by Christopher Cappello
In November 2014 I got in a car with Jeff and drove one hundred and thirty-four miles to Cambridge, Massachusetts. We were carrying a mixer, two speakers, a PA head, t-shirts, a handful of vuvuzelas, and at least two hundred copies of the first issue of the zine that I edited: #23, on appropriation. Jeff played songs by Tycho. I played songs by Neil Young. We talked about Pavement records and the year ahead of us; at the time, Jeff had just been elected as general manager, and I was the new programming director. The next day, Yale’s football team would lose to Harvard’s football team at Harvard Stadium.
In Cambridge we stopped at Theo’s uncle’s place to drop off the equipment. Theo was living in the area at the time, and after Jeff navigated the complexities of the Cambridge residential parking system, she came out and gave me a hug. “Welcome,” she said. It was dark and freezing cold but there was the prospect of a full night and day and we felt alive with it. I was a sophomore in college.
Jeff went off to play a show with his band, Young Republicans, at a student bar somewhere on Harvard’s campus. I stuck around for a while and watched Jeff’s group. Then I met up with Anna and she showed me WHRB, Harvard’s student-run station. “We still broadcast on the FM,” she said. “Ninety-five point three.”
I met Anna’s friends and told them about WYBC, about the zine, about how we brought Porches. to campus the previous year. They were impressed, they said. That night, Kal Marks and Bad History Month were performing in-studio sets at the station. I drank cheap beer and Anna drank Angry Orchard cider and we watched the artists play.
Anna and her friends showed me Harvard’s campus. She showed me her dorm. We went to the banks of the Charles River and smoked in the brutal late-November air. Thomas texted me saying he was home and I could come over now. Thomas used to be GM, too. That was back when I was a freshman.
“Well,” I said. “I’ve gotta go.” I headed out eastwards down desultory Memorial Drive, looking blankly at the river. At a stoplight, I took my earbuds out of my leather jacket and put them in my ears. I scrolled through my iPhone and pressed play on Tonight’s The Night by Neil Young. Tonight’s The Night, sang Neil. But I was pretty stoned, and my night was mostly done. I flexed my fingers in my gloves to increase the circulation and walked the mile and a half to Thomas’ place.
The next day WYBC had a tailgate outside of the stadium. Not too many people showed up, but the bartender was serving a horrific cocktail called yucca flats and I drank it with my friends and we ate soul food and played music and laughed. It was even colder that day, but we talked until our throats were sore and our hands were numb.
I never entered the stadium to watch the game. In fact, I don’t think I even had a ticket. Instead, I went home on an Amtrak train and thought about the absurdity of falling in love—not with a person, but with a radio station. A community, to be sure, but a community orbiting around the radio—a format so dead that it’s part of the unofficial WYBC tagline that introduces this issue. Love is love, I thought. Absurd or otherwise, there’s no wrangling to be done. I thought about my dad, who had attended Brown in the 1980s before WBRU went commercial. I queued up Tonight’s The Night again and drifted off to a half-drunk sleep as the train rolled back to New Haven.
The liner notes of that album, most of which was recorded in a single day in 1973, feature a cryptic letter written to a pseudonymous figure called Waterface. “I’m sorry,” says the writer. “You don’t know these people. This means nothing to you.” If that quote sounds familiar, it’s because the Staten Island indie rock band Cymbals Eat Guitars interpolated it in their song “Lifenet,” which came out in the summer of 2014 on an album called LOSE. This, to me, seems to express the fundamental anxiety of the confessional artist—what if what I wrench from the bottom of my heart doesn’t mean a thing? What if I give it my all, and nobody wants to take? “I’m climbing this ladder, my head in the clouds,” sings Neil on “Borrowed Tune,” a lonesome song with a melody self-consciously cribbed from the Rolling Stones. “I hope that it matters,” he sings. He draws out the last word over piano keys as if to extend it—as if to drive in his stake just a little bit further.
In his biography, Neil Young says that the Waterface character wrote the letter, too—to himself. “It’s a stupid thing,” says Neil. “A suicide note without the suicide.”
This being my last issue as editor, I guess you can consider this letter to be of a similar nature. But this is our 25th issue and we’ve all worked hard and I know that this publication’s future is in good hands.
So with that in mind—Goodbye, WYBC. We’ll always have Cambridge.