Thursday, June 22, 2017

Be Still My Curious Eyes

A look at the songs that have shaped
my life and ended up on my devices.
In the late 1980's, when my Queen Mother was pursuing her Master's degree in education, she made many a trip to the UMKC library with your young servant along for the ride. One one cold February day, as we journeyed from Raytown towards downtown Kansas City -- and through the seedier, trashier, run-down parts of town lining Swope Parkway -- I remember this song coming over the radio, which I had tuned to KYYS ("KY-102") as I developed a taste for album-oriented rock.

"Is that Sting?" the Queen Mum asked.

"Yes," I said, surprised she knew that.

"He has a very distinctive voice."

Mother knew best, and she crammed her head with all sorts of knowledge in those days as she researched at that library. I liked it because it had oodles of magazines I couldn't find at school, including Radio/Television Age, that trade publication that let me read about everything going on in the broadcast world that didn't make the regular newspapers. Not far away from that collection on the shelves sat World Marxist Review, the kind of magazine you didn't want in your mailbox, one that claimed to chronicle peace and progress. I couldn't digest more than a couple of pages of it, and what I did read, I couldn't comprehend. International politics and wonky policy didn't appeal to any of my senses. That was even though I was researching heady issues as part of the debate team. I remember drawing upon the library's vast resources as I prepared to debate the topic "Resolved: that a candidate's public policy is more important that his personal reputation." This came before Google, when the only computer search I had linked to the library's card catalog. Feeding a few keywords into a green-screen Wyse terminal brought up a few hits on a few books, which may or may not have the information I sought. Then I actually had to go find the books on one of three floors, organized by the a system other than the familiar Dewey Decimal System.

What did I learn from this library work? That I had a lot to learn. That very little information I was finding was useful in building my debate cases. Maybe I would score a useful chunk here or there. At least the Queen Mother was having better results as she took notes and put together what would be an epic research paper laying out a teaching plan for Hemingway, long enough to resemble a thesis, even though it wasn't. I helped her get AppleWorks -- on our trusty, reliable Apple //c -- to print it all out correctly.

Some years later, when I went to college at the University of Missouri-Columbia, I would tuck myself away in Ellis Library next to the stack of TV Guide. Whenever I needed a study break, I would reach for one of the bound archives on the shelves and see what was on the air in March of 1972.

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