I’m not sure this is part of my scary October theme this year or not, but I find time a scary concept. I remember places and faces by songs that were hits at the time or that I just liked. The other day, I posted a song to Facebook, and my friend Larry Miller, the godfather of free-form radio, posted a song to match. When I told him what a great pick it was, Larry responded: “As you well know, Dan, old DJ’s always have just the right song for any occasion,” and that is the truth. Most of us have a cacophony of songs constantly playing in our heads, just waiting to be called to the surface.
On October 8, Billy Joe Royal’s earthly trip came to an end. Most people know his 1965 hit “Down in the Boondocks” but not his first release for Atlantic Records in the mid-1980’s, "Burned Like a Rocket," when he was poised for a comeback. The track was climbing the country singles chart when the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded, and "…radio dropped it like a hot potato,” as Royal said in a 2010 interview with Billboard. Another friend, Brian Edwards, wrote on Facebook: “I remember at the old 97.7 FM, his 1986 comeback song "Burned Like a Rocket” was in the rotation the day the Challenger blew, and Michael Page <the program director> told me not to play it. Because of that accident, Billy Joe never got the hit he should have with that great song.” (As it happened, Dan Sanders was the highly-rated morning man at the time.)
A third friend, musician Asa Brebner, who has a list of band credits that includes some 30 groups, among them the Boomtown Rats, Journey, Jim Carroll, Hall and Oates, the Cars, and many more, mused one day: “I was reflecting on my recent past and then realized it was not so recent.” When I think back to 1986, I have lived at least three different lives since then. But time collapses memories and makes years into minutes. My recent past is not so recent, either, and to borrow a song title from John Prine, I may have broken the “Speed of the Sound of Loneliness,” and that scares the hell out of me.
The people who are present in my memory are much older now and some have left this earth, but in my mind that day in 1986 is as fresh as an hour ago. I played “Burned Like a Rocket” that morning before the disaster and left “Old 97.7” after my shift to interview for a job at a station now called “The River.” When I went inside, everyone was huddled in the conference room watching the news. But I did get the job.
Twenty-nine years ago, I was the morning man, Asa was playing the hell out of a guitar, Larry was holding forth at some radio station or other, and Billy Joe Royal was making a comeback. If you’re over 40, what where you doing twenty-nine years ago, just yesterday?
There’s more on time and other things and as always a rock-and-roll timeline on the shores of Rambling Harbor. I hope you’ll join me there.