When I was still old, I read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. In this
book, Robert Pirsig ruptured a spleen trying to define "quality." I
wasn't wasted enough to understand much of the book, but Pirsig impressed upon
me the importance of quality.
"Even though Quality cannot be defined," he writes, "you
know what Quality is!" He likes to get excited like that and use exclamation
points for no reason.
Quality is the difference between two-part harmony and ten poodles yapping.
It's what compels you to smell a rose. It is what Siskel and Ebert were so
bad at measuring with their thumbs.
Please direct your attention to a local radio station that is to quality
what a sumo wrestler is to lawn chairs. I can't divulge its name, so let's
just say that they've been calling themselves "new" for 10 years
I'm pretty easy when it comes to music (I'm easy when it comes to a lot
of things). You could pull a few songs off the Top 40, and I'd sing along.
As a lay listener, all I ask is the opportunity to tap my toe. It's when
the music turns to DJ drivel that I find myself banging at the typewriter.
K-N-E-W presents a large cast of drivellers, but I'd like to focus on the
kingpin -- their evening personality. We'll call him Troy McClure.
Every time Troy comes on, I get a heavily fertilized taste in my mouth.
The bully in me howls at the moon. My only defense is to mock the man, but
I just can't master the ease with which he puts his foot in his mouth.
A friend pointed out that my radio comes with an Off button. I thanked him
for the taste of my own medicine, then explained that my jogging radio gets
only one station. It's K-N-E-W or nothin'.
You also have to consider morbid curiosity. As much as I despise that voice,
I am compelled to listen to it. The same way I can't stop picking my scabs.
The same way I can't flush without looking.
What bothers me so much about the guy? I don't know, and that's what hurts
the most. It isn't any "thing." It's mostly that the affront to
quality goes unnoticed. I haven't been this frustrated since I was the only
one to recognize that the movie Castaway has no ending.
"If you have a high evaluation of yourself," writes Pirsig, "your
ability to recognize facts is weakened. Your ego isolates you from Quality.
When the facts show that you've goofed, you're not as likely to admit it.
When false information makes you look good, you're likely to believe it."
Oh, he must know Troy McClure. Troy doesn't even know that he speaks with
a mouth full of foot, and he seems to take pleasure in the awkward silence
that we all try so hard to avoid. Worse yet, he suffers from elephantiasis
of the ego. You've never seen a guy fancy himself so for telling knock-knock
No, you know what it is -- it's the way he hangs prizes over your head like
a master making his dog jump for Milk-Bones. People call in desperate for
$5 off their Ralphs bill, willing to do anything, answer any question ...
if Troy would be so kind as to choose them.
No, no. That's not it. It's the fact that I'm still listening.
Last week, I was jogging in the hills, listening to Troy McClure because
I can't stop picking that scab. After his Crusty the Clown introduction,
he talked at length about dental floss, then presented the evening's stumper: "What
am I drinking?" If you guessed correctly, he had a pair of tickets to
the local cinema!
A teenager called and asked, "Is it 7-Up?"
"Nope. Hu-hu-hyuck. It's not 7-Up..."
Then he cut to commercial to preserve the cliffhanger.
Maybe I was bitter for climbing a 10% grade. No. The 7-Up thing would sicken
me any day. It was the epitome -- what's an epitome turned upside down? --
of hokey radio.
For relief, I tried AM. Fuzzing through the stations, I got Spanish, Spanish,
and then some more Spanish. You just can't move your legs to polka. AM must
stand for "all Mexican."
I returned to FM and there was Troy, waiting for me: "Nope, it's not
milk. Call back."
Perhaps he is a sign of the times. Maybe Crusty programs all broadcasting.
Reality t.v., infomercials, the WWF...none come close to touching our collective
They're all slivers of Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire, the prototype of
Unquality. When you see a group of bimbos competing to marry a wallet, the
madness is just more evident. Like dark roots on a blonde bride. Stations
like K-N-E-W are wrong in the same way, only to a different degree.
Then, if your dignity hasn't convulsed to death, you get the commercials.
Skip and Steve, for instance, are so painstakingly lame that Mother Theresa
is scratching at her coffin to bonk their heads together. Or the testimonial
by the morning voice encouraging other moms to lose weight. Or the commercials
in which the BMW dealer attempts to act despite protests from the gods.
"You must have some feeling for the quality of the work," writes
the motorcycle dude. "It's not just intuition...It's the direct result
of contact with basic reality, Quality."
Yes. Some sort of contact with reality. That's what I'm asking.
There's not much to this column. Yahaira asked that I not write it at all.
She has seen what this man does to me. I don't know if he's a naked emperor
or anything, but he typifies an invasion of alien DJs who are trying to undermine
our sense of quality and who sustain themselves on the attention of those
with human voices.
Jogging downhill now, I deemed it safe to tune back in. It had been 30 minutes
since I last tried K-N-E-W, and chances are that Troy would play music at
some point. At length I found the station:
"That's close, but what KIND of cherry soda..."