As a teenager I couldn’t fall asleep without listening to music. Every night I’d pop in a cassette of one of those King Biscuit Flower Hour concerts I’d recorded off the radio and rock myself to sleep while studying the details of how the Attractions, for instance, could skillfully bring it down behind Elvis Costello on “Motel Matches” and then burst back into the fore with a Pete Thomas snare hit. Or the way Patti Smith Group could sloppily plow their way through their cover of “My Generation” with not an ounce of finesse or style that the Who brought to the original. It didn’t matter that they sounded like they were winging it. Smith barked out the lyrics as if possessed. I imagined the guys in the band unleashing shit-eating grins after an hour-long set dedicated to the noble effort of performing silted originals that awkwardly attempted to graft Smith’s free verse poetry to musical variations of Them’s “Gloria,” their keynote cover song. As a practicing musician, I knew from experience the thrill of sloppily running through those garage-band classics.
I had to keep my cassette tape collection fresh, so once a week I’d load up a blank cassette and tape the latest King Biscuit concert off WMMR, excluding the monthly forays into up-and-coming Corporate Rock bands like Journey. WIOQ occasionally featured a newly released, vaguely New Wave album. One month I taped both a live concert and the second album by Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers. They seemed like a New Wave band even the traditional stoner dudes could grasp. For younger readers, I should note, the practice of taping music off the radio was the equivalent of downloading music illegally. We were the first generation to kill the record industry.
In terms of listening to music for the purpose of falling asleep, an especially counterproductive practice occurred on Sunday nights, when I tuned into the University of Pennsylvania’s WXPN for a low-wattage broadcast of Yesterday’s Now Music Today, hosted by someone named Lee Paris. I don’t recall how I stumbled across this underground show. Paris had none of the insider cool of the FM DJs I’d been getting accustomed to. He got nowhere near backstage with the Boss or Jackson Browne. He had no time for the Stones. His enthusiasm and sense of wonder were more in tune with the early ‘70s AM DJs I grew up with, but he lacked their concise professionalism and compressed, booming tone. He raved about the new music he was playing and the underground bands passing through Philadelphia’s small clubs. He likely chatted up some of these bands, but he never gave the impression that he was a confidante of the artists, the way one legendary WIOQ DJ, in particular, did when dropping tales of his latest encounter with the Boss or Billy Joel.