On the Radio: Charting New Territory



I have been a music maniac since New Year’s Eve 1968. These days, however, I describe myself more of an aficionado or, at least, a purveyor of the odd tune. But it was indeed a crazed, obsessive, and awestruck “maniac” that first expressed his doe-eyed and pert-eared wonder on that cold wintry night.
My sister Polly and I were home alone: she, in the den watching television and I, in my room, rearranging furniture and listening to the AM radio airwaves of WCOG. There, in my most intimate of privacy, I had my first meaningful pubescent moment.

Casey Kasem’s “American Top Forty” countdown of the top tunes of 1968 was excitedly announced as just moments away. Not knowing what to expect, I left the dial in place and moved my bed toward an alternative wall. The radio, after all, might make a suitable companion.

And then it started: no. 100 was “Do You Know the Way to San Jose?” … no. 76, “The Fool on the Hill” … no. 62, “Revolution” …
By that time the die was cast. I had taken my radio and pillows into the living room and opened the draperies to reveal the snow-blanketed ‘scape. I curled up on the sofa intently and eagerly had “all ears” on the deejay.

No. 31, “Spooky” … no. 23, “Magic Carpet Ride” … no. 12, “Hello, I Love You”
By that point, my sister had gone to bed, full of tease and mockery at my expense. My parents had returned and, yet, retired to bed as well. I was alone, having the time of my life (for age twelve), and not about to leave the room for as much as a soda.

No. 7, “Judy in Disguise” … no. 4, “Honey” … no. 3, “Love is Blue” 
From that night on (until much longer than I’d care to admit), I listened to Mr. Kasem dutifully every week, maintaining a journal of my lists and a catalogue of all my records. By the time I graduated from high school, I owned over a thousand 45’s and probably three hundred LPs. And that was just the start. My collection grew geometrically, eventually veering to cassettes to eight-tracks to CDs to downloads. Three of my neighborhood buddies from way back then are on Facebook and will reluctantly attest to my proselytizing the merits of the latest turntable sirens, and thus often holding them hostage!

And in 1968, the no.2 song was “I Heard it Through the Grapevine”

I had purchased 45’s before that New Year’s Eve. My mother, Beatles fan that she was, shared with me her fondness for popular music and rock ‘n roll! At the very least, her car was always ebullient with the current sounds of the pop troubadours. In contrast, my father always had his car radio tuned to a news station.

But it was the escalating anticipation and suspense that at once had me, not just hooked, but a junkie for life. I devotedly continued to listen to ATF and idolize Casey Kasem until his retirement from the radio show in 1988.
Of course, my music compulsion continues just as feverishly these days. I have 3800 tunes on one of my iPods; need I say more? Although today I would fancy myself as somewhat of a music expert (especially in the genres of pop, alternative, dance, and musical theater), I admit the term “maniac” is much more apt in its connotation.
And that night in 1968, when “Hey Jude” was finally revealed as the year’s biggest hit song, my affinity was conceived!

On yet another note of life’s irony: three months after Mr. Kasem was replaced by Shadoe Stevens, he and his wife Jean were vacationing in DC and happened into the Georgetown store that I was managing. Yes, I came home that night (beaming like a budding teenager) with his autograph, which today is set in lucite and rests in honor on my desk.
     “To Mark, You’ll always be number one! Casey Kasem” I was fairly certain that all his fans charted thus!


Securing the Ammunition


I demystify any Maximus of an adversary by staring him down intently and suggesting: “Braccae tuae hiant!” That device has served me well since my tortured Catholic school days at St Pius X. However, I’ve since learned to just smile more at its charmed lunacy, keep the words smugly to myself, and tip a hat to Miss McIver.
Removing our fears and hesitations or deftly facing them head-on is half the battle. And that smile? It is absolutely the best armor one can muster and so easily controlled. That, and I always check my zipper before I near the firing line! I also avoid wearing button-fly “big boy” pants if I presume or anticipate such a conflict.

(Image: “The Summit” by Michael Parkes, 2007.)

Un Jardin de Livres, Une Bibliothèque de Fleurs


     “If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.” (Cicero)

Marklewood is teeming with books and periodicals. Our bookcases are mostly doubled-back, with smaller volumes nestled in the crannies. Neatly layered stacks become easy pedestals for further clutter as well as likely apparati in the pusses’ indoor gymnasia. We are all about betterment: we humans savor the written word while our four-legged masters frolic, toning their muscles and burning excess energy.

I vow to read, re-read, resurrect, and reference … as I rarely part with anything these days and can always justify the hoard. Books are always more than words, tales, or facts. They are often filled with delicious memories of lost relationships, thrilling travels, or previous days when life was different.

Jon and I have ancient textbooks, picture books from our earliest years, myriad compendia of mostly useless trivia, our choice pieces of fiction, and naturally scads of collections. I have my design studies, Billboard’s various editions of music charts, Charles Dickens first editions, complete works of Ludwig Bemelmans, many of Charles Addams’ zany editions, and three generations of cook books. My pride and rather prejudiced joy are housed quite nicely in the built-in by my desk: my 17th-19th century leather bound books, collected over 35 years. Beyond these, Jon has one entire bookcase in our office devoted to meditation, sobriety, and theology, as well as four others that are filled with myriad books representing myriad interests.

It has taken several years and great personal commitment but I have finally pared down on the magazines, having recently narrowed the piles to three: vintage design magazines, Billboard year-end issues, and the occasional Saveur. My dependence on the computer perhaps has made this task less daunting as I read most of the periodicals that still interest me on the internet, putting the money instead towards treats, intended for the human palate, not that of the feline.

As I get older, however, I find myself drifting into daydreams of retirement, with a grand library, desk, and perhaps a cozy sleeping loft. Books, food, the pusses, and of course Jon are all I really need. My family always assured me that would be the case.

I now believe them.

“Libraries:  The medicine chest of the soul.”  (Library at Thebes, inscription over the door)