Thoughts on East Village Radio’s End
From the plane window I can see a vast brown swath of hell, so I’m pretty sure I am hovering somewhere over Nebraska. There are a few of those square farms whose colors range from a conspicuous stain on your grandma’s couch to the pattern of the couch itself and which fit together like further miniaturized Nebraskas huddled in the mediocrity of their husks. It could be anywhere. But let’s say it’s Nebraska.
The guy sitting next to me is also Nebraska. He’s got a bluetooth device in his ear and he’s been flipping through some reports with pie-charts and other things that terrify me and remind me that Antarctica is melting and my girlfriend is getting priced out of her place and that East Village Radio will soon be no more.
If you haven’t heard the news yet, here you go. Or if you’ve never heard of the indie radio station located on First Avenue in New York’s infamous East Village, well shit, you’re out of luck because you’ll never get a chance to hear it live again: The day I’m writing this– Friday, May 23– is the last day of broadcasting, and I am flying from San Francisco to New York, barely missing its closing ceremony.
I wouldn’t feel so destitute if it wasn’t for the affection I have for one of its most groundbreaking shows — Chances with Wolves. For six years, DJs Mikey Palms, Kenan Juska, and Kray have served up some of the most obscure and eccentric gems that the best DJ can hope to salvage from a record bin. Their speciality is finding songs of “haunting beauty” which have been overlooked by mostly everyone alive. The effect is that you can’t stop listening but when you do, you have a renewed sense of where we humans have been.
In truth, atempting to write about a radio show that is soon to be extinct is largely a futile gesture. But in a way, one of the principles this show taught me is that disappearances are only symptoms of imagination’s limits. You see, Chances with Wolves wasn’t so much a radio show as a curated stroll through humanity’s path of inspiration, glory and inevitable failure. In any given show you might hear a Bollywood number right beside a Negro spiritual, followed by Pete Seeger talking about sand. Was that a Khmer version of “Let it Be” on the last show, by the way? Their playlists during the Occupy Movement were particularly stirring – validating the multiform and at times complex grievances of the protestors. I remember them playing Charlie Chaplin’s full monologue from The Great Dictator, and how right on it was, how appropriate it was in that context. Charlie Chaplin had it right back then, when he was talking about Hitler, but it would take someone special to apply it to the zeitgeist of today. It was a warning not to give in to the onslaught of the times that churned good, creative spirits into machines. I heard that message with all my heart.
This is what terrifies me: that one day I will wake up to find myself in a country where weird things are swept into the dustbin and forgotten for good, that a little bit of our common humanity will fall by the wayside of our common complacence, that surprise and spontaneity will be replaced by calculation and route-guiding devices and glasses that tell us everything that we want to know about something without accepting what we don’t and can’t know and getting a kick out of the strange which comes without bidding.
This is not a new anxiety that I feel the need to lump in with the rest of the ones in our bitch-slapped existence. It’s a little like not understanding why that scoop of ice cream falls to the floor just when you go for your first lick. Or how learning to let go is a better adaptive quality than being sad and gloomy about what once was. I can sit on this plane and mope about how I will never again hear such a lovely combination of music or how everyone else will be worse off because their Spotify subscription is sapping up the potential for musicians to blah blah blah, but in reality there are things to be done in life and we must hold up the best of what was inside ourselves.
I can stare out the window and dash off my contemptuous sentences for a state which I have honestly never been to OR I can start a conversation with the human being sitting next to me and learn that he works for an NGO that helps deaf children with microscopic audio devices. I can look past what I thought I saw in him as mediocre and I now understand as heroic and inspiring. I can learn to fall in love with Nebraska and its geometric farms and look deeper at what is there instead of what is not. And when I get out of the plane and open my ears to what should be a dying radio station or the howl of a wolf drawn out in a pool of reverb, I will only get static. And it comes in ribbons of snow from the unlikeliest of places.
Jared Roehrig recently received his MA in English at SF State, where he is also completing an MFA in creative writing. He holds a Mark Lilienthal award for his poetry. When he is not writing, he teaches ESL, overwaters his plants, and hunts down records from the 1960s Honduran rock scene. He is working on his first novel “The Dream Diary of Ho Chi Minh”‘ alongside another one about caves.
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