Saturday, December 20, 2014

Sleepless Nights and Why I'm Thankful.

A common scene in my room as a child around 2:00 AM.

For many years as a child, and right on through my teenage years, I didn't sleep much. At one point around age nine, I'm almost certain I developed a case of chronophobia. I'd lay in bed at night, just staring at my clock and counting the minutes away. I was so stressed about making myself fall asleep that I'd become increasingly agitated and upset as the minutes flew by. At some point, I'd simply pass out from exhaustion between 3:00 and 4:00 AM. When you have to get up for school around 6:00 AM, it can be a challenge. Though, somehow I did it and made great grades. My willpower is what pushed me through.

Oddly enough, this blog isn't about my lack of sleep. It's about a side-effect of my condition.

As a consequence of not sleeping, I did a lot of things in the night while my folks were asleep. Books were a common source of entertainment -- I must have plowed through hundreds as a child in this manner. From Chaucer to Conrad, I read it all. Some of my most favorite books were first encountered in this way, like Betty Smith's "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" for example. Many nights were spent drawing and doodling by flashlight and moonlight. One of my favorite late night activities was enjoying music and talk radio. Of course, I made sure to use headphones. Sometimes, my mom or dad would wake me up in the morning and ask why I had a headphone cord wrapped around my neck. What they didn't realize was that when I finally passed out, it would be with the headphones still on. My dreams were often filled with music from the outside world, acting much like a soundtrack to the visions in my head.

To this day, I still have a hard time falling asleep without background noise, like a running television. I guess falling asleep for so many years with headphones on changes you permanently.

During these late night explorations into music and radio, I discovered many things not necessarily intended for children and teenagers. It's at this time that I developed my passion for Pink Floyd, Jethro Tull and Dire Straits. Unbeknownst to my dad, I'd lay claim to the cassettes he'd stack up and never listen to for my personal collection. Pink Floyd's The Final Cut and Jethro Tull's Crest of a Knave were (and still are) my two most beloved albums. I listened to them so much that I could remember them in their entirety in my head. Without having anything to listen to, I could close my eyes, concentrate and listen to a playback of the albums purely from memory. The strange part? I still can. I have permanent copies stored in my brain. While in class at school, I'd often get bored with whatever the teacher was saying. So... I'd zone out, enter my own world, "listen" to my music and escape.

Interesting side note -- the The Final Cut cassette that I co-opted from my dad came from Robby Batte, a highly talented photographer whom many of you may know. It was a copy he loaned my father, to which wound up ultimately in my possession. I still have that tape. To this day, I can remember the first time I looked at it in his car (the Battemobile). I'm eternally grateful to the Batteman for unexpectedly introducing that album into my life at such a young age. How cool is it that ripples from the past still influence our present in small, but powerful ways? Thanks Robby!

I also enjoyed many radio programs throughout the night. In the late '80s and on through the '90s, you could still hear actual disc jockeys on the radio playing real records. Even though I was in Virginia, I could dial in Oldies 100.7 WTRG from Raleigh late at night with little interference. They played Oldies from the '50s and '60s, which is probably why I grew to appreciate rock and roll at such a young age. Their disc jockeys had personality and explained information about the Oldies tracks and their respective artists. Ron McKay was one of the best jockeys on the station and he served WTRG very well -- right until the station changed format in 2004.

On Sunday nights, I could dial in WRDU from Raleigh on 106.1. I'd stay up all night eagerly awaiting Rock Talk with Allan Handelman. Allan was (and still is) a great interviewer. He'd cover the gamut of topics, not just those necessarily related to music -- paranormal, history, pop culture, current events, cinema, television, etc. If you ever get the chance, check his show out at www.ifitrocks.com.

Another program I listened to regularly was LovePhones with Dr. Judy and Jagger. It was your typical sex advice show where people called in with their questions and concerns. This would also play on WRDU 106.1, Monday through Friday at 10:00 PM to midnight. My mom or dad never gave me "the talk", but I never really needed them to anyway. Thanks to programs like LovePhones, along with lots of books, I was already very-well acquainted with the human body, sex and dating. If only I'd had the courage to use that information to get girls to like me in school! I would have been UNSTOPPABLE! The program went off the air around 1998, to which I eventually transitioned to Loveline.

As I look back on that time in my life, I'm thankful I had all those sleepless nights. They certainly played a role in defining my personality. Without them, I don't think I'd have grown up to be so gosh darn interesting!

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