It’s now been twenty-five years since my first summer at the college radio station. That whole first year had a major impact on me, but there was something different–something deeply transformational–about the first summer. For one thing, I was now on the people in charge. I’d been on the executive staff the spring before, though in a fairly low-level position. Now I was the Program Director, effectively second-in-command on the staff, carrying responsibilities that encompassed everything that crossed the airwaves. For another thing, we were able to devote ourselves fully and completely to the operations of the radio station, without the pesky distraction of classes. If the station could occasionally feel like a clubhouse we spent time at during the school year, now it was a full-fledged job, albeit not a full-time job. And then there was simply something near-magical about being at the station in the summer, when a perfect sunny day offered the inspiration to try and create the best damn playlist conceivable for those listeners who wanted to drive around with the radio up and the windows down.
So the albums I returned to repeatedly during that summer have a special, exalted place in the nostalgia files in my noggin. Free, the second album from Concrete Blonde came out in the spring of that year, but it was likely lingering in our rotation system when the summer got underway. And I know I kept pulling it out when it moved to the general stacks, the newfound necessity of filling multiple shifts per week thanks to our skeleton crew staff giving me ample opportunity to return to it. To the degree that the band was garnering any broader college radio attention during this span–pre-“Joey” is the clearest way to think of it–it was for the harder-rocking material that slotted in nicely next to, say, the big hit from the Cult at the time. Me, I had a special appreciation for the slightly more sedate material that showed off the intricate, emotional songwriting of Johnette Napolitano. The sparser arrangements also provided a great showcase for her uniquely powerful vocals.
Truthfully, I probably valued the slightly slower songs because there were few things I liked better than those cuts that helped fill out the closing set of my Monday night Soundstreams shift, which ran from 10:00p.m. to 2:00a.m. I wanted the downbeat, the forlorn, the deceptively sedate. I wanted songs that would send me out into the quiet Central Wisconsin feeling happily glum, which is the natural state of the nineteen year old American male. Or at least it was the natural state of this particular male when he was nineteen years old. “Little Conversations,” off of Free, served that purpose very nicely. How could I not swoon over a song that describes a personal existence as “Like a book with missing pages/ Like a story incomplete/ Like a painting left unfinished/ It feels like not enough to eat”? Forget the Smiths and the Cure, this was exactly the sort of romanticization of heartache that I craved. Especially at about 1:55a.m.
Fair warning: There may be a lot of summer of 1989 selections in this space in the coming weeks.
Listen or download –> Concrete Blonde, “Little Conversations”
(Disclaimer: I’ve been through this once before. I believe Free to be an item that is out of print, at least as a physical artifact that can be ordered through and purchased from your favorite local, independently-owned record store in a way that duly compensates both the small business and the original artist. And if the label gets a taste under those circumstances, I guess that’s okay, too. The previous post featuring a Concrete Blonde song from Free has been up without causing undue dismay for almost five years, so I’m assuming this one is similarly no bother. Still, I recognize that the current law mandates that this obvious fair use of the track is not actually wholly legal. Or it’s legal until a copyright holder decides it’s not. So. Should I be contacted by someone with due authority to request the removal of the song, and that individual or entity makes such a request, I will gladly and promptly comply.)