Last week I was going to post an elegy for my husband, Robert Boyd, who died on October 6, 2003. Among many other things, as "Mr. Boyd" he was an occasional WFMU dj, and that's how I became connected to the station. But I felt surprisingly sad on this year's anniversary, then I felt stupid for feeling still so sad, and then I felt stupid for feeling stupid, and then I didn't want to feel anything anymore, so I didn't write that damn elegy, and then I didn't write the funny smut I usually do, because feeling sad and stupid and empty does not generate funny smut.
Rob once said he believed in two things, and WFMU was one of them. (The other was not God, in case you were wondering--it was the Brooklyn Academy of Music, where we met, and he had worked off and on since 1987, and founded the BAM Archives.) Though he was sick for five years with an auto-immune disease called sarcoidosis, he died suddenly, from a pulmonary embolism. You would think when someone goes from being young and healthy to being in a wheelchair, and in and out of the hospital a lot, and on a list of medications as long as your arm, you might talk about the possibility of that person dying. We didn't, in case you were wondering.
But I remembered the thing about believing in WFMU, so after he died, I passed on about 3,000 records to the station. Some went to the library, some went to the record fair, and a copy of Right Said Fred's "I'm Too Sexy" went to Station Manager Ken (not just because he is too sexy--he had been looking for it). Dj's Belinda, Hova and Wah Wah skimmed off the finest in kid-friendly fare for the Uncle Mr. Boyd Wing of the Greasy Kid Stuff West Library. I think they had to rent an extra little U-Haul dinghy for those records when they drove off to Portland. I gave Rob's parents and sisters cassettes of his older shows, and they say they are comforted by the sound of his cheerful voice doing lonely overnights and later the prime time Big Luau from East Orange, NJ. Kelly Jones had the station buy a handicapped ramp so we could get into the building for what turned out to be our last Greasy Kid Stuff fill-in; now bands use it to load in equipment, and I suppose handicapped bands would be doubly happy to have it. We didn't scatter Rob's ashes, but there are bits of him all over.
I worry about forgetting Rob, and then I wonder if it matters, because worrying and wondering are a kind of remembering. And anyway sometimes I remember things that didn't happen. When Belinda and Hova moved away and set up a studio in Oregon, they needed volunteers to take turns running the board at the station, and I signed up. I had co-hosted lots of shows with Rob, and I had watched him cue up lots and lots of songs, but I had never done it, and I wanted to learn. After the training session, I went upstairs to Studio B to practice fading in and out from one cut to the next.
It was dark in the studio and everybody had gone home, and I felt pretty damn cool sitting in the dj cockpit in the swivelly dj chair. I held the cd case in one hand, scanning the track list, while I reached up and hit the button to open the cd tray. As one track was winding down, the other on pause, I watched the remaining seconds count down. My fingers were resting on the faders, my eyes on the dim blue glow of the digital clock, and I suddenly felt like I had been exactly there before, in this position, blindly tracing these gestures in the air. These movements were already a part of me, and I didn't know I knew them yet. It was a dance I had somehow learned but never performed.
It turns out I suck at this dance. Running the board for GKS entails doing 2 simple things: 1) plugging and unplugging a couple cords, and half the time I forget to unplug them, and 2) cueing up the first cut for Laura Cantrell's show, and half the time I screw that up, too.
Recalling that studio scene, remembering the memory of something that never happened, it all seems like a cheesy Demi Moore Ghost moment, the one where she fondles the clay pot and glycerin tears spill from her puppy dog eyes. My moment wasn't ghosty--I don't think Rob was hovering in the background. But it was moving. For a moment our gestures had synced up in the space between open and close, play and pause, forward and rewind, fading in and fading out.
When people die, they leave a big black space in your life. Or maybe the big black space is full of people who have died. Every week on her show, Laura plays an Airwaves Archive, breathing life into recordings of forgotten radio broadcasts. It seems to me that the part of radio that is always ebbing away from us is the part that makes it so achingly compelling. We can archive everything we broadcast now, but as a radio station we broadcast first, sending signals out from towering transmitters. The airwaves are already a vast archive, filled with murmuring voices drifting past each other out into space.
So somewhere out there in space--I may be wrong on the science, so just go with me--Rob's voice still echoes across the universe. Somewhere out there in space, someone can hear an exuberant moment during a WFMU marathon, archived on Live Music From a Dead Campus and now also on a GKS show dedicated to Uncle Mr. Boyd. Nutcase Harvey Sid Fisher, known for his astrology songs, had come out to the station to play live for big ticket pledges. He sings his goofy song, the volunteers clap, Bronwyn laughs, and Rob deadpans, "If I never broadcast again, I'll go to my grave happy that I had this moment." But somewhere out there in space--just go with me--Mr.Boyd is still broadcasting.