The Music Meme: Day 12

Day 12: A song that reminds you of your best friend


It was pretty much inevitable that we'd get to a TMBG song eventually. I've listened to them too long, with too much enjoyment, for there to be no prompt calling up one of their seemingly myriad songs. Still, the reasoning behind this one may not be immediately clear, so allow me to explain:

From the summer of 1981 until 1990, I sat behind the microphone at WXYC Chapel Hill (89.3 on your FM dial) almost every week. My years there introduced me to a lot of material, but it wasn't always the station personnel who were responsible. Sure, the music director would make decisions about which new records would receive Heavy airplay (3 tracks per hour had to come from this bin) and which would receive Medium airplay (1 track per hour, but not that many albums in the bin), and which would be relegated to Light airplay (1 track per hour from all the new records judged unworthy of H or M status), but aside from those five cuts, we DJs were permitted to pick whatever music we wanted. And we were also allowed to take requests.

The request line was always a bit dicey. Sometimes it would be clear that the listener was really digging your show and wanted to hear more music like the kind you were playing, but sometimes it was obviously being used as a thinly-disguised pan of your musical taste. A request might tell you quite a bit about your listener, too. The guy who asked for "Midnight Moonlight" by the Firm, for example, betrayed a degree of ignorance about our DJs in general; when we only got three hours a week to play the music we wanted, we were unlikely to give up nine minutes of that time, especially not for a single uninspired track of Paul Rodgers and Jimmy Page flogging their rockstar reps in order to pay for new beach houses.

At times I got to use the line as an educational tool, such as the time a guy called up to request that I play Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon.

"The whole album?!" I replied, astonished, because there is no WAY a DJ will ever play an entire album (or even one album side) for you, even if it's one he knows well and loves.

"No, just the song."

I blinked, but he couldn't see me. "There is no song called 'Dark Side of the Moon' on it."

"Yes there is!" he insisted.

"There's not," I said, preparing to have to list every track from memory.

"Yes, there is! You know, 'I'll see you on the dark siiiide of the moon...'" he sang.

"Oh, 'Brain Damage'!" I replied.

Click. 

He'd hung up on me, apparently upset that I'd criticized his brain. I went ahead and played "Brain Damage" (and even let the needle run through "Eclipse" to the end of the album, since the two songs are basically one finale), but I took the time to announce to my listeners that the name of the song was, in fact, not "Dark Side of the Moon." I'm dubious about whether my listener ever heard me, and more dubious about whether he thanked me for the lesson.

But the request line was also helpful because it allowed me to make my friends happy. If Ginny or Tom or Stu or any of my Chapel Hill pals wanted to hear something, they could make it happen with a phone call, and once I started dating Kelly (in May of '85), that privilege extended to her as well. Soon we were married and I started grad school, but I could still usually count on her to tune in to my shift, and often to call in with a request. Usually she knew what she wanted, but one day in late 1988, she was a bit more tentative.

"Hey, I want to request a song," she said. "I heard it the other day, but I don't know the name."

"Okay," I said. By this time I was not only a veteran DJ, but a record store clerk as well, so I had justifiable confidence in my ability to track down a song based on limited data. "What can you tell me about it?"

"I'm pretty sure it's new, and I think it's about the singer's imaginary Vietnamese girlfriend."

"Okay," I said again. This data was rather more limited than I'd hoped.

"I think her last name is Eng or something."

"Okay," I said, hanging up, and started digging.

For a new record, obviously the first place to look was the New Release bin. I just prayed this was an album the music director had approved for regular airplay and not something hidden back in the main record library. Or worse, it could be an obscure import 12" single that belonged to a DJ instead of the station. I started looking over album covers, hoping there'd be a clue to the song's topic in a title--something like "My Imaginary Vietnamese Girlfriend," say. I did not get that lucky. But as I finally dug my way through the bin to a blue album with some kind of wooden steeple-cum-podium on the front, fortune smiled upon me: though there was no name on the front cover, the song list on the back revealed that the first track was called "Ana Ng," and I gambled (successfully) that this was Kelly's song.

And that is how I was introduced to They Might Be Giants. How I'd missed their first album I don't know--must have been while we were getting married and stuff--but their second, Lincoln, ended up in our collection almost immediately after I heard the first crunchy chords of the opening song. Since then Kelly and I have delighted in TMBG, purchasing over a dozen of their recordings, introducing them to our kids (long before the band actually made any records for kids), and seeing them live on multiple occasions, including the occasion of Kelly's birthday, where the clock struck midnight and she turned forty right as the band was playing "She's an Angel."

So yes, I'm fortunate enough to be married to my best friend, and I'm reminded of her whenever this song plays. Had she been Vietnamese, I would have been perfectly happy, but I'm so, so grateful she's not imaginary.

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This page contains a single entry by Peter Cashwell published on August 17, 2017 12:50 PM.

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