Last week I learned via a post from Reggae Steady Ska that May 29, 2019 was dubbed (see what I did there?) The Specials Day in Los Angeles, California. Now I was a little confused as to why LA would honor a band who hails from the UK, but then again, I am a white woman in RI who listens to reggae, rock steady, and ska. The idea that The Specials themselves and the themes of their music exemplify and encourage diversity is what drew a Los Angeles councilwoman to hold them up for the city to see. It drew me to my CD rack (yes, I still own those) and The Specials album I hadn’t listened to in far too long.
As the bright beats of trumpet danced above the driving guitar, the music swelling from the speakers and spilling into the corners of this room and the next, I realized the deep hole that is left inside me when music doesn’t play.
I have four children. My house, my life, my mind is very loud. The last few years I’ve taken to not turning the radio on at all in the car because, there is enough noise in there already. The power button on the radio is one level of sound on which I can hit the kill switch. About a year or so ago, on a return drive from ‘the city’, about an hour away from home, I got through more than two thirds of the trip before I realized I hadn’t even turned the radio on then, when I was by myself. The cacophony in my head was complete if I couldn’t even partake of music when I could listen uninterruptedly to what I chose.
And that’s so sad.
Most of my memory has an overlay of obsession with music. So many genres and artists. So many generations and styles. I’ve imagined the soundtrack of certain parts of my life and relive other parts of my life through song.
In August 2017, 95.5 WBRU, the local modern rock radio station I had cut my anti-establishment musical teeth on, closed up shop. (Well, they were sold to a Christian rock outfit.) I still had the CDs, I still had internet access, I still had the memories – if I dare be so dramatic – but I mourned the loss of that running record of new and individualistic music as if someone close to me had died. Still, nearly two years later, I wax nostalgic if I happen to catch the low-power signal they sometimes broadcast on. I still post from time to time about how much I miss the station when I find a song they used to play on YouTube. I was getting to the point where even I was wondering what was wrong with me. Why was I so attached to a freaking radio station?
The obvious answer is because its going off the air was a death of part of my youth. BRU’s Retro Lunch was the soundtrack to the lunch we all had at my house before Junior Prom. Their Screamer of the Week was something I talked about with the guy I’d just started dating. Their Friday Night Countdown was what I recorded onto a cassette and mailed him when he went away to Boot Camp and we were still dating. So many pivotal moments of my coming of age were backed up by the beats of WBRU.
And research shows that songs elicit the same emotions we experienced when we first heard or listened to them most frequently. If I loved that part of my life and its soundtrack was now going away, it was almost as if that part of my life was dying. A leap, yes. And yes, I can cue up any of those songs on a streaming service or ‘go down the YouTube rabbit hole’ as I say my husband does of an evening every so often (He likes to relive the days I made him all those mixed tapes – yes, we married), but the spontaneity of what would appear next, the destiny of your song coming on at just the right moment, the discovery of something new you’ve never heard before, or hearing it at the moment of its release – that magic of the broadcasting universe is gone.
That radio station represented my teenage self thumbing my nose at the world. It signified my independence, culling my own style, my own voice, my own philosophy. I started listening to it when I was first heading out into the world. Its closing reminds me that I’ve been out here some time now. Not hearing it makes me suddenly wake up from the melodious trance and notice all the things I wanted to do, but haven’t yet. I don’t know really any much more than I did then; I am really no happier than I was then. The teenage angst has been switched out for that of the existential sort. Only now I can’t blare the radio and rage.
I think the closing of BRU was also the death knell of something bigger in my life. The joy of music I once had. The carefree release of a rollicking rhythm. Now I think too much about heavier things. I have too much to do. I don’t have time to pop in the CD or turn on the radio before I rush on to the next thing. I really feel adrift when the only two stations that play anything remotely my style of music either are out of range or on commercial. There’s probably a part of me that figures it’s so different, so lesser, then why bother trying to find the music at all.
It’s no secret that I hate change. I dig my heels in and get drug along unwillingly more often than not. I’m trying to open my heart to grace, allowing the full potential of situations, my life unfold. I know reopening my heart and soul to music would only make the journey that much richer. It’s just sad when you’d found your canon and reveled in it – and now it’s gone. But I can always use signs from the universe – like FB posts read in RI of UK bands being honored in LA – to signal it’s time to break out those old albums. And there’s always Pandora. But if it’s not painfully apparent already – I’ll always be hopelessly old school.
LA Councilwoman Monica Rodriguez with Horace Panter and Terry Hall of The Specials