DO YOU REMEMBER DAN CARLISLE?
I've written a lot about how much I hated Columbia College. Here's a different kind of piece, about how much I loved listening to Dan Carlisle on WNEW FM. Basically it's another fun-filled stroll down memory lane. Please comment nicely!
It makes me very sad that I spent four years at Columbia College studying English literature, yet after thirty-five years I can't remember a single important truth or a single moment of inspiration in class. But I do remember listening to Dan Carlisle and the Night Service on WNEW FM.
There were a lot of good disc jockeys on WNEW FM. I can still remember Scott Muni ("Scottso" he called himself) and I can remember Dave Herman and the Work Force Blocks. But for some reason Dan Carlisle was my favorite. Maybe it was because he came on late at night, after classes were done for the day. I was alone in my room and it was dark, and when that Fifties saxophone came on the air I felt like jumping up and dancing around. Maybe during the day I was a charity case who didn't belong at a fancy Ivy League school, but at night I belonged to something real, something bigger than any college, because Dan Carlisle said I did.
What kind of music did Dan Carlisle play? Well, he certainly played the big hits, like "Jump" by Van Halen. But sometimes he played songs like "Gloria" by the Doors, songs that didn't come on the air very much in the daytime. And sometimes he played songs that hadn't been on the air in ten or fifteen years, like "96 Tears" by Question Mark and the Mysterians.
I hated Columbia, thanks to the cold, indifferent faculty and the spoiled, stuck-up student body, but I've always been a scholar at heart, and something about Dan Carlisle's approach to rock and roll really appealed to me.
Every night I had the feeling that he was searching for something, some lost classic that had been overlooked. Every night I felt like he was on the edge of playing the one special song that would set me free and give me the courage to break out of my tiny, roach-infested room in Wallach Hall.
Dan Carlisle did more than play those old-time rock and roll records. He played them like they mattered. He told me that I mattered, because I cared about that music. It didn't matter if I wasn't tough enough for the Columbia rowing team or funny enough for the Columbia Jester. It didn't matter if the professors looked right through me like I wasn't even there. Dan Carlisle knew I was out there, and he was talking to me. He was doing more than talking. He was keeping me alive.
Unlike everything else I learned at Columbia, "96 Tears" sticks in my mind to this day, and it's because of something Dan Carlisle said one night. He mentioned that Question Mark and the Mysterians never had another hit after that one classic song. But then he said, "I don't care if you have twenty top forty hits or not, if you come up with one song like that you have made a contribution."
Everyone has something to contribute. No-one is really alone. That's what Dan Carlisle was saying. And that's so much more than any Columbia professor ever taught me.