By Zero Feeney
During my second sophomore year in college I had a show on the school radio station. (I actually had three sophomore years. It’s a long story.) But during my second, I was on KLC, Lewis and Clark radio. We had the same radio frequency as Reed College. Their station could be received over most of the Portland metropolitan area. Ours could be received from inside some of the closer dorms on campus. Then just from inside the student union building. Then just from the closed speakers to the booth. Then one of the speakers broke.
However, nobody seemed to know this at the time or perhaps they didn’t care, or at least didn’t care to tell me. So I showed up on the day in question, nervous, excited, and ten minutes early like the passionate student DJ I was. I got my spiral notebook out of my bag and opened it to look over my song list but found it difficult to concentrate because the best punk song ever recorded was coming out of the speaker from the booth. (I am tempted to qualify this part and call it my favorite punk song, or one of the best punk songs, or an important punk song, but I owe it to you and to the song itself not to soft pedal it for once. It’s just the best.) That was the first time I heard it and it was rapture. I stared at the steel speaker in the wall, simultaneously frozen and on fire.
When it was over I just stood there, paralyzed for a long time. Then I turned and looked into the booth while the DJ played her last two songs. After this it would be time for me to go in and set up. I was excited but I was also scared. I had to ask her what the song was but I was intimidated. You see, the other DJ was really cool. She, like, did stuff. She was Macrobiotic before anybody even knew what that was. But on the other hand I couldn’t not do it; I couldn’t not ask her. So when she was wrapped up and her sign–off song was playing I asked her what that song third from last had been. Her face lit up like a bright light.
“It’s called Carnival by Bikini Kill. Isn’t it incredible?”
“Yeah, It’s unbelievable. Who are they? Where are they, like… from?”
“They’re students! From this art school up in Washington. They just played downtown on Saturday at the X-ray Cafe!”
“Oh… well too bad. I guess I missed it.”
“No! They’ll be back at the end of their tour in a few weeks. You could totally see them.”
I know she told me more but I can’t remember any of it. In my memory her voice fades away.
This is the part of the story were I would love to tell you that I went to the show. That when the room was howling and they brought the girls to the front it gave me that magical feeling of seeing justice be done and maybe feeling like I was part of it. That it helped me become a more vocal feminist and not a semi-closeted one.
But none of that happened. I played the song on my show every week; I looked at the cover of the EP; I played the other songs. But I didn’t do anything else. I never went to a show. And then the band was gone. Forever.
I never saw Bikini Kill because in that moment, talking the cool DJ in the doorway of the booth, I didn’t believe her. I couldn’t believe her. I couldn’t believe that anything that good, that sharp, that pure could come from people that you could actually go and see. Who you could talk to. Who were just across town or down the hall. Things like that song—incredible things—were from far away. From big cities on the far side of a screen where someone like me would never be on the list. I felt that she must have wanted to deceive me somehow or had made some mistake. She must have gotten it wrong.
So I didn’t go and I have always regretted it. I hope that someday I will somehow rectify that mistake and stand up and cheer for the music I love so much.
Now you may think that this is a sad story but actually it’s not. Because that song taught me a lesson and taught that lesson deep. Since then, whenever I see a show or a play, listen to music being played in front of me or hear a demo tape that an accountant made over the weekend, I can hear it. I can really hear it. I can listen with everything I have. Because the best things, the perfect things can happen, are bound to happen just down the street or right here, right now, in front of someone, in front of you, in your real life.
Art is for, and comes from, and belongs to, everyone.
Especially when the transmitter is broken.
Like I said, it’s a really good song.