Most kids go to three schools before graduating High School: elementary, junior and senior high. I made nine in eight different towns and five states. When you move dang near every year as a kid, a couple of things happen: you fit in pretty easily wherever you go but you never really have what you would call real friends.
The first time I really tried was when we settled in Burkburnett, Texas in the summer before ninth grade and for some reason I thought I would graduate from school there. We moved during Christmas break of 10th grade without much warning. I remember leaning on the window in the back seat with the transistor radio plastered to my ear listening until the local station I had grown to love faded away somewhere around Bonham.
When you move so much, music become special friend, your only friend, as Jim Morrison sang, until the end. It gives you an anchor in a lonely sea.
The first song I remember clearly was something called Road Hog, played on a station in Hawaii. Funny, but not affecting.
That first song for me was Penny Lane. I was on the bus riding to the building that housed the fifth and sixth grades in Hermantown, Minnesota. It was snowing and cold and I remember thinking how cool the bus driver was to play The Beatles music six months after everyone in the country went ape when John stated that at that point The Beatles were more popular than Jesus Christ.
I like to tell people that was the first single I ever bought, but that would be a lie. Didn’t have the nickles at that time or for a long time to come to waste on such things. So I listened to the radio. I fell alseep to it, I carried a transistor with me whenever I could.
In Anchorage, there was Mary Hopkin’s Those Were the Days and Dizzy by Tommy Roe and the Monkees and Zager & Evans and Steppenwolf, but the big event there for me was the release of Abbey Road on All Saints Day in 1969. The station I listened to played it non-stop, flipping from one side to the other for 48 hours. I don’t recall any complaints.
Maybe the most embarrassing moment related to the radio was in Alaska when our father caught us jumping around to The Ballad of the Green Beret’s.
In Burkburnett, I was in the makeshift garage bedroom listening to the radio in total darkness when I heard that McCartney called it quits with the Beatles. It was also there that I first heard the Doors on the radio, and played on a record player this guy we worked for throwing fourth class mail had somehow wired into his car. And after The Doors, nothing was ever again the same for me. ( It is almost certain I had heard some of the Doors before then because of the dates, but it is the first time I can remember now.Dang memory anyway.) It was also here that my love/hate issue with Jesus Christ Superstar began.
In the spring of 10th grade, we lived with my grandma in a very small town in Arkansas. For a period, I got to sleep in a little building behind the main house with a pot-bellied stove. She called it the Dog House (Maybe that’s where Pa Harold went when he was in trouble?) I would light the fire and listen to John “Records” Landecker’s evening show on WLS out of Chicago on the portable transistor radio until I fell to sleep. I never remember putting batteries in that radio. Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show’s Sylvia’s Mother was big then.
My junior or senior year in Lavaca, I got a portable tape recorder for Christmas (I think that’s what the occasion was) on which I recorded the music from WLS. I remember getting into trouble for taking the player with me while I walked back and forth to school.
I kept lists of the top of Casey Kasem’s American Top Forty songs, listening every week, hoping my favorite would climb faster. It was KISR (Fort SmIth) during the day and WLS at night.
It was a constant companion, these sounds from the air. They were the friends I knew I could not lose by moving away. My music taste was not really what one would call very broad at that time—it took a four-and-a-half stint working in a record shop to grow—but the music I knew I loved and it was the music that brought me comfort. It was a refuge and safety in a world that was often not so pleasant. It got me through a lot. WLS to me was the X, the station from somewhere else, somewhere better, maybe the first evidence of greener grass. It was a big part of me then and music in general has been since.