The end of childhood, part I: the end of an era

This is a big year for me. If all goes according to plan, I will be leaving a career, going back to school and probably moving before the fall even gets going. By the end of December, I should have finished my first semester of …

This is a big year for me. If all goes according to plan, I will be leaving a career, going back to school and probably moving before the fall even gets going. By the end of December, I should have finished my first semester of law school. No matter what happens, I will not be able to avoid turning twenty-seven and entering what is undeniably my late twenties. I’d like to finish the record I’ve been working on for a few months, and my best friend hopes to make an ambitious short film which will undoubtedly involve a lot of my time. Also, the last _Star Wars_ movie comes out in May. Like I said, this is a big year for me. If I have a resolution this year, it’s to end my childhood gracefully, with much aplomb. It was something of a shock, however, when the very first indication of my youth’s doom arrived earlier this week, out of nowhere.

On Wednesday, one of the venerable pillars of mainstream modern rock radio switched formats, catching a lot of people off guard. With a casual quality of something like money passing over the counter, the radio station that demanded my teenaged attention, and eventually cynicism, was gone forever. It was particularly jarring that the station changed not only formats but also languages. WHFS, 99.1FM in Annapolis, MD, [turned Spanish language][steve] and Latin soul at 12 o’clock noon, Eastern Standard Time, on January 12, 2005. So the obituary should read, and so ends an era.

Now, as sudden as the changeover seemed on Wednesday, it was not wholly unpredictable. HFS was owned by the media conglomerate Infinity Broadcasting. When a part of a larger company has financial difficulty, expect that action will be taken to restore the profitability of that part. There were signs that HFS had been ailing.

WHFS was the first place I heard a lot of bands I would grow to respect later, including the Smiths, New Order, the Pixies, the Police, Radiohead, the Ramones, and the Sex Pistols. It also remains the only major radio station I have ever known to play They Might Be Giants. I hold radio to the standard that HFS set in the glory days of modern rock. There was a time and a place where you could hear quality music that was both challenging and new. There was once a radio station in the world with a sense of history, playing the music from ten years prior that was directly relevant to the hits of the day. It was a station with a sense of cool. It’s a small thing, but the original, independently-owned operation never embraced the moniker of “alternative rock,” even when local competitors were rushing to embrace the genre HFS had pioneered.

Sadly, those days were long over by the time HFS met its demise. The influence of corporate hegemony was obvious, all the way from the obnoxious morning show to the constant announcements of the station’s status as “the True Alternative.” My first reaction when I discovered the switch was bemusement and elation. I felt like saying, “I told you so,” but I’m not sure to whom — maybe the people who sold the station in the first place or all my friends who already agreed with me that corporate radio sucks. Now, I can’t deny my sadness that the station is gone. The death of HFS threatens me, in a way. I cannot think of a more appropriate way to mark the beginning of being “old.”

Already, I feel a generation gap (and maybe a karmic gap) between my teenaged cousins and myself. A few summers ago I took them to see Fugazi — the band that embodies rock and roll cool, in my mind. I was offering my cousins an initiation into the hipster club I had been so determined to find and infiltrate when I was their age, and they just didn’t care. They couldn’t have been less interested. I tried to explain to them that sexy art-student chicks will want to sleep with them in college just for having been there that day. They didn’t believe me and they still wanted to leave. Now, they’ll finish out their high school years with the radio stations that I rejected to listen to “cooler” 99.1, WHFS. What’s cool has changed. What was cool is dead. The younger generation and I will probably never see eye-to-eye about music.

I suppose some things just change when they’re ready to, and they change without telling you. It’s funny. I’ve got a whole year of changes planned. The first one, HFS’s demise, was a total surprise, and a mix of good and bad. In the grand scheme, there are much bigger things to come. I’m spending the next months bracing for the biggest potential disappointment in my movie going history: _Episode III — Revenge of the Sith_. There’s still law school to consider. I’ve applied to nine schools in four states and the District of Columbia. To date, I’ve heard from none of them. Eventually, the passing of the True Alternative will be nothing more than a brief reminder that things change and life goes on. There is no thick black line between boy and man. It’s a matter of collecting small changes until the world seems utterly different from before. Every now and then, something pops and you really notice. Things lines up in a way that you are forced to reckon with. That happened to me this week. I’m sure it will happen again.

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Article © 2005 by Matthew Fishel