I just had an experience worth talking about. I was parking my car and I had the radio on. A Brandi Carlisle song was playing, and I’m sitting there thinking, “What’s all the fuss about this girl?” I don’t really get it. I am also frustrated because finding parking on a a Saturday night on Capitol Hill is not very easy, and all I want to do after a long day out and about is go inside and sit down.
Then, the song switches, and on comes those tell-tale arpeggiated guitar-pluckings with the warm, electrified, if-they-had-a-color-they’d-be-sunny-yellow tones that mean only one thing: REM. “Strange Currencies,” to be exact. Also, I find a parking spot. So I smile and do a kick-ass parking job while singing “I don’t know why you’re mean to me…” And then I sit in the car, sing along with the rest of the song, and move on.
Why did I wait to hear the whole song? I have Monster, and easily could have just gone up to my apartment and played it. I was even thinking, as I sat in the cold dark, about what exactly it was that kept me glued there, unable to turn off the radio. And I think that the reason is precisely what can be magical about the radio. You never know what is coming, but the second you recognize a song there is this sheer sense of happiness. I can’t really explain it, but everyone knows that feeling, the “yes!!!” that sometimes escapes under your breath, even when you are alone. It would not have been nearly as satisfying to play it on my own. Maybe it has to do with a person on the other end, the DJ that put that in, and after traveling through the airwaves from wherever to wherever, the point of recognition is a powerful thing. It feels like an act of God.
That’s not very eloquent. I think maybe there is a song in here somewhere, but I can immediately think of two people who have done this better than I. Dar Williams in “Are You Out There?” says “You never know who’s still awake/ You never know who understands” and Paul Kimble of Pistol Star writes, “The lives that you saved were the songs that you played” in “Mr. DJ.”
Also let’s not forget the greatness of the song itself; to have turned it off in the middle would have been offensive. When “Strange Currencies” comes on, it’s like one big buildup to the part that goes “I need a chance a second chance a third chance a fourth chance…” where the rhythm kicks in in a surprise climactic moment. It’s the highlight of the song. It’s the whole point.