WBEZ’s Sound Opinions

I was on WBEZ’s Sound Opinions last week. Listen here.


Jim DeRogatis & Greg Kot, the hosts of Sound Opinions

“There’s a young man in a t-shirt, listenin’ to a rock ‘n roll station. He’s got greasy hair, greasy smile. He says, ‘Lord, this must be my destination.'” – from “Pink Houses” by John Mellencamp

That was me. I was totally obsessed with the radio as a kid. Every week, I would tape Kasey Kasem’s American Top 40 and cut my own top ten on Maxell tapes (I would add a well-placed “W” with a Sharpie). I have distinct memories of listening to those radio call-in shows, lying on the thick carpet of my bedroom, feverishly dialing a cordless phone. Q106.5. Hot 97. 105.7, The Point. KLOU, Oldies 103.3 (Good Times, Great Oldies). All those be-the-ninth-caller contests, the busy signals, and the thrill of “getting through.” I won CDs like Weezer’s Blue album, tickets to concert festivals, shows like Phish (with special guest Blues Traveller’s John Popper) and Pointfest. On long drives in high school, my friend Joe and I would plot playlists for our dream radio station, thinking we’d take over the FM dial one day. He still sends me e-mail with his lamentations on the state of radio today.

Following several viewings of Almost Famous — in which Philip Seymour Hoffman’s portrayal of the god of rock critics, Lester Bangs left me quoting forever after, “The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what you share with someone else when you’re uncool” — and thanks to a subsequent semi-obsessive delving into the life of Bangs, I became familiar with Jim DeRogatis through a biography of Bangs he penned called Let It Blurt. Alongside the Chicago Tribune’s rock critic, Greg Kot, DeRogatis hosts a weekly radio program on Chicago’s public radio station, WBEZ, called Sound Opinions where the two pick a topic and host an hourlong discussion selecting tracks which reflect the given topic. I’ve been a fan for as long as I’ve been familiar with DeRogatis, but I’d never called to contribute my two cents, which they air the following week in the form of voicemail.

Well, I can finally say I’m a “long time listener, first time caller.”

With the news that Bob Dylan’s seminal 1975 album Blood on the Tracks has been greenlit for the silverscreen, DeRogatis and Kot asked listeners to call with their own ideas for screenplays centered around a single album. Ears were burning, I shot up immediately, feverishly dialed as I had when I was a kid, and I culled together a semblance of what I wanted to say, and lo-and-behold, a week later I was on the air.

It was the same year Almost Famous was released. I was a sophomore in college. After an inspiring conversation about the film with my poetry professor, who’d just profiled one of the film’s stars for a magazine, I ended my dream of becoming a broadcast journalist to focus on becoming a screenwriter, for, I believed I could tell a story on screen that hadn’t been told before.

One of the stories I wanted to tell was of Grace. I didn’t know who she was or exactly what it was going to look like, but I knew I had the music. Jeff Buckley’s masterpiece released in 1994 is filled with these perfect, cinematic tales of love and heartache and breaking up and making up and chasing after something larger than oneself, all of which I wanted to capture in a movie. That, and the notion of the word “Grace.” What does it mean to be gracious, to be graceful? Though I never put pen to paper and made something of Grace, it still lives in my mind, the idea of crafting a story around an album.

If you just want to listen to my contribution, download the Mp3 and fast forward to minute 55:10. Otherwise, give the whole show a listen. It’s a good one. They talk a bit about the legacy left by Dick Clark and the week’s topic is a selection of the best second acts (though, I was surprised the omitted Aerosmith, who in 1998 had their first number one hit single with “I Don’t Wanna Miss A Thing”).

The radio station is not dead, and NPR is borrowing the philosophy of agile software development, by offering their products early in the development phase and updated or changed as new information presents itself. I’m sure my high school buddy Joe would have something to say about this.

In the meantime, I’m happy to debate with any and all comers the best albums-as-movies. Lord knows nothing could be worse than Frampton and The Bee Gee’s take on Sgt. Pepper’s.

Thank you to producer Jason Saldanha and the entire staff at Sound Opinions for playing my voicemail for your listeners.