Monday, September 24, 2018

Across the Lines (TOTR 338)

The Teacher On The Radio "time machine" is currently visiting 1988.

This night, we featured Tracy Chapman by Tracy Chapman, Short Sharp Shocked by Michelle Shocked, and Roger Manning by Roger Manning.

Andrew read the draft of his chapter "The Co-op" which takes place in 1988.

Read it here.

We closed with "Say Hallelujah" by Tracy Chapman from her later album Let It Rain.

Listen to the (most of) the archive here:

The Co-op

Disclaimer: This blog collection of first-person memoir hovers at the intersection of creative non-fiction and autobiographical fiction, made vague and even boring in fictionalized truth, lost in memory and translations,  in the name of honoring the distance of everyone’s innocence & guilt. I will probably be the only main character every mentioned by name for said reason. Please contact teacherontheradio -at- gmail -dot- com with questions, comments, or concerns.

1: The Co-op

A recent college dropout, I needed a job. My early jobs were not that different than the work that any late teen and early 20s human would take on – except in my case the counterculture version of that, for the service and retail context.

What was minimum wage back then? Four dollars? What was our rent? 250 dollars per month, split two ways between two rebels, dabbling in the anarchist and communist idealism that the post-industrial middle class once specialized in, back in one of those 20th century urban enclaves where a fertile cultural Left still flourished, before the days, like today, when the so-called “radical left” is just a pejorative insult flung at middle-class liberals by the vulgar far-right microphone mouths of cable television.

I really needed a job. Not just to pay the bills, but to work, to be an employee, to wrestle with my identity. Not a vocation or calling, per se. I was running away from the college path, the chosen career, finding my identity in a job meant not relying on my family; job really did mean just paying the bills at this point and being myself. It meant getting-by for someone who had been raised in a context much better than getting-by. An intellectual and educated dropout, I would never be just working class, but for the first and almost only time in my life, for a season it turned out, I wanted to see what life was like without the inherited supplements to my lifestyle that my upper middle-class heritage afforded. I wanted and needed a job. And for specific reasons, I wanted this job. The cooperative grocery was going to be an upgrade at this juncture in my 20 years on earth.

Back in the spring of 1988, what kind of a job did a 20-year-old college dropout really want and need? What were our other expenses? Food and drink and all the various pleasures for the mind required by a 20-year-old appetite. My college dropout status arrived in late 1987, not for lack of intelligence or ambition, no, but from an overactive hunger for adventure and and authenticity and spontaneous unshaven undiscipline. Four dollars per hour, for about 30 hours per week, that left empty notebooks of hours to fill with the poetry and prose of a wild-eyed rebel on release from suburbia.

Slowly slumming around the late 1980s, my wage-earning work life to that point had wandered from paper route to record store to restaurant. The trendy vegetarian health food joint the summer before (that was 1987) had been a baptism into a six-day week. I never asked why my hours there did not make me full-time or eligible for benefits. I just showed-up, clocked-in, chopped vegetables, and prepped salads. The first day, I sliced my hand open, taking a blade sharper than one I had ever used, right through an avocado pit. Yes, there was blood, and yes, they took me to the hospital. And yes, there is a scar.

Then, I became a salad chef. It was more than intense, but I kind of loved it. I loved my co-workers. I loved the bearded biker brothers on the hot side. I also wore my hair long, but we all tied it up and kept it out of the food. This place was far too upscale for hippie-biker hair in the food.  I loved the gospel-singing dishwasher who would regale us with songs like I Am A Soldier In The Army of The Lord.

I loved the contrast between the kitchen staff and the serving staff – it was two different classes across a short counterculture-culture-chasm. The cooks were what I thought all health food staff were supposed to be, rugged hippies. The serving staff were our cleaned-up and clean-shaven suburban counterparts of the New Age diet.

I am pretty sure New Age was the term by then, Harmonic Convergence and all that. Food was healing, and it did not matter that the kitchen staff also smoked cigarettes on our breaks. We did not want to be too healthy or too pure. Suburban health food restaurant felt like just the right stepping-stone to urban natural foods cooperative grocery store. I was accumulating hippie cred as quickly as I could. 

Now getting this next job at the co-op was hardly a guarantee. I had to apply for the job against other applicants. There would be an interview, and I waited to find out if I had been hired. Not even getting accepted to college or getting the jobs I had before this one seemed as steep a hill to climb.

Somehow because of the diversity of the neighborhood and culture, for one of the few times in my life, white male privilege wasn’t actually an advantage. But this factored in to why I wanted to work there, this was where we found college students and college professors, Methodist preachers and public school teachers, farmers and truckers, lesbians and librarians, Black Muslims and Rastafarians, Catholic Workers and Workers of the World. That place showed me diversity liked I’d never seen, even after integrated schools my whole life; I was learning about the urban counterculture I had only heard about. 

A college dropout, I needed a job, not just for money, but for a sense of self, that I could be a worker among workers if that is what I wanted. I left college for urban spelunking in the ruins of mansions, cathedrals, and movie theaters. I left college to recover from a handful of drug experiences that left my doors of perception a little too scrubbed, shocked, seduced, and scared to sit upright at another college desk spouting pseudo-truths. At least not just yet. This would come later. This was my season of learning to party, let me admit that. As long as I was mostly sober when I showed up for work, that was okay right? This was the season I would turn 21, the season I would try too many things.

Mostly I worked out my schedule to work the afternoon until close shift, but I remember beginning with mornings. I remember one morning, I was on produce at the time, they gave me a box of strawberries to sort, because the shipment was already starting to turn past saleable. It was summer, and I had been up all night. Bleary and still a little buzzed, they handed me the strawberries. The red juice was like blood on my fingers, each fruit a sweet sacrament, mushy to the touch. How could we ever sort strawberries! We should relish the wonder of the mushy juicy fruit and eat it like love itself, falling apart in our hands, melting in our mouths. Each strawberry was a vision to me, did everyone else not see it? But I sat or stood or something, and I dutifully sorted strawberries, eating or tossing the ones too ripe to be sold. 

Of course, the 20-year-old poet thinks he has a wild grasp on the truth, which only tells him to look for more truth, which in my case meant exploring books and albums and fanzines, which in my case meant to go on tour with bands and to Rainbow Gatherings and to nuclear test sites where earnest ragtag radicals had plans to shut down the war machine.

This was the city I thought would never be gentrified. This was the city a little too rough and rundown to join the upscale countercultures we were already seeing emerge in Boston and the Bay Area, in Chicago and New York. After a stint serving the poor and underclass in Atlanta, I saw Detroit as the place to practice revolution, to plant seeds of the new society in the shell of the old. Even though this was just a grocery store job, ringing the cash register, unloading the trucks, stocking the shelves, mopping the floor, and taking out the garbage, even though this was just a job among other jobs a college dropout could score, I saw the food co-op movement as a small gentle part of the revolution.

Over in Ann Arbor, the housing co-ops were hubs of hope steeped in the living threads of a radical campus milieu with roots in the legendary 1960s. When living in the 1980s, I thought the 60s were the distant past. But living in the twenty-teens, I understand that the 1990s are as close to us now, as the 60s were to us then; this is a wake-up call that in the 1980s, the 60s weren’t that long ago. Detroit and Ann Arbor were places where the more gritty dreams of revolution never died.

Our health food distributor, a co-op among co-ops, was based in Ann Arbor and run as a union shop, Wobblies at that. The IWW, International Workers of the World were the “one big union” of legend that I had read about in books, seen portrayed so romantically in the movie Reds, starring Warren Beatty and Diane Keaton and featuring Maureen Stapleton as red Emma Goldman. Our little grocery never turned into a Wobbly store, but I dreamed about it. I dreamed while stocking the shelves that we were stoking the fires of social change. I dreamed on my lunch break in the back alley, the same alley where the co-workers would sometimes go to smoke together, not just tobacco.

There was music in the crowded aisles of our tiny store. Who got to pick which cassette or CD went in our jambox was the decision of the day, a sacred decision. I would dance down the aisles when stocking the shelves. My co-workers laughed and called it “Doing the Andy.” That summer, a folk music revival was raging in my heart, and folk music seemed a good compromise with rock and reggae and blues and everything else we blasted in that store. Two folk music records defined that summer and are still on my mind and in my heart today, thirty years later as of this writing. 

Before our little corner store was grocery, the same spot was a neighborhood club, a jazz joint, I am told. A few doors down we would open a music and activist clubhouse three years later, a storefront soup kitchen and punk rock refuge. We were singers and subversives and poets and painters and protesters, all.

Monday, September 17, 2018

We’ve Got Tonight (TOTR 337)

Bob Marley & the Wailers - Satisfy My Soul
Funkadelic - One Nation Under A Groove
Chic - Le Freak
Village People - Ups And Downs
Kraftwerk - The Robots
Queen - Bicycle Race
Blondie - Heart of Glass
Elvis Costello & the Attractions - Pump It Up
The Jam - Down In The Tube Station At Midnight
The Clash - English Civil War
The Cars - Just What I Needed
Dire Straits - Sultans Of Swing
Billy Joel - Honesty
Journey - Lights
Foreigner - Hot Blooded
The Police - Can’t Stand Losing You
Talking Heads - Take Me To The River
Bob Seger - We’ve Got Tonight
Joe Walsh - Life’s Been Good
Van Morrison - Kingdom Hall
Patti Smith - Ghost Dance
John Prine - That’s The Way The World Goes Round

The audio archive is here:

Monday, September 10, 2018

Rolling On (TOTR 336)

John Coltrane - A Love Supreme, P 1 - Acknowledgement
Jack Kerouac & Steve Allen - Charlie Parker
Bono - September 1913
Radiohead - Everything In Its Right Place
TV On The Radio - Wash The Day
Israel Nash - Rolling On
Rainbow Kitten Surprise - Hide
Jim James - Over and Over
Jenny Lewis & Moses Sumney - Cassidy
Bono & Secret Machines - I Am The Walrus
The Flaming Lips - (Just Like) Starting Over
Bob Dylan - Things Have Changed
Neil Young - Old Man
Leon Bridges et. al. - Ohio
Jason & the Scorchers - Take Me Home, Country Roads
R.E.M. - Final Straw
DJ Drez et. al. - For What It’s Worth
Madonna - American Pie
Cocteau Twins - Persephone
Dead Can Dance - American Dreaming
Ani DiFranco - The Arrivals Gate
Casey Neill Trio - Araby
Pistol Pete & Popgun Paul - all along

My Life Is A Mixtape (with shoutouts & apologies to Rob Sheffield)

This great book is considered in this post.

My life is a mixtape. Is yours? If you are reading my blog or listening to my radio show, I have a hunch that you might listen to your life as a similar soundtrack too. The songs, the sounds, the life that is under your skin and always in your ears. 

 Highway 111 is one of my favorite highways. It can get me from Cookeville to Sparta, the town where I have worked as a part-time pastor for the last two years. Highway 111 is also the way we get to Chattanooga and Atlanta, a road trip we frequently take, most often for music, for friends, for festivals. Highway 111 is well-traveled but never crowded like I-75 or I-24, the nearest divided-lane of the interstate alternatives to go south and east. Highway 111 is where I recently went from dabbling in Rob Sheffield’s memoir Love Is A Mixtape to falling in love with his book, reading it out loud to my wife, laughing out loud, crying out loud, choking on the words. 

 This man is the Anne Lamott of music writing, my mind told me, without knowing how Anne Lamott or Rob Sheffield, both working writers, would feel about this comment. But what I love about Sheffield I love about Lamott. Honest. Hilarious. Self-deprecating. Down-to-earth. I have always considered music sacred, but now we can see how the old-school cassette mixtape itself is sacrament. 

 When I think about mixtapes, I think about this radio show I do called Teacher On The Radio. When I think about Teacher On The Radio, I think mixtapes. I tell you I have been making mixtapes for you as audience for this radio show since 2007, but actually, I have been making playlists. 

I don’t remember my last proper mixtape, made for a friend or made for myself, except that it was more likely a mix CD. I know I made one on April 20, 2003, and I called it the 4-20 mix, yet it was not about weed, but about love and the Iraq war. But I never stopped making mixes in hard copy, either tapes or then CDs, until I got into the DJ booth again, after a 20-year hiatus, at the beginning of the fall semester 2007. That’s when I started making playlists on my laptop, using various platforms.

 Lately, I have been making mixes as a form of time-travel, going back a decade at a time, hence the pair of recent 1968 mixes that have aired on the show, and of course, the 1978 and 1988 mixes that are coming soon. In the process of planning these shows and sampling songs for them, I am confronted with numerous personal pecadillos regarding my playlist philosophy. I guess these have always been there, but now, now I am required to regard them more seriously, now that I have wrestled with them fully. 

 What is this pesky playlist problem? When I sat down to start previewing tracks for my 1978 mix, I had to ask myself: what was I listening to in 1978? Granted, I was only 10, but I had to confess, I had no idea then who some of my favorite from 1978 would be come 2018. At the same time, I had to include, against the wisdom of what you might think of me, the groups I actually loved in 78 -- even C’est Chic and the Village People. The time-machine mixtape is a beautiful thing. Earlier this year, I also made a mix with one song for every year since I was born, including the year I was born. I had been telling myself this was 50 years of music, but I am bad at math, and we are actually into our 51st year of my music-listening life. I also don’t really do math, so the idea that 11th anniversary really marks the beginning of our 12th year, actually blows my mind. 

 I come from that place in the 1970s when many albums had spaceships on the cover and where bands had one-word names that would never Google very well, but we did not have Google back then. The very early 1980s were for me just a continuation of the 1970s, before I discovered U2, R.E.M., punk, Deadheads, or had my own radio show on the high school station, so it would be that my imaginary basement air band of 1980s was simply called Rebellion. Our theme song was a variation on the Beatles “Revolution,” and I created a private history and mythology of this massive group inside my own head, an all-too-sincere and naive version of the fantasy rock biopic that would later be invented and then destroyed by Dewey Cox in Walk Hard. To explain how epic this band was between my ears, they wrote both “Freebird” and “Stairway To Heaven.” I hope you kinda get the picture!

 And even though I could not sing to save my life, I was the lead singer of this band, mouthing all the vocals, with our cassette-mixtape backing track in a boombox and cranked up loud. My friend David played lead air guitar on a tennis racket, and I am sure he is not looking back on this memory right now, if he remembers it all, with the same affection that I am. My journey to the mixtape began with a family cross-country car journey around 1978. Dad purchased some cheap low-fi blank tapes, and each family member was encouraged to make lists of nominations. These eclectic messes were delightful in their intergenerational variety and what my heart would give to hear one now. 

 The ripped-from-radio mixtape was never my favorite, but Sheffield writes of the static feedback and reverent presence of recording “in the now” -- what with the imperfect cuts and DJ talkback, all a part of the ambiance. I remember one 90s mixtape, a road-trip tape made mostly made from CDs in the Hendersonville basement of my first Tennessee home. It had the likes Aaron Neville and Nanci Griffith and was all about my new adopted southern status and my new-but-used Ford Econoline van. But it all began with the Jason and the Scorchers version of “Take Me Home Country Roads,” stolen from the airwaves of Lightning 100, still a great Nashville station. 

 When I set out to make a mixtape (I mean playlist) for the 11th anniversary of my radio show, I did not know how it would end up. I started by reviewing the earliest playlists from Teacher On The Radio. What were we listening to on the show back in 2007? Somehow this mix is marked by quirky cover songs, an idea I arrived at when I decided I had to include the aforementioned Jason and the Scorchers track in this show. 

But this show is not just cover songs, not just a time machine to September of Oh-seven! There are current tracks that currently speak to me that had to be included. It’s actually an unlikely messy mix like those old family road trip cassettes. Speaking of road trips, it also includes Kerouac. Why? Because in 2007, we were celebrating the 50th anniversary of On The Road, and I am still obsessively exploring my fixation on the Beat writers. I think my better mixtapes over the years include at least a little spoken word or showtunes or some kind of found sound. 

 Rob Sheffield shows us how love is a mixtape. How true love with his late wife Renee Crist was formed and transformed by shared music fandom. I have lost count of all the ways in which my wife Jeannie has embraced music fandom with me and how we have made travel to music shows one of our regular adventures. One of the first places we went together when we first met was to the third floor of the university center where our radio studio is. It sounds trite to say that music saved my life or even that more precisely, making music mixes has saved me. But after Jesus and Jeannie, this hobby-passion-and-avocation, is right up there with black coffee as one of the wondrous worldly things that keeps helping me live with hope and joy. Yep, life is a mixtape.

Monday, September 3, 2018

If I Could Only Fly (TOTR 335)

Pete Seeger & the Song Swappers - Roll The Union On
Pete Seeger & the Song Swappers - Solidarity Forever
Utah Phillips - Bread and Roses
Jason Isbell - Something More Than Free
Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit - Last Of My Kind
Blaze Foley - City Pigeons
Blaze Foley - If I Could Only Fly
Blaze Foley - Livin’ In The Woods In A Tree
Blaze Foley - Tree House Lullaby
Jason Isbell & Elizabeth Cook - Pancho & Lefty
Townes Van Zandt - Dollar Bill Blues
The Ballroom Thieves - Can’t Cheat Death
Darlingside - Hold Your Head Up High
The Dirty Guv’nahs - It’s Dangerous
Judah & the Lion - Hold On
Drew Holcomb & The Neighbors - Another Man’s Shoes
Family and Friends - Winding Roads
I’m With Her - I-89
Caamp - Books
Penny and Sparrow - Bread and Bleeding
Mandolin Orange - Hard Travelin’
Trampled By Turtles - Wildflowers
Margo Price - Heart of America
Mavis Staples - We Go High
Durand Jones & The Indications -
The War and Treaty - It’s Not Over Yet
Liz Vice - Save Me
The Avett Brothers - Closer Walk With Thee