Sunday, August 22, 2010

All We Hear Is ...

Although I think of myself as primarily a visual learner, I've realized in retrospect that the auditory has more subversively affected my life.  Despite a writer/reader''s love for the sight of type on white, the things I've heard have retained their effect on my thinking and my mood far more significantly; my memory box is more immediately and richly opened by music and sound.

As a child in the Bay Area, I remember a neighborhood teen and occasional babysitter, Beverly, walking by our house, a transistor radio the approximate size of an I-phone pressed to her ear.  No doubt, in those days, the sweet harmonies of doo-wop or the mellow baritone of the King were pulsing into her one ear, powered by transistors.  Rock around the clock.

I'd sit alone and watch your light
My only friend through teenage nights
And everything I had to know
I heard it on my radio

My first radio was the old-style clock radio with a rotary dial.  Now living in the Chicago burbs, I'd frantically spin the dial back and forth between WLS and WCFL hoping to create my own version of an all-Beatles all the time station.  I'd follow my favorite deejays, spinning that dial, feeling I was sharing the hip and larger cultural experience I could only imagine. A musical revolution was taking place before my ears and somehow, by just listening, I was in it.

The buttons on the car radio were set, and, although I tolerated Dad's enjoyment of Wally Phillips and WGN in the morning, when I finally got my driver's license it didn't take long to find my favorite stations.  Music mobilized, the background for cruising into town or conversations on the fly with friends.

College in the early 70's meant the campus radio station, the growing influence of FM, the annual trivial pursuit contest on-campus that still survives.  But by that time, radio was taking a back seat to albums that were played out dorm room windows or the Union overlooking the Fox River in a Wisconsin spring, live concerts and no car.  Music localized.

So don't become some background noise
A backdrop for the girls and boys
Who just don't know and just don't care
And just complain when you're not there
You had your time, you had the power
You've yet to have your finest hour
Radio - radio

I only returned to radio after my son was born, suddenly a stay-at-home mom with an infant and craving adult conversations that weren't necessarily limited to childcare and diaper brands.  There, in Denver, I discovered talk radio and for the only time in my life called in when Madelyn Murray O'Hair, renowned atheist, was the guest.  That particular show was the Alan Berg show - he the master of provocation, who said "Hopefully, my legal training will prevent me from saying the one thing that will kill me. I've come awfully close."  Talk radio was an entertainment, a passing phase that ended when I went to work and no longer had time to just listen.

When Berg was gunned down by automatic weapons in his driveway in 1984, I was affected viscerally - this was a man I had followed and spoken to one random day.  The events following this murder opened my world to an uglier side of life - the existence of the lunatic right who were willing to kill and those who thoughtlessly encourage them.    Those linked and convicted of his death were members of The Order, a white supremacist group of somewhat ordinary Americans who were infected by the book The Turner Diaries, a racist screed novel also on Timothy McVeigh's favorites list, formed a self-feeding hate group and ultimately turned to armed robbery and murder.

In those dark days, it was the radio that became the grief medium for callers throughout the night.  It also became the medium for discussing how far one could go without consequences.  His life and death became the subject of the book and movie Talked to Death.  The event was the precursor to today's scary scenario - the politicians who incite without understanding the very real potential of people acting on their demonizing enemy-making rhetoric.

It was a long time before I turned back to the radio and I never went back for the music.  These days, it's NPR as my clock radio wakeup voice to get my day started on the right foot and occasional snatches of talk radio, both moderate and lunatic on my brief commutes.    Those brief glimpses allow me to keep track of what meme the far right is now trying to promote (the "mosque" in NYC meme, for example).  These days, it's mostly noise - ugly noise that should not be underestimated - that resonates with me more vividly perhaps because of the Alan Berg murder.

Radio has lost its cachet as a news outlet and here's why.  I was recently contacted by a local radio newsperson who wanted to interview me on the radio about a local issue coming before a subcommittee of the Council next Tuesday.  Presumably before he started the taping (I'm never told when taping starts), he admitted that he had not read my report.  Consequently, I spent a lot of that interview trying to answer questions that were not quite on point.  Was he that hard up for stories or just rushing to meet deadline?  How valuable might the interview have been if he had read the report?  How relevant might his questions have been?  And so it goes....the journalism of the new millenium.

All we hear is radio ga ga
Radio goo goo
Radio ga ga
All we hear is radio ga ga
Radio goo goo
Radio ga ga
All we hear is radio ga ga
Radio blah blah
Radio what's new ?
Radio, someone still loves you

Today's earworm:  part of Queen's epic moment at Live Aid - Radio GaGa.  Watch how he moves the masses, but in a generally good direction.  Mesmerizing the crowd - is it really that easy?


  1. This is a huge, undulating topic these days; the power, heft and bulk of radio, whether words or music. Like you my childhood was soundtracked with a wall of sound, from albums to Top 40 (in my next blog I invoke the name of Dick Biondi!) and whether my first transitor, my many record players, now my Ipod and AOL Radio, it has been a very vocal partner in my life from the very beginning. Your story about Alan Berg is profound - I remember the event and the movie, and like too many other stories of its ilk, it's one of hate and ignorance and that seems too prevalent a theme these days.

    Unfortunately, in a way, radio (and internet) has given tremendous outreach power to fomenters of bigotry and violence and when blowhards like Rush Limbaugh and others fan the flames with their miniscule-minded diatribes, it becomes a weapon of great impact. I can only hope the wiser voices speak as loudly to counteract the bile that passes as viewpoint these days. This mosque "debate," is, to my way of thinking, not much different than the growling, spewing venom that was thrown at the little black kids marching into school in defiance of George Wallace and his kind...we are a country filled with "God loving" haters and radio, in this country of Free Speech, has given them wide berth. God love our Constitution but, damn, if the haters don't use it for evil!

    Keep writing, Cris, keep speaking. You and me and others who refuse to accept this hate-speak can only push back by continuing to speak ourselves - if not louder..cuz ya can't scream louder than a raging bully - then certainly wiser and more sensible. We must hope to affect the sensibilities of anyone who listens and is willing to hate less, tolerate more, understand more and exercise a wider mind. And that hope, that task, is worth the effort. You never know when someone might be willing to change their mind. WRITE ON!!!

  2. Grinning at the Biondi reference. I'll raise you a Lujack and wait for your blog. Lor, yes we can only speak up and out. Free speech - yes, let's free speech from hate.

  3. Recently read a book where the author said something like, "when you are ready to kill for your God, you need to kill your God." She's a Buddhist monk whose name escapes me right now - but I have really enjoyed her book. The more I learn about other religions, the more I'm stunned at how people can actually stand up against one another in the name of their religion. At the core, just about all of the religions are based on purity and honor. It's very shocking that people are willing to kill over details surrounding God.
    Great post, Cris. I love reading your blogs. They're so thought provoking. Echoing Lorraine - write on, sista.

  4. great quote, Kristin. At the core of great religions of the world still seems to be the maxim - love your neighbor (as an expression of your god-love) for me almost always!