The Perils of Radio
When I was a teenager I used to live in a fantasy world of gangster rap. Not that I was hard core, or anything other than privileged, lower-middle class white America, but my friend and I felt that Dr. Dre and Snoop Diggity Dogg spoke to us. It was a phase I suppose.
My friend Robert and I would go around, not pretending we were ‘gangstas,’ by quoting and singing rap songs. Rob was better at this than me. He had the keener insight into a thug’s life since his neighborhood was far more dangerous than mine. The worst thing you find on my street was a woman everyone called Grandma who said the word ‘bum’ a lot. Not very gangsta.
We spent most of our early teens learning the words to, but not brave enough to live by, the songs of Dre and Snoop. We rather liked their videos as well, as there was always some bikini clad woman running around and that seemed like a good idea to us. That may have been the impetus for us liking the music in the first place but I really can’t remember.
Eventually, as they do, the lauded partnership between Dr. Dre and Snoop Doggy Dogg dissolved as Snoop was ready to hit the road by himself and come out with his own album, Doggystyle, a term we both understood to be dirty but really didn’t know why. The album sold a million copies in the first week and the main single of the album, called “What’s my name?” was all over the radio.
Since Rob and I were too young to buy an album with explicit lyrics, we had to settle for boot legs from friends and of course the radio. Taping songs off the radio well was a little tricky but we soon became masters and had ourselves some sweet mix tapes. It was my Snoop Dogg mix tape that got me into trouble with my Mom.
My Mom picked Rob and I up from church youth group one night and I had our Snoop Dog mix tape in my pocket. Maybe we just needed a hit of sweet Snoop, but I asked if it was okay if I put our tape in the player. Knowing my tastes in music differed greatly from hers, Mom was understandably concerned, perhaps even wary, but allowed it to happen. I slid the tape in and Snoop Dogg’s voice filled the car singing “What’s my name?”
Frankly you should never listen to young music with older people, it isn’t good for anyone’s digestion. As Mom listened to the lyrics, her face gradually distorted from confusion to disgust to wonderment that this was being played on the radio.
“And where did you get this?” she asked several times.
“The radio Mom, they couldn’t play it if it was bad.” I reassured her in my snarky teenage way. I’m actually surprised I didn’t get smacked.
It was at that moment that Snoop said, in the PG-13 radio version of his song, “I’m the ‘G’ with the biggest sack, and who’s that…” Everyone stopped talking and my Mom felt compelled to repeat, “The G with the biggest sack? What does that mean?”
Neither Rob nor I felt ready to answer questions about gangster testicles, especially regarding their size or manliness, and certainly not with my Mom asking. Undeterred by our silence, my Mom persisted, “Do either of you know what that means? G with the biggest sack?” This went on for a full, supremely embarrassing, minute before I finally got the hint and removed the tape.
“I should probably think twice before playing these things when you’re around.”
“Not unless you have the sack to answer my questions,” she said. My Mom was funny in hindsight and I couldn’t disagree with her. Shortly thereafter rap lost its appeal and I really hadn’t looked back since.
Fifteen years later, on my way to a laundromat, I casually flipped on the radio. After my brief love affair with rap, I never really bothered listening to radio, preferring my own thoughts and company to any of the nonsense that usually passes for pop music.
Then I began listening to Public Radio and some talk radio stations, because I’m getting along in years. I think it’s a rule, when you age, that several things that must take place in rapid succession; hair in wanted places, creaking in the muscles, and you start listening to NPR.
My wife, who I suspect will always be hipper and cooler than I (due to her being a whole three weeks younger than me), regularly listens to popular stations. I know that I sound like a curmudgeon, but some of these songs are truly horrible. Since my wife was the last to drive, one of these songs was on the radio as I turned it on.
It was about Sadomasochistic Sex.
A woman singing about brutal sex is quite startling if you aren’t expecting it. The lady sang something about “sex in the air,” and I will admit that my ears perked a bit. Then she said “but whips and chains excite me,” followed by what I can only assume was an overly graphic description of how excited she was by these instruments of torture. I don’t know for certain because as soon as I heard the line, I inadvertently exclaimed, “For Pete’s Sake!” and my hand shot out, of its own will, to change the station.
I can’t be certain which button I pressed, my hand acting of it’s own accord and all, but which ever one I did it seemed to be the wrong one. The radio lit up, started blinking, and the stations skipped ahead like a machine possessed. I have this effect on some older electronics. After a minute of losing its mind, the radio decided to choose a station for me, obviously disapproving of the previous song as well. It landed on the soft rock station, you know the type, the feel good channel that does anything but. Try as I might, I could not get the station to change. I was stuck.
That was when Kenny G began to play. I sighed and turned the radio off.
In case of a fiery car crash, I refused to die to a sound track of soft rock music. Kenny G should certainly not be the last thing you hear in this world. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.