30 Songs in 30 Days: Day 17
day 17 – a song that you hear often on the radio: White Stripes: Seven Nation Army
AJ is ten. He loves baseball, likes to read TinTin books whenever it thunders, and hides vegetables all over the house when he doesn’t feel like eating them. He rarely sleeps through the night without getting up at least once. He wants a dog more than anything. He keeps Johnny Unitas’ football card in his wallet where the pictures are supposed to go. And when he turns on the radio, he likes to hear this song:
Lucky for AJ, his wishes are usually granted. “Seven Nation Army” is on the radio all the time, which is funny for a song released 8 years ago. It shuffles up on Pandora all the time. And every time I turn on the radio, there it is. He’s adopted it as his personal theme song. He likes that repeating bass line, which, apparently, is not played on bass at all, but on an electro-acoustic guitar run through a processor, as you can see in this live version:
[This clip is taken from the film Under Great White Northern Lights by way of Rolling Stone]
The other thing AJ likes about the song is the part of the song lyrics that mentions a city he’s heard of: “I’m going to Wichita, far from this opera forever more.”
“Why ‘Wichita’?” asked AJ the other day when we were listening to it on the car radio with our windows rolled all the way down.
“I don’t know. Maybe because it has the right rhythm for the song.”
He thought about it for a minute. “What about Madison? Or Santa Fe?”
Then he answered himself about the second one. “But Santa Fe is by the opera. Is there opera in Madison?”
That’s my boy.
“Or maybe he’s thinking of ‘Wichita Lineman.’”
“Wichita Lineman” is one of Mr. Spy’s favorite songs. We have many versions, but I’m particularly partial to this one.
Something about it sounds to me like a band playing in a high school gym at 4 in the morning, when only a handful of couples are left to prop each other up on the dance floor. This song, however, is rarely on the radio.
I’ve been trying to remember what songs I heard on the radio when I was AJ’s age and what I liked about them. It was 1977. Mostly I remember Abba and Rod Stewart and the theme from Star Wars. But I can’t remember anything I especially liked I didn’t actually listen to rock much then. We had just moved to London and I had a Sony Digimatic flip clock, previously owned by my father, on the far side of my room. I still remember exactly what that clock sounded like. I’d lie in bed every night listening to the numbers flip over every minute. But by day, I’d push the grey button on top and take the tuner for a spin. I discovered John Cage that year through a broadcast on a classical radio station. I practiced my English accent with newscasters. But at some point I discovered radio plays. There was a station that played them regularly – maybe Sunday morning? I suspect there was more of a market for radio drama because there were only three television channels, a fact I like to share with AJ when I want to a) convince him I grew up in the dark ages, or b) horrify him with tales of my dystopian past. I loved being read to (still do) but this was like being read to turned up a notch. I don’t remember listening to a lot of songs though.
A couple of years later, though, when I got more interested in knowing what my peers were listening to, I did play songs. When I heard something I liked on the radio, I’d hold my cassette recorder up to the speakers and tape it. AJ likes to revisit radio songs too, but he usually just plays them on youtube or convinces me I like them too so I’ll download them from iTunes. He also employs another tactic I use with songs I like: he tries to play them on his guitar. His guitar teacher E is teaching him “Seven Nation Army.” Now we don’t have to turn on the radio to hear it. He is practicing the main riff day and night, first plain, then in the power chord version, and then in an arrangement all his own.
What song do you hear on the radio now? What did you hear when you were ten?