by Andy Capp
The front lines, in the trenches. Gray and black with a drizzle of blue, occasionally assaulted by the blinding white of a bombshell...or was it the flash of a coming storm?
Two good soldiers huddled together, finding escape in conversation. One green, eager. The other a veteran, broken by wisdom’s pain over the years, wise enough to know that the new recruit couldn’t possibly understand without the years. The rookie still had the fire. The vet kept the dialogue purposely small.
All hell broke loose, of course. Everyone was caught off guard, word of the new agreement had lulled even the veteran into a false sense of security. Who was winning? There, in the heat of battle, it really didn’t matter, as good troops on both sides were cut down like so much wheat at harvest. Hundreds fell, regardless of rank, experience.
The vet never saw it coming. Years in battle meant nothing in the end. It was over in seconds. He was there; he was gone. The recruit stood alone, overwhelmed by the loss of his mentor and friend, overwhelmed by the battle. No matter how much he wanted or needed to, it was simply no time to wave the white flag.
This is the business of radio today. Melodramatic? Perhaps, but not too far from the truth. E-mails from friends across the country are the same. Downsizing is universal. Less people are doing the job for more stations. More work than ever and a higher salary could be the kiss of death. Of course the work is getting done, and amazingly well under the circumstances, but between the lines there’s a grim determination to it all. (Half empty) Wow. Life’s a bitch, huh? Might as well get the hell out, before becoming a victim of downsizing or depression!
(Half full) Cool!!! Change!!!!!!! New Challenges!!!!!!!! Time to grab my (mixing) board and hit the New Wave!!!!!!!!
Grappling with how I look at this particular glass, I remembered talking to Stella. It was a crowded Friday afternoon bus in the Emerald City, standing room only when she climbed aboard. I offered her my seat. Suddenly, we were long lost friends. Stella...how do I describe Stella? Okay, cross Fran’s grandmother in The Nanny with Janis Joplin.
The traffic was assuring that the ride would be at least a half hour longer than usual, and Stella seemed determined to ride until I had her entire life story down. Married nearly 50 years, son 46, granddaughter (a model), 12 lava lamps, a husband who didn’t deserve the salmon she had taken the bus ride to Pike Place Market to purchase. Music?! Oh hell yes, she loved music!!! Bob Dylan, the Grateful Dead, Moody Blues, Led Zeppelin...you get the idea. And could she cook! I should drop by sometime. Do I like Italian food? Well, she is Jewish, but her husband is Italian, and her mother-in-law taught her how to cook for “her little baby.”
I know what’s going through your mind, Loony Tunes, right? Yes, there are all kinds on public transit, but there was something more to Stella, something that kept me from putting up the usual walls one begins to hide behind on the bus (as if to keep the weirdos at a distance), something that was more character than crazy.
Every detail of her life was punctuated in one of two ways: “Life sucks” or “Isn’t life grand?!” Actually, many events were punctuated by both, often in the same sentence. It went on that way until I finally made it to my stop. Her granddaughter dated a male stripper; life sucks. Stella went to see him perform; isn’t life grand?! Her sister-in-law worried her brother to death; life sucks. But the woman got her husband a great job; isn’t life grand?! The stories were so engaging and bizarre that it was hard to pull myself away, but there was my stop. I said my good-byes and moved to leave when she grabbed my sleeve. “Andy, you seem like a wonderful person, so I gotta tell you one thing! Don’t forget this now...life is a precious gift, every new day a present to be opened and cherished! You won’t forget, will you?”
I haven’t. I won’t. The words weren’t new to me, but lately they’ve made more and more sense.
Radio has changed. What it will all mean remains to be seen, but one thing is certain, for those willing to continue the journey, there’s apt to be one hell of a ride. History has proven that the real winners in this business are always the ones who rise above sameness, the ones who find new creative ways to communicate with the listener. Even in the leanest times, there will always be room for creative dreamers who can give radio a new voice.
For those still standing, some things will suck, some things will be grand, sometimes both at the same time. As long as someone still offers the present, tear into it with everything you have. The gift is yours.