Everything I learned about music, I learned in college

I’m borrowing a phrase from Robert Fulghum for that title, but it’s true–I read somewhere a long time ago that most people’s musical taste is formed during their college years and the stuff they listen to then is what they will listen to for the rest of their life.

 So, if you’re into country music as an undergrad, you’ll still be listening to country radio in your forties, I guess. I really screwed up this hypothesis, or at least expanded it so far it practically exploded, because when I was in college at the University of South Carolina, I was a DJ at the campus radio station, WUSC-FM. This was in the mid-80’s, when the stuff that was played on college radio wasn’t heard everywhere else, too–from Husker Du to the Replacements, the Descendents, Hoodoo Gurus, Winter Hours, The Windbreakers, Swimming Pool Q’s, and on and on, just the ‘rock’ bands from this four-year phase of my life’s musical education would fill a dozen posts.

Here’s where it gets interesting. WUSC was ( and still is, actually, check them out at www.wusc.sc.edu ) a free-form radio station, which meant that instead of rotations that mirrored commercial station playlist styles, the DJs were free to play any non-commercially aired music they wanted to. There were even whole three-hour specialty shows devoted to specific genres, from reggae to hardcore, world music to folk, even classical and experimental.

So what happened was that I was exposed to a staggeringly wide variety of really good music during my four and a half years at USC, most of which I’d never heard of before. Wisely, or just innocently, more likely, I soaked it all in and kept looking for more.

I remember going to a college radio convention in New York City in 87 or 88, and shopping at Sounds on St. Marks Place, which I think is in Greenwich Village? anyway, I walked up to the counter with at least a hundred albums from their under five dollar rack, and the clerk looks down at me over his oh-so-hip Elvis Costello glasses and dryly comments like he’d seen this replay all day, “So, these for your station?” To which I replied that no, these were for my own personal collection (As a southern boy I was too polite to tell him to mind his own f-ing business and just ring up my purchase, you pretentious jerk.), which at least got a raised eyebrow out of him. I actually had to leave some clothes behind in the hotel room to fit all those albums into my suitcase–and I even still have most of them.

 Anyway, if there’s a point to this other than the fact that this weekend is Alumni Weekend at WUSC and I did a two-hour shift on air, playing classic local music with the current host of the local music show that I inititated twenty years ago next month, the point is that an open mind about music is the best policy and too many people shut down their music receptors at too early an age, leaving their tastes stagnant in the beer-soaked memories of collegiate nostalgia. While I had some moments that included beer, most of my collegiate memories are soaked in music.



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