturday, November 21, 2009

Fooling with the Logarithms, Going Berserk

It crackles, it clicks, it pops, it starts...

We could hardly have been more different.

I was nerdy and obsessed with music, looking for escape and lost in my imagination. She was tough and sexy and careless.

I don't know how it started or why. She called me one night and told me she was getting high and blowing the smoke out her window. (To this day, I'm not sure why she told me that.)

I told her I was listening to the radio and reading Dostoyevsky. (I told her that because it was true.)

The outlines are blurred now, but some details are clearer than ever. During the first snowfall of the year, in front of the candy store whose owner would soon be arrested for selling drugs, she told me she wanted to run her own hair and nail salon and change her name to Jewelie. I wanted to keep from laughing when she mentioned that.


Before the internet, before MTV, before MP3s, people used to listen to the radio.

And briefly, in the late 70s, a band called The Sports sneaked onto the radio in the U.S. They sounded like a smoother version of Joe Jackson or Graham Parker. I didn't know at the time they were from Australia -- they sounded like dozens of other bands being packaged as "new wave."

But they'd figured out a sure-fire way to get radio play. They wrote a song about radio. It was one of the oldest gimmicks in music (but also one of the more effective ones). Then they took the gimmick up a notch and recorded dozens of customized versions of their radio-centric song, replacing the second "the radio" from the chorus with call letters of radio stations in the top media markets. The stations who were name-checked couldn't wait to play the song (and sometimes edited the call-letter shout-out to use in station-identification spots.

Ironically, I'd heard the "normal" version of this song on the cool radio station near where I lived. Months later, the more top-40 oriented station (which wasn't nearly as cool) started playing the "special" version of the song and I wondered if the band knew how uncool that other station was. (Probably not -- they were in Australia.)


My relationship with "Jewelie" didn't last long. We had little in common and she was always picking fights with me.

She drove an ancient beige Buick covered with rust spots and filled with fast-food wrappers. The tires were bald and the brakes squealed and she always drove too fast. The radio in the car was broken and she'd never bothered to get it fixed. The rust and tires and brakes I could understand, but not fixing the radio was a complete mystery to me.

A few weeks after that first snowfall, a heatwave settled into New England, turning the white ground cover slushy and gray until it disappeared altogether. It got cold again, but didn't snow for a while. And sometime in those cold days of waiting for more snow, "Jewelie" called me because she was mad that I didn't have any friends in prison. She yelled at me and dumped me over the phone, then complained that I had the radio on in the background. The station was playing the Sports at the very moment when she asked me "who listens to the radio anyway?"

Me. And everyone I knew.

But not her.

Our other problems would have been difficult to solve... but that one was impossible.

3 comments:

Barely Awake In Frog Pajamas said...

I think I dated that girl, too.

thingy said...

You are a terrific writer. Damn.

Alex said...

Barely, she did get around...

Thanks, Thingy.

And a belated h/t to the Retro Music Snob for reminding me about this song today...