4’33” on loop

I listened, like a good number of my generation, to the last few hours of NU 107’s broadcast last night. While there were some glaring omissions, like the number of OPM songs that weren’t played (The Dawn’s “Salamat” comes to mind), the evening was at turns moving, joyful, and evocative of memories of all sorts.

Like some of my local readers, I had an NU phase, and that was brought on by the writer Jessica Zafra, whose column in the late Today newspaper was a favorite of mine. Zafra’s “Twisted in the Morning” began after a musical set that begun, as all Mondays on NU 107 supposedly do, with the Boomtown Rats’ “I Don’t Like Mondays.” The show itself proved that it was possible to do talk on FM, and not long after the more popular “The Morning Rush” came on air. Its format became the template for everything talky on the main top 40 (or middle class oriented) stations. On a less, um, refined note, a low-rent version can be heard on the station which can be held directly responsible for the market shifts that eventually saw off NU 107 and other specialist radio stations.

Zafra’s show was my entry into the world of rock that NU 107 distilled for local consumption. The choice of an Eraserheads song for its last, pre-sign-off tune was most appropriate, as I began to listen to the station when the band’s career was taking off, sending others following in its wake. The station’s play-list helped expand my musical horizons, and my mother, whom I usually rode with to school, just had to grin and bear it.

I stopped listening to the station in 1996–again, following Zafra to another late, lamented station (that’s 103.5 K-Lite)–but I occasionally checked back to hear what was going on. However, many of the songs from the time I listened to NU still surface in my memory every now and then, evoking times both happy and sad, but otherwise forming part of my life’s soundtrack. (One of the last songs was Pearl Jam’s “Spin the Black Circle,” which was a song I hadn’t heard since those halcyon days.)

This evening, on the Facebook fan page of a local band, one of the band’s members responded to a post on the then-impending demise of the station. It was time to move on, the member said, and there were alternative channels for certain kinds of local bands to get the word out. He said that the station’s turn-of-the-century “mainstreaming” did hurt it a bit. I wondered what it would have been like if I stayed on and heard all the changes. But I think the facts are clear: NU is gone, and after quite a while, it may be that it may re-emerge in another format. (One tweet said it best: the 4000 or so people watching the livestream of the final night should give Atom Henares and his colleagues an idea of where to go.) And we may look at this, perhaps when time has passed, as a classic art v. commerce story, one of many that deserve to be retold, especially to generations to come.

I will dare to say that the last tune of the night was not the National Anthem or “Ang Huling El Bimbo,” but John Cage’s “4’33”.” It was played, on loop, to the sound of people quietly departing the studio, leaving Garnet St, some in tears, others in laughter, still others in silence. It was played as the crowd moved on to bars and restaurants or headed to other places. Cage meant it to remind us of the value of the unsaid, where paying attention to that silence could bring about the wisdom we need to salvage our culture and our world. To tune out the earworm, the exceedingly noisy confusion of news and opinion, is the greatest challenge. And perhaps that is the challenge I leave to us of the NU generation who have grown up with another kind of noise.

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One thought on “4’33” on loop

  1. Pingback: Three things 10 – 1 March 2012 | Thinking and Doing

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