COLUMN FORTY-FOUR, APRIL 1, 1999
(Copyright © 1999 Al Aronowitz)
JUST ASK HOWARD
Music, music, gimme that music, for I am a music freak. With that in mind you won't be surprised when I tell you that I was a radio station groupie. That's different than a band groupie. My idea of a band groupie is someone who sleeps with musicians. I don't fit that bill. I remember being in love with all kinds of band musicians from afar, but once at a concert one of those musicians tried to pick me up. I was totally offended. I swear this guy was all of thirty and I was. . . probably eighteen. I felt like Geez, get away from me! You look like you're THIRTY or something! It just seemed obscene.
So, nope, I was NOT a band groupie, I was a WRNW groupie. That's the radio station that Howard Stern used to work at in the '70s. I guess that makes me a Howard Stern Groupie. It wasn't because of Howard's pleasing voice or demeanor that he was a glorious thought in my mind.
It was because he had access to records and free concert tickets.
Don't get me wrong, I never slept with Howard or anything, all I had to do for free tickets was be caller number seven and I'd win seats for James Taylor, Little Feat, Procol Harem or whoever else was in town at the moment.
I really can't say how I got so good at winning tickets and prizes.
My parents didn't have speed dialing, they had a rotary phone. So it wasn't phone magic. It probably wasn't even all luck. I was pretty good at answering all those trivia questions they used to ask about band members and music. As a matter of fact, I was so good at ticket procurement that I had to keep changing my name in order to qualify for all the prizes. I kept a list of friends' names by the phone. If there were more friends than I could get tickets for, well then we'd all go anyway and find ways to sneak each other in. One way was to have people waiting outside the fire exits. You just walk by a door real fast and push it open. Then you stand way back, and watch everybody run in. Or you just wait till a zillion people come through the entrance doors, and try and walk in at the center of the crowd.
Don't believe my story? Well, there was always some WRNW D.J. around, announcing the band and mingling with the crowd, so just ask Howard, he might know.
If it wasn't tickets I was after, it was live recording sessions at the station. Once I managed to get my name on a list of invited listeners to an Aztec-Two-Step concert held in one of the Station's studio rooms.
On the day of the show I borrowed my parents' car and picked up my friend Kathy, sidekick for the day. I'd say we started the day at about 10:00 a.m. in order to get an early jump on the festivities.
Since WRNW was about six towns away, we needed to make pit stops along the route for some serious beer drinking and joint rolling. Now if there was one thing my friend Kathy was really good at, besides smoking and drinking, it was whistling and cat calls. Kathy could make even grown men blush. So, as we rolled through the towns, Kathy would lean out the window, loudly whistle and do cat calls in the direction of young men in cars at red lights, young men walking on sidewalks, and young men at construction sites. With her long brown hair blowing in the wind, she'd call out things like, "Hey Good lookin. . . Watcha doin? Wanna go for a ride?" Or she'd do her best Mae West with, "Is that a pickle in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?" Then she'd whistle and loudly kiss the air before shouting, "Nice buns!"
When we finally got to the station in this round-about manner, we were led into a room that looked to me like it wasn't much bigger than a ten-by-ten bathroom. The stage and speakers were set up at one end, and Kathy and I sat on the floor directly in front, right below the makeshift stage. For some reason, WRNW decided to give out what looked like about forty tickets, to fill a room where barely twenty people could fit. By the time the band came on, the entire audience was jammed together in cross legged position, while everybody prayed they wouldn't need to take a leak. I guess the radio station decided the more the merrier since it was going to be a live broadcast. This way the listening audience could wish that they too could be at this concert with all the people cheering and clapping for the band.
So there we were, me and Kathy crammed up against the stage while the band played what sounded to me like bad cover numbers. After about four songs, I turned to Kathy and said "I swear, if this band plays one more bad song, I'm leavin!'" Kathy just looked at me in straight-faced silence. When the next song sounded no better I turned to her, and in a very loud and public manner said, "This band sucks! I'm outta here!"
Then I stood up right in the middle of the number, looked straight at the band members who grew completely wide eyed at the sight of me, and said, "I'm leaving! Let's go!"
Then I turned around and proceeded to pick my way through the audience loudly proclaiming ""EXCUSE ME, PARDON ME, EXCUSE ME!" while trodding on fingers and toes at every step. The WRNW personnel looked like stroke victims as they tried in vain to silently wave me down from their standing positions against the wall to stop me from leaving. I just ignored them as Kathy trailed behind stepping on all the hands and feet that I managed to miss.
By this time the distracted band was missing notes, and the audience was yelling at me, "HEY, WATCH IT!" and "OW, THAT WAS MY HAND!" I had an entire radio audience listening to me proclaiming, "I HAVE TO GO! LET ME THROUGH! THIS SUCKS! I JUST HAFTA GET OUTTA HERE! EXCUSE ME, PARDON ME! EXCUSE ME!"
As a matter of fact, I wouldn't be surprised if some of those people who worked at WRNW in those days might not remember that show. Just ask Howard, he might know.
If it wasn't tickets or live broadcasts, it was records. I once called up the station and got connected to some guy who worked in the station's marketing division. We got to talking and he mentioned that he might be able to get me free records. These were the magic words, so when he said we should get together and talk records I readily complied. Then he asked me what I looked like and I told him I looked like Stevie Knicks of Fleetwood Mac.
I swear, the next thing I know there's this knock on the door. It was pretty quick, considering the drive from WRNW to my house was probably six miles through slow and winding suburban traffic. Anyway, I open the door and there's this funny looking guy with frizzy hair in a three-piece brown polyester suit asking, "Sophia?" I don't even know how he guessed it was me, since I don't look anything like Stevie Knicks.
Now, up until that moment, I always thought people who worked at radio stations had long hair and wore ripped jeans and T-Shirts. I was completely shocked by this man's appearance and I got ready to slam the door in his face after warily asking, "Who are you?!" He explained to me that he was the guy with all the records, so I decided to ignore his imperfections and give him the time of day. I figured any flaws can be overlooked at the right price. After this judgment, the next thing I demanded to know was, "Where's the records?!"
Surprised, she didn't know
the records were
at HIS house
Now for the sake of the story, I'll call my new friend Bob. When I asked Bob for the records he seemed all surprised that I didn't know the records were over at HIS house, and we'd have to go there together in his car and see what there was. Since Bob seemed totally benign in his polyester suit, I decided to chance it and got in his car without even asking where Bob lived. We had record talk as Bob drove us up the Sawmill River Parkway. I got a little uneasy as he got on the Thruway and headed over the Tappan Zee Bridge. I was like, "Uhhh, where are we going? Where do you live?!"
In answer he vaguely replied "Oh, it's not far."
"Uhh. How far is far, Bob?"
I'll give Bob credit for one thing, he wasn't kidding when he said not far. He got off the Thruway right on the other side of the bridge and pulled into the driveway of some enormous Hudson River estate.
Now I was sure this guy didn't own some mansion, so I started grilling him with, "What are we doing? Why are you stopping? Who lives here?"
This entire time Bob thought he'd impress me with this example of material excess, not knowing that big houses never impressed me. Big record collections yes, houses, no.
Finally Bob admitted:
"It's my parents house."
Now this, I could believe, since no guard dog came along to tear us apart and no alarms sounded, thereby tipping off the police.
So okay, now I'm at Bob's house and he takes me to his room where all the records are. With this I now know Bob ain't no fooler. He's got records up the wazoo. He's got four times as many as I did and I had about 200. I now think I'm in the right place at the right time.
Bob's got every band that's any good in my opinion. Beatles, Allman Bros., Pink Floyd, Doors, Dylan, The Band, Frank Zappa, Yes, Led Zeppelin, Bonnie Raitt and on and on and on. I mean, this guys even got a full blues selection with Muddy Waters, Taj Mahal, and I can't remember who all! I am in my glory at this point and haven't been paying any attention to Bob as I'm crawling around on the floor pouring over all the titles. All I'm thinking is, I want THIS one and THIS one and THIS one.
Finally I remember I'm at Bob's house and I stand up all flushed while excitedly asking "Which ones can I have?"
At this point he pulls out an Andrew Gold album and says, "here, you can have this one."
I take one look at it and cry "Andrew Gold! Who the hell is Andrew Gold?"
For some reason the room now seems very quiet to me. I look at Bob, who's now standing way too close and looking at me very strangely. I just stand there and wonder what's going on? Suddenly Bob has what feels like a dozen pair of hands.
I quickly think to myself, "shit! I've been reduced to whoring for records! Well then, if this is the situation, I'm gonna get the best deal I can!"
I push Bob away and say "OH! I know what YOU want! Okay then, I'll trade you for ALL those records you got!"
To this Bob cries out "What?!!..NO WAY!"
Not giving in to this, I put my hands on my hips and say, "All right then! I want all of your Joni Mitchell, your Jimi Hendrix and your Rolling Stones!"
In answer Bob glows red and manages to blurt out, "UN UH!. NO! UN UH!"
With this impasse I fold my arms tightly across my chest and pronounce "Okay! Deals off! Take me home!"
Bob stands in the middle of his room now turning twelve shades of deep red, and refuses to take me home. A shouting match ensues and I yell, "You better drive me home!"
Bob yells back, "I'm not taking you anywhere! Walk home!"
your parents and calling
He continues to resist until I say "That does it! I'm telling your parents and then I'm calling the police! Gimme the phone!" I start tearing the place up, looking for the phone and Bob realizes that I will make his life unbearable unless he murders me and throws my body into the Hudson. He also knows I'm up for the challenge and that I'm fully his match. So Bob angrily gives in with "OKAY! I'LL TAKE YOU HOME!"
On the ride home, in between long stretches of angry silence on both sides, Bob makes what he thinks are suave yet snide remarks like, "I can have any WOMAN I want, y'know!"
I just watch the trees roll by and say as little as possible.
"Sure Bob. Why don't you just shut up and drive."
Bob is Mount Saint Helens and spews out, "You're not a Woman, you're a CHILD! That's what you are!"
"Yeah Bob, right Bob, sure Bob."
"ALL woman want me! I've got lots of experience!"
"I shoulda known you were Frigid!"
"Looks like rain."
"You're just a little Mama's girl!"
"You can let me out here Bob."
"I'm gonna go get me a REAL woman, you know that?"
"Thanks for the ride Bob, it was nice knowin' ya."
Of course, if you don't believe my story, I could always give out more details about Bob and where he lived. I figure somebody who worked at the station would remember this guy. Hey, just ask Howard, he might know. ##
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