I’ve been listening to a lot of old-school soul and R&B lately (for instance, this song, which fits right in with the blog: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E2E_RSJAhYU) and feeling a bit nostalgic for those days of my youth, when my parents were always either fighting or ignoring each other, and my brothers and I were left to our own amusements. Our amusements were pretty simple: destroying things, creating things, and finding ways to go faster and further. I was more concerned with the bookish aspect of these pursuits – I was a nerd – but I still participated when I wanted to or when I was forced to. It was a good childhood and I’m glad I had it; in fact I appreciate it even more now that I’m a parent. Just like every parent will say to his or her kid, things were different back then, and even if they weren’t better it sure seems like they were (through the haze of nostalgia). What’s that, you say, you want a few examples? Why certainly!
AM Radio: My memories of music start from two places – my parents record collection, and the old stereo we had by our swimming pool. My parents had an interesting collection, with show tunes, Johnny Cash, Neil Diamond, The Eagles, Steve Miller Band, and many more. To this day I can still sing along to the all of the songs in “Paint Your Wagon” and most of the songs from “Some Days are Diamonds” by John Denver. Yes, it was a white-washed collection, but I also got a little bit of soul and funk from the AM radio. You may remember the TV show “WKRP in Cincinnati,” and if you do, that was a fairly accurate representation of what it was like to listen to AM radio, or any radio, in the 70s. When you scan the AM “dial” now you get right-wing blowhards, extreme oldies, two dozen Spanish stations, one or two country stations, and a handful of turn-or-burn religion. That’s a bit sad. That stereo we had by our pool was one of those old console units, with a depressed record player in the middle and the radio dial, and two huge box speakers on either end; of course it was light tan (avocado green would have been another safe guess). We had it tuned to either KFI or, if we were feeling rocking, KLOS or KMET (the latter of which sadly became a light jazz station and helped turned KLOS into the unlistenable dinosaur it is today).
You may have heard of K-Tel records, the precursor to the NOW series of today. Those K-Tel records were the original mix tapes, and they represented what you would hear on AM radio. A Captain & Tenille song, a KISS song, a wimpy singer-songwriter, a pop-rock gem, a disco song and a soul song. It was a cool mix that didn’t have many boundaries, and it led to me liking a wide variety of music (even while I was trying hard to be a rocker). Fuck, to this day I love disco, and that’s because of KFI.
Radio stations are more rigid these days. No more Dr. Johnny Fever followed by Venus Flytrap. It’s all programmed and pre-recorded and focus-grouped to death. It’s also different with the internet; in the 70s radio was just about the only way to find new music; now, there is more than you could ever digest right at your fingertips. I’m not saying the way I grew up with is better, but it’s just what I remember with fondness. It means I can go from listening to Smokey Robinson to listening Alter Bridge and appreciate both of them.
One thing that I WILL say was better in my youth is Monday Night Football. Again, access to all sorts of information has removed the magic from this medium. When I was a kid, every Sunday we got to watch one, or two if we were lucky, football games. We couldn’t go down to the Greasy Nuts Sports Bar and choose from any game we wanted. We had to watch what they gave us. We also didn’t have ESPN, Fox Sports, or any other sports channel to show us the highlights for our game. That was where MNF came in. They, and only they, had the highlights. If I wanted to see the two most important plays from my Chargers game, I had damn well better be watching MNF at halftime or else I was shit out of luck. MNF also had THE BEST announcers, and they were as much of an attraction as the game. That monopoly made MNF something special. My memories are of us in the living room watching the game, me under an afghan my mom had knitted, no matter who was playing, because it was one of the few chances to watch football. I also remember pops falling asleep during most of the games, and occasionally waking up and saying “you kids be quiet!” even though we weren’t making noise, and then falling back asleep. I’ve taken on the falling asleep part of that; it’s in the genes.
I’m not saying my way was better than what kids have today, and I know 30 years from now today’s kids will be saying the same thing about how they have things today. Bully for them. They just don’t know how bad they really have it.