Back in the 70s, Vin Scelsa was a budding Manhattan DJ who ruled the night airwaves at a public radio station called WBAI, and I was a really little kid who suffered from insomnia. While I had a TV, it generally went off the air around midnight, so my go-to relief on those long sleepless nights was the radio. Since reception wasn’t exactly stellar, being so far from the city, I played with the dial a lot, and somehow, one night, I happened on Vin…or rather I happened on a station playing ‘Psycho Killer’ by a band called the ‘Talking Heads.’
The late 70s was not where New Wave music was really born. And while there were some innovative bands alive at the time, I could count them on one hand. The 70s was geared towards the pop single and it was disco that was ruling the roost. So alien was the sound coming from my radio, I was instantly in love with it. Unable to locate a pencil, I actually scratched the numbers 99.5 into the side of my old wooden dresser next to fading flower power stickers.
One of my prized possessions back then was a Radio Shack tape recorder, which I had saved up $12 to buy. Armed with this tape recorder, I stayed up until 4am the next night waiting for Vin Scelsa to play this song again, but instead, I ended up taping about twenty other songs I’d never heard of, and it would be another week before I added ‘Psycho Killer’ to the mix. Listening to that tape now, it astounds me just how prolific Scelsa was. It’s a who’s who of bands that wouldn’t become household names for another ten years. Devo, The Police and Blondie, Elvis Costello, The Sex Pistols and Johnny Cougar (Mellencamp.) There’s Planet Claire from the B52s and Lene Lovich’s Lucky Number. Songs that were the crest of a tsunami still several years from hitting shore.
Vin Scelsa was the kind of guy who talked to his audience like he was talking to his pals in his basement. He fast became my friend, his voice…a welcome beacon of companionship throughout the long dark night. I followed Vin from station to station as he grew from a college station DJ to one of Manhattan’s most prominent on-air personalities, and there is where Vin’s musical tastes began to enter the mainstream, introducing a whole new generation to music he’d been playing for me a decade. Doing the hipster thing, while that was going on, I started to seek out newer music, honing in on a whole new sect of college DJs who were playing unsigned bands. It had become my passion.
Musical taste is developed by experience. Mine was molded by Vin Scelsa and others like him who seeded my brain with the desire to hear the new, the innovative, the different, a desire that continues to this day. I’ll load anything onto my MP3 player and let it sit in rotation a week. By that point I’m usually like, “Wow, who is this?” or “Oh God, not this horrible song again.” Back when Napster was still a free download site and ‘pirating’ wasn’t an issue, I went through thousands of songs this way. Now I have to hunt for (decent, well produced, free…) new music, which is a shame.
Welcome to suggestions if you know any good sites for free, new music downloads.