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Encore performances: Light on your head and dead on your feet.

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I try not to ride the Encore Performances too heavily. But since my last repost mentioned this post, I figured I’d serve up this one too. Also from January 2011 on the old blog.

Dammit, I told myself I wasn’t gonna post twice tonight.
I was gonna go upstairs and sleep, or maybe reintroduce myself to my wife.

But when the memories come knocking at the window, they demand to be let in.

As you all know, Gerry Rafferty is dead, and writers throughout blogland are remembering how his music touched them — especially the mighty “Baker Street” and the album from which it came, City To City.
I recommend you read the reminiscences of Jim Bartlett at The Hits Just Keep On Comin’, if you haven’t already; the music of Rafferty meant a lot to him.

Rafferty’s music didn’t touch me quite so deeply.
But it is part of a childhood memory I hadn’t thought about in a long time, from a time and place long gone.

When I was a kid, I was a night owl, content to park myself in front of the telly and soak in whatever I could find until 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning.
I loved solitude and the imaginary brotherhood of night owls.
I was also getting over a deeply held childhood fear of fire that I’ve blogged about before (edit: not yet reposted, that one) that affected my sleep habits for several years.

(My parents were not the sorts to let me sleep until noon, so I don’t remember how I reconciled the night before with the morning after. But no matter — that’s not our subject tonight.)

Of course, night owls in the mid-’80s were at the mercy of their local television stations.
If they all went off the air, there would be nothing to stay up for.
In Rochester, N.Y., where I lived, there would always be one or two channels showing movies all night … but it was always a crapshoot as to whether the movies would be worth watching.
(There was one channel that used to show “Mr. Majestyk” and “Shaft’s Big Score” at least three times a month.)

On clear nights, though, I had a different, exotic option:
I could go out into the garage and use a broomstick to turn our big antenna toward Buffalo so I could watch “The Cat’s Pajamas” on WGRZ, the city’s NBC affiliate.

“The Cat’s Pajamas” was an all-night show — guaranteed to last as long as I could — hosted by a guy called Barry Lillis, who used to freely smoke cigarettes on the air.
They had two movies each night.
And during the breaks, Barry would throw it over to the news desk for an update, or perform a brief monologue, or cue some sort of short comedy skit, or run a contest.

It was low-budget, and it was certainly not as groundbreaking or anarchic as “Late Night with David Letterman,” which was in its early years back then and doing great, unpredictable stuff.
But “The Cat’s Pajamas” was still fun to watch, and every show was a little different.
Plus, it usually offered grade-B films like the “Carrie” ripoff “Jennifer, the Snake Goddess” — cheap thrills for a preteen kid curled up in the dark.

A show like that needed a grand introduction.
Something that proclaimed, “Never mind that it’s midnight. The fun’s just starting, and you’re welcome to ride with us all the way to daylight. The rest of the world is missing out — too bad for them. Come aboard.”

And when Raphael Ravenscroft’s sax sounded, I knew it was time to step off the platform and onto the train.

Gerry Rafferty’s music didn’t help me through any hard times or provide the backdrop to any relationships.
But — along with warbly versions of “The Star-Spangled Banner” — it remains a permanent soundtrack to a defined period of my life … a period of long upstate nights and crackly companionship coming in through the airwaves.
And that, quirky as it may be, is something to appreciate.

One response »

  1. When I was growing up, the UHF station in DC that showed Brady Bunch reruns also had the TV rights to most local sports broadcasts. One of my earliest memories is hearing them play an incredibly catchy tune at the end of Bullets games called “Bullets Fever.” I assumed it was put together by the station or team and didn’t hear anything about it for 25 years. It turns out that it was an actual song written, composed, produced, and performed by Rock and Roll Hall of Famer and DC area native Nils Lofgren during the team’s run to the title in ’78 (there were actually two versions – one written after an early round playoff victory and the other after the championship that I remembered). Nils had already done a lot as part of Neil Young’s band in the ’70s by that point as well as his own recordings, but he said that it was the song of his own that got the most play ever on AM radio.


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