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.
Great piece Mr. Moderator! I too listened to Lee and miss those free form days of XPN…back when some of the DJs there were actually Penn students interested in the newest and different sounds.
I look forward to your book …at least I hope you’re writing a book 🙂
I can’t fall asleep very well without the radio on to this day . . . for awhile it was classical music . . . which an SO called “nightmare music.”
Early in the dating life with my wife I put on Terry Riley’s In C to fall asleep. She didn’t depend on music for falling to sleep, and that album made her wonder whether she was sleeping with a psycho killer. Of course, we weren’t sharing the same bed or anything like that…we were not yet married. I don’t want anyone to get the wrong idea.
And her psycho-killer concerns–did they ever diminish? Heh heh.
Since reading this yesterday, I’ve been trying to think of whether there were bands for me that caused such instant “harmony” as Pere Ubu did for you. I’ve come to the conclusion I can’t really think of any (which could mean that now that I’ve turned 50, I just can remember any). There are albums that on first listen I immediately listened to again, there are songs that I loved and made me want to hear more by the band. But you describe something that seems more cellular and I don’t think I’ve had that sort of connection and transcendence with one particular band.
That was great, thanks! I love those weird old radio shows I used to listen to. There aren’t as many these days, but then I’m not sitting at home by myself, searching the radio dial like I did back then. I also don’t play music to fall asleep, because it just doesn’t work. I used to love a show on WCSB probably around the same time as the one you’re talking about. I can’t remember the kid that did it, but the show was called London’s Burning, and the commercial used to play London’s Burning and the kid would talk over it and say, “Are you bored, and do you hate everything? Then listen to London’s Burning for the best Punk Trash and Noise.” Or something like that. There have been others, but I don’t remember them. So many of those shows are a fancy for a student for a year or so, then they move on.
This is a great piece, Mod.
And if you aren’t writing a book along these lines, you should be.
I had a similar experience with YNMT (and the King Biscuit Flower Hour, btw). I can still see the cheap Webcor cassettes I used to tape those shows. They came three in a pack at the supermarket checkout. They had no case, just the tape.
One night on YNMT, Lee went from “do it clean” to Syd’s Terrapin to something by Bunnydrums. I was mesmerized; finally, there was a place on the radio where I could hear some of the bands that people were talking about that I hadn’t yet heard.
Here’s a good Bunnydrums Youtube to get you back in the state of mind for this stuff:
You’re right about the overemphasis on Gothy stuff. It just seemed like that’s the way the wind was blowing at the time. Who among us didn’t date a Goth girl for at least a little while?
Thanks for the memories!