(Above: The 12″ single in question. Good luck finding it.)
I had a long conversation with my college radio advisor yesterday. John Carey has been responsible for the students of WLRA at Lewis University for the last thirty years or so. He was a young advisor when I was a freshman back at the school in 1987, and we shared a few laughs thinking about some of the stuff that I tried to get away with on the radio as a young disc jockey. John said to me, “You always knew where the line was, and sometimes you’d stick your toe over it, just to show everyone that you knew where it was. But you never ended up on the wrong side of it.”
It’s not that I didn’t think of heading there. I did, after all, once open my morning show on WLRA with “Anarchy in the U.K.” by the Sex Pistols. It’s not exactly the sort of thing that you expect to hear on the airwaves of a Catholic school radio station. (For that matter, I would often backsell “Catholic School Girls Rule” by the Red Hot Chili Peppers with the line “A public service reminder from your friends at WLRA.”)
It’s also instructive to consider that the times were much different. College has changed quite a bit since then. The Flyer’s Den, a bar in the basement of the student union where I could get three beers for a dollar after class, is long gone. There is no such equivalent on the campus where I now teach. I’ve told students about some of the things we used to do in terms of promotion on the college station (hitting cars with sledgehammers to raise money for charity, for example) and they are surprised that we did such things and/or were allowed to do such things. There were also jokes and remarks that were acceptable in the 1980s that I couldn’t imagine being comfortable with my students making now. Call it “political correctness” if you insist, but I prefer to think of it as “being more decent towards each other.” Jokes about sexual orientation, race, and ethnicity just don’t fly on the radio like they used to, and I don’t think that that’s necessarily a bad thing.
Consider this record, which I played often on my morning show at WLRA. We received a 12″ record in the mail touting the winners of the Snickers New Music Search. The A-side, by the Playboys of the Revolution, was utterly forgettable. (I had to look it up to see what it even was.) The B-side, however, immediately caught my attention, and thinking about it now, it’s very strange that it won a college contest for anything. The song was called “Beer Goggles,” and it detailed a young man’s exploits in the bar, getting drunk, meeting a girl, and sleeping with her. The first verse sets the tone for the record:
“Cruisin’ to a party, to pound a few brews/Gonna get some snapper, before the night is through. I met this fat chick and I’m thinking, ‘no way.'”
The sex isn’t the controversy; it’s the way that he describes the woman throughout, with phrases like “fat pig,” “there’s a walrus in my bed,” and the like that makes the song sound totally foreign today. It’s the sort of song that, at the time, would have had the guys in the studio high-fiving each other while the girls rolled their eyes wishing that we’d grow up a bit.
It’s worth noting that there is no implication of rape or assault in the record. The guy doesn’t slip anything into the girl’s drink; she’s just portrayed as desperate, much like he is. (In fact, it could be argued that the guy could not have given consent, given his impairment.) But in today’s culture of awareness about sexual assault on college campuses, I can’t fathom the song being sent to college radio with a suggestion for airplay. But I played it, complete with cow sound effects added for good measure. There’s at least one foot over the line, and the other one is dangling in the air.
This week I met the new students for both our student radio and television stations at Grand Valley. Each semester I explain to them that my role as advisor is to be the liaison between them and the university. “I will defend whatever you want to create,” I tell them, “provided you tell me first what it is. But don’t be afraid to push the envelope. When you leave college, you’ll have fewer chances to do so.” It’s been multiple semesters since a student has taken me up on the offer. But if one came to me with this song, I’d have to take a long look in the mirror and notice that the college DJ in the reflection is a little older and a lot wiser.
Ordinarily, this is where I share a link with you to hear the song I’ve written about. Perhaps it’s telling that I can’t find one. (The single is in my collection. If you are intensely curious, drop me a line.)
(Update: The post with the aircheck from December 5, 1988 contains the song, but you have to sit through a lot of morning show to get to it. Good luck.)