Posted by: hannah jo | December 17, 2009

A voice from my past

Something amazing happened last week that I neglected to mention in my previous post. It was one of those moments that shook me for more than a day. I’m still processing it, in fact, and I feel compelled to write about it here.

I subscribe to a daily news digest e-mail service from Crosscut.com, a site based in Seattle that features “News of the Great Nearby.” The stories consist of a mix of original reporting and news and opinion from other sources, such as The New York Times and Wall Street Journal. I always enjoy the Sounders FC-related articles written by Peter Miller and some of the political pieces.

Last Wednesday, one of the headlines in the digest caught my eye: “Come together: Lennon’s death, radio, and us.” As we’ve discussed before on this blog, Lori and I were both college students when John Lennon was shot and we were devastated when the news broke, just like so many other people were. We were involved in our little college radio station at the time, so I was immediately interested in the Crosscut article.

The premise of the article is an interesting one. The author, Feliks Banel, suggests that when Lennon died, radio had the ability to help us mourn together, in public, in real time. There were live on-air DJs who were standing by to take phone calls and could put them on the air without tape delays. Real conversations could happen in which people could connect, react honestly, and commiserate together, offering up memories and comfort. Banel contrasts that with Michael Jackson’s recent death, which people were more likely to mourn via Facebook or Twitter, for example.

As I began reading the article, though, I started having a physical reaction, kind of like a rush of adrenaline and nausea at the same time because it was so familiar. If you were also a teenager living in the Seattle area in 1980, you had to be familiar with the specific DJ the author writes about — Steve Slaton, one of the DJs on KISW (“Seattle’s Best ROCK!”). Banel mentions that Slaton was on the air when the news of Lennon’s murder broke, taking phone calls from listeners. I’ll quote from the article here:

The most gripping moment comes when Slaton speaks with a caller named Bruce. Bruce is a big Lennon fan, and is angry about the shooting of a musician whose latest single is called ‘Starting Over.’ Slaton begins to speak of the Beatles’ status as the ‘most potent force in music,’ and then acknowledges his love of AC/DC, Led Zeppelin and The Who. Slaton tries to complete the thought, but then hesitates, audibly overcome with emotion, as he breaks down into heavy sobs. As heard in this complete recording of the call, the articulate Bruce deftly steps in to fill the wordless space. Bruce tries to comfort the deejay with supportive language as Slaton at least partially regains his composure.

Okay, stay with me here, because I’m crying as I type this, but the “caller named Bruce” has been one of my closest, dearest friends for the past 31 years. That’s my Bruce mentioned in the article. And, not only is he mentioned in the article, but Banel actually has a recording of the phone call and has posted it on the web. He made the recording on “a cheap Sanyo portable cassette deck held near the speaker.”

When I listened to that phone call last week, I wept. It is unbelievable, really. Here’s my beautiful friend Bruce, at the age of 18, his first year at the UW, calling Steve Slaton and comforting him on the air 29 years ago. AND IT’S ON THE WEB. What are the chances of this?

Bruce and his wife live in London now, so I e-mailed him immediately and asked him if he had seen the article. He was stunned. Like me, he could not believe that a recording of that phone call existed and would be available for everyone to hear 29 years later. He and I re-lived that night, via e-mail, which wore us out. The events of that night had such amazing significance for him, in ways that are too personal for me to divulge here, but suffice it to say, they helped shape him into the man he is today.

And, I cannot overstate how much Bruce shaped me into the person I am today. I met Bruce at the beginning of my senior year of high school. He and his family had just moved to our town and he was a year younger than me. He joined our school newspaper staff. I was the editor and it quickly became clear that Bruce would be editor the following year. He could write circles around all of us. He was so much smarter and faster than all of us. Plus, he loved rock and roll.

I was a huge music fan (thanks to having parents with remarkably cool musical taste) before I met Bruce, but Bruce really schooled me. He had such an intense personal connection with bands like The Who, the Kinks, the Beatles, and the Rolling Stones. He made me mix tapes. Many of them. And they were all accompanied by long (LONG) descriptions of each song and its significance. He was my personal rock and roll tutor and I was his eager student.

No single person outside of my family (and Lori, of course) has played a bigger role in making me the person I am than Bruce. To hear his young, 18-year-old voice again, when I wasn’t expecting it in the least, has been the most wonderful, humbling, and powerful gift ever. Thank you, world wide web, for blowing my mind yet again.

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Responses

  1. We went out to dinner Friday night with one of Joe’s brother’s and I told him this story, and he remembered this very call, and asked me to send him the link. More chills! So, Bruce’s call played some significance in other people’s lives, as well.

  2. I’d love to put your comments in Crosscut, related to the article by Feliks Banel. Please get in touch. David.Brewster@Crosscut.com


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