Sunday, August 26, 2007
The Sadness Of FM Radio
All week long I have been haunted by Talk To Me, a brilliant understated movie in which Don Cheadle plays Petey Greene, an ex-con turned famous Washington D.C. disc jockey. The film documents his release from prison and subsequent friendship with Dewey Hughes played by Chiwetel Elijofor. Greene's star rises in that predictable fashion of movies and life, but he tanks on the Johnny Carson show, the moment that Hughes has worked for to make him famous, a vicarious thrill shown in sad splendor when Hughes takes a spin in Johnny's chair when he thinks no one is watching during dress rehearsal. The two part ways after this debacle of disappointment, but get together in the end before Petey G. dies an early death from hard living. In the interim, Hughes finds his own voice in radio and dumps the Uncle Tom outfits for the occasional dashiki. Even so, he still watches Carson late into the night. His soul is, for all intents and purposes, split. This formula is nothing new, but at the end, I found myself oddly affected by the eulogy at Petey's funeral, a rehash of his old radio sign off, and found myself trying not to cry like during E.T. when I went with a group of friends and prided myself on being the toughest one, all the while digging in my hand, physical pain replacing the emotional turmoil.
The movie has funny parts, lots of them, but it can't shake the feeling of something lost, wounded and broken. "Sometimes I miss that itty-bitty room with the record player and the phone," says Petey when he starts to make it big, a man who is in over his head. We miss it too, I'm afraid, the fleeting beauty of the radio whispering in and out of our days. There are so many voices we grow dependent on, the reliability of which is always in jeopardy because of the demands of life, the toll of addiction, the sure finality of death. When we hear something wonderful and new and true, we know it won't last because it can't. Petey often plays Sam Cooke's "A Change Is Gonna Come," one of the most hopeful and saddest songs I know. It's the kind of song that you listen to when you're alone in an itty-bitty room, the big world outside, and you know that at some point you have to step into it and nothing will ever be the same again.
Michelle's Spell of the Day
"If you don't live it, it won't come out of your horn." Charlie Parker
Drinking essay collection suggestion: The Honeymoon Is Over edited by Andrea Chapin and Sally Wolford-Girand
Benedictions and Maledictions