Last night a clock radio saved my life

3 years ago

Sometimes I'm not entirely sure how I became such an OCD freak about music.Neither of my parents was really into music (my dad liked 70s folk/rock/pysch stuff and my mom's tastes skewed mainly soft rock).

Beyond hearing tunes in the car radio, my memories of music date back to the third grade. That would have made me 8 or 9 I think, which means it must have been 1978 or 1979. In any case, that's when I got a clock radio so that I could set my own alarm and get up early and get my ass out of bed already and get ready for school so I didn't make my parents late in the morning.

That clock radio probably changed my life in some small way. Or big way, depending on how you look at it. Certainly it informed such a huge part of who I am now.

Some nights I slept with the radio on; listening to the Top 40 station in Austin: The Bee Gees, Billy Joel, Chic, the Rolling Stones, Wings, Abba, Styx, Dolly Parton, Donna Summer, Blondie.

(This was also the era for Patti Smith and Johnny Thunders and the Clash but, again, I was an 8-year-old living in Austin with parents who listened to Barbara Streisand, the Moody Blues and the Carpenters).

I wasn't really buying music at this point--I wasn't even making mixtapes. I'd start doing both of those things in the fifth grade when I got a stereo system--with a record player and a tape deck--for Christmas.

So for now it was mostly just the clock radio and, on weekends, watching videos and live performances on America's Top 10 and American Bandstand.

The Grease soundtrack was really big that year--several of the songs from the soundtrack made the Billboard Top 40 and were played on the air in what seemed like near-constant rotation.

At some point I got the record on vinyl. I must have been playing it on some rinky dink Fisher Price turntable. I'm pretty sure, for a while at least, it was the only record I owned. In fact I owned the record before I even saw the movie.

I loved, loved, loved that soundtrack and my favorite song was Rizzo's song "There are Worse Things I Could Do" on side four of the two-album set.

Rizzo, of course, was the bad girl of the story, played in the film by Stockard Channing. Even at that young age I identified with her character more than I ever could or would identify with Olivia Newton John's Sandy.

OK, to be fair, I aspired to be Sandy, but deep in my litte rough-and-tumble heart I knew I was really a Rizzo.

Again, I was 8--maybe 9. It's not that I thought of myself as the high school bad girl, sleeping with all the guys and getting a bad rep. Rather, I could hear the sadness and loneliness in her voice. The aching to fit in beneath a whatever-don't-care attitude. Rizzo wasn't the pretty, popular girl--she was the chick who ran around with the questionable crowd and relied on her wits to get by. Sometimes she was mean, but only because she had to be. She was rough around the edges and not always easy to love.

I'm not sure how much of that I got as a third-grader but something in that song,something in Stockard Channing's voice resonated with me. Maybe it was all just an early predictor of my high school years.

Who knows--maybe I'm reading (or listening) too much into it. Whatever the case, "There are Worse Things I Could Do" was my first song crush and  I listened to it endlessly, obsessed.

Put the needle down, listen and sing. Pick up the needle and repeat.

Over and over and over again.



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