I was in early high school when I got my first alarm clock radio. My parents were a bit older when I was born, so the LPs in the back of our hall closet were a generation-and-a-half out-of date: I remember mostly musical soundtracks like South Pacific and West Side Story. My older brother had brought the Beatles into our house but he had moved away for college and adulthood years before and the only trace of his musical influence was a Simon & Garfunkel greatest hits 8-track tape my mom had bought for a penny from the Time-Life record club.
In my bedroom late at night in the early 80s, I explored the sounds inside my new radio. I would bury myself underneath my Star Trek sheets, pull the radio inside, and listen with volume barely perceptible. Three was no real reason for the secrecy. I’m sure my parents wouldn’t have particularly cared. But I was a private kid. I didn’t want to let on that I was curious about the adult world. Pop radio and MASH reruns were my secret.
I had had a shortwave radio in middle school and brought the thrill of long-distance discovery to my radio explorations. Geography and sound had more mystery in those days before the internet. On a cold, clear night, I could tune in AM powerhouses half a continent away.
One particularly cold night, one of these distant signals played a song I had never heard or even imagined. It was half-drowned out by static. The signal drifted in and out in waves but I listened mesmerized. To a introverted kid in a sleep Philly suburb, this song was a key to a yearned-for future. I was instantly certain that that no one around me had ever heard this song. If only I could make out some words, maybe I could spend the next year scanning the distant radio bands to hear it again. As I got older, I could go into the city to scour bins in the seediest of indie record stores. This song no one knew would be a touchstones to a new adulthood I was constructing in the secret of my bedroom.
As the fade came, I barely caught the DJ’s words through the static. “Hotel California.” I vowed to myself that someday, somehow, I would find this song and hear it again.
RIP Glenn Frey.