Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Year of the Buzzard

I see that, according to the Chinese New Year, this is the year of the Dragon. Nice. And, of course, just like the traditional zodiac, everyone who is born this year will all have the exact same personality traits.
But that’s now what I want to talk about.
I was driving down I-4 this morning listening to the only FM station that plays rock in this town, and my mind drifted back to when I was coming of age in northeast Ohio in the late 1970s. Yep, I started doing a ‘back in my day’ rant in my head, and the crux if it was how little of ‘my’ music is on the radio these days.
Getting older? Sure. But nowadays it is more about ipods and playlists and downloads and Pandora and satellite radio that customizes each person’s songs to their personal liking. Hey, technology is a wonderful thing. Digitized music shrunk down to a device the size of a credit card that can store thousands of songs. Slip it in your shirt pocket, plug in the Skullcandy and you’re good to go. Consequently, traditional FM just ain’t what it used to be. It has become the poor-man’s playlist.
This was not the case in 1978.
Back then, FM radio was the shit.
Not only because of the music (which was a huge part of it) but because that was our only true vehicle for song delivery. Oh sure, we had eight-track tapes, but any good upstanding red blooded slacker-in-training in northeast Ohio listened to one station, and one station only - WMMS 100.7. The Buzzard. The station said those call letters stood for 'Where Music Means Something'. We always said it meant 'Weed Makes Me Smile'.

The 'Buzzard' moniker predated a lot of markets that imitated WMMS by calling their station ‘The Ape of Cincinnati’ or ‘The Wolf of Kansas City’ or whatever. The Buzzard was it. They won Rolling Stone’s FM Radio of the Year award nine years straight, and for many of us late-teens with raging hormones in the greater Cleveland area, it was our mantra. The Buzzard told us what to do. Whether it was Jeff & Flash on the morning drive, Denny Sanders mid-days, Kid Leo on evening drive or the BLF Bash late nights, they summoned, we obeyed.

Kid Leo signed off at 6pm, but on Friday nights he would end a bit earlier, so that we could be treated to Murray Saul telling us that we "GOTTA GOTTA GOTTA GOTTTAGGOTTAGOTTAGOTTA GET DOWWWWN DAMMIT!" which seque'd into the same three songs - Friday on My Mind, Cleveland Rocks, and Born to Run.

BLF Bash would play Funkadelic’s Maggot Brain (the full 20-minute version) every Saturday night at midnight while he likely banged some hot groupie in the studio…or so we imagined.

WMMS was our Facebook. It was our social network that told us where to be, who to be with, and what events that were not to be missed. In 1978, to celebrate their tenth anniversary on the air, the held a free - FREE - concert featuring none other than Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band. For the months preceding it, they copiously gave away free tickets to this show, held at the Cleveland Agora, and each time they announced that the twentieth caller would win I would dial (rotary-dial phone) like mad to score those tickets. Alas, I couldn’t. But that was okay, because they broadcasted it live.

I attended college in the mornings and worked at a grocery store in the afternoons. I was in the Produce department where most of my time was spent trimming heads of lettuce, wrapping packages of plums and smoking weed out back…or in the cooler. Being out of the customer area of the store provided me the opportunity to jam out to WMMS, every day, from 3pm to 9pm. Then I would get in my 1978 Camaro Z-28, pick up a 12-pack of Genesee Cream Ale, and me and my cohorts would do whatever criminal misdemeanors we had planned that night…while listening to WMMS. It was a time of relative innocence and freedom - of That One Summer where everything was shimmeringly bright - we were old enough to get down, but young enough not to have mortgages, babies or bills.
WMMS always had the first announcement of any concert dates, and I can recall one in particular - Led Zeppelin. Their 1980 tour. WMMS announced the tour dates at the Richfield Coliseum (which has since been torn down) and how to get tickets. Due to the expected onslaught of demand for such a high-profile show, they had a special arrangement that required getting a money order and mailing it in. The day they gave out the instructions I ran down to the post office to get that money order. Yes, back in those days that’s where you got money orders. The instructions were very explicit - tickets were $30 apiece (Thirty bucks!) plus a $1.50 handling charge, so $31.50 each. I drove like a bat out of hell (Meat Loaf) to the post office ready to hand them $63.00 for my money order then straight to the mailbox.
Standing in front of me was this very cute blonde who was trying to explain to the middle-aged teller what she was trying to do - ‘Uh, they told me I have to, uh, get a $30 plus a dollar fifty, I think, money order for…’
I jumped in. I said “She's going to see Zeppelin! She heard it on WMMS! She needs a $31.50 money order! And a $63 money order for me! ZEPPELIN!!!! WOOO HOOOO!!!!”
Yeah, I tapped that.
Sadly, that tour got cancelled when John Bonhan, Zeppelin’s drummer, died of asphyxiation. He drowned in his own vomit after binge drinking. So I never got the tickets.
Looking back, that event was the beginning of the end for WMMS, and for that phase of my life. Less than a year later, I graduated from Kent State and moved away from the Cleveland area. I became an adult.
Now it's over 30 years later. I'm a middle-aged, responsible father with a mortgage and a mundane job. As I drive down I-4 towards downtown Orlando heading to work, I have WJRR blasting through the box. And I hear that Red Hot Chili Peppers are coming to the Amway Center, tickets going on sale next week.
And I think, I hope Anthony Kiedes doesn’t overdose before the show.

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