This appeared in yesterday’s RAIN newsletter. I can identify.
This week commemorates the 50th anniversary of The Beatles‘ first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. Ed Sullivan brought mainstream exposure to many bands over the years, including The Beatles,The Doors, and The Rolling Stones.
But as a kid in those years, my radio was more influential than the TV. Radio in the New York City listening area was where the pop/rock revolution unfolded in real time, where adolescence was soundtracked, where potent media personalities held court, and where coolness was bestowed upon those who listened to them.
Alison Steele, the late-night DJ on WNEW-FM, was a bright star of the radio galaxy. Her dusky voice, exotic mood, and progressive musical taste made a killer combination, and her late-night show probably turned me into the insomniac that I became.
She called herself “the Nightbird,” and she conveyed a shamanic presence, like a sacred guide to the deep mysteries of hippie rock. Alison Steele was psychedelic in her programming, but more than that, she seemed to be the very source of psychedelia, a kind of cosmic earth-mother who could navigate us through the arcane messaging of songs like “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.”
She opened each show with a spacey soundtrack over which she intoned the neon physics of her radio reality:
“We’re deep into the night. And from this point on, all sense of time will cease to exist. Only space, and the sensory. That which we feel and experience becomes the manifestation of all the cosmic waves of the universe. The sound pours into the brain, and pushes all barriers to the outer limits of perception, and we are in space. We are above and beyond. Come. Fly with me, Alison Steele, the Nightbird, until dawn.”
To a 13-year-old kid, this sort of thing was like a siren call to fantastic realities barely glimpsed