Cat Dedications, Al Martino & A Penchant For Radio

cat at radio

I listen to a lot of AM radio and I find that the lower bandwidth creates a more pleasing sound than FM.  I also prefer the sound of long playing records to digital CDs.  It’s the analog versus digital thing, I guess and from what I can tell, I’m not alone.

The analog sound, so full of warmth and roundness, is one that I find particularly useful as a model for tone production at the piano.  That is to say, that when I am practicing, I try to create as golden a tone as possible and boy did those pianists from the early days of recording (Ignacy Paderewski, Alfred Cortot, Moriz Rosenthal and the lovably eccentric Vladimir de Pachmann to name a few) know how to make a beautiful tone!  Piano playing aside, this is a post about another side of radio and the sweet, little Gouldian moment that the AM dial gave me on a cold, snowy winter evening.

About a month ago, I was driving home listening to one of those caller request programs that always seem to be wafting over the airwaves on Friday nights.  You know the scene, you’re alone, listening and picturing those folks “out there” who are busy shopping, clubbing, dining, hanging with friends or, in other words, not listening to the radio, at least not willingly.  But I love solitude and I love these little experiences that only radio can give.  I’ve always found there to be something secure and safe about the airwaves.

So, on this particular evening, a number of people called in for this song, for that song.  One man asked for Bad Timing by Blue Rodeo.  I had heard the song, but didn’t know the title or the artist and so had one of those little radio moments where you say to yourself, “oh, so that’s the song!”  The caller had wanted to connect the song to lost loved ones.

Suddenly, a cheerful female voice called in to the program.  “Yes, hello, I’d like to request Al Martino’s I Love You Because.  It’s for my cat.”  And cue:

Admittedly, I don’t know the life story of Al Martino however, I’m fairly certain that the music of Webern, Gibbons, Bach and Sweelinck were not on his list of future recording projects.  Still, this caller’s request is so very Glenn because it illustrates precisely (and sweetly) the reasons for which Glenn preferred the medium of radio above others.

Now let’s be clear, Glenn detested the McLuhanesque type of “linear” radio (yes, both AM and FM are notorious for this).  Speaking in 1971 with John Jessop about “Radio as Music,” Glenn said that these types of programs came out sounding “‘over to you, now back to our host, and here for the wrap-up is’ – in a word, predictable.”

Glenn loved radio.  As a boy, he would listen to theatrical radio programs of the 1940s, commenting that, “a lot of that kind of ostensibly theatrical radio was also, in a very real sense, documentary making of a rather high order.  At any rate, the distinctions between drama and documentary were quite often, it seemed to me, happily and successfully set aside…I was fascinated with radio theatre because it seemed to me somehow more pure, more abstract, and, in a certain sense, it had a reality for me that, later on, when I became familiar with conventional theatre, that kind of theatre always seemed to lack.”

I know that had Glenn lived beyond the age of fifty, his plan was to ease up on piano playing and devote the bulk of his time and energy into making radio documentaries.  I think why I like the cat dedication story so much, is that it emphasizes the very thing Glenn loved most about electronic technology, the ability it has to create an intimate, direct-to-listener experience.

“Technology is a distance,” he said, “something that places itself between the audience and the point of origin – the artist, the work, or both.  That placement is not only moral in a biological sense, but it also affects the final product by the fact that, if properly handled, it can change and improve it, and introduce new elements that otherwise might not be introduced.”  (From the article, “The Glenn Gould Contrapuntal Radio Show” by Robert Hurwitz, The New York Times, January 5, 1975.)  In other words, through the sheer fact of technology having put space between you (the listener) and the performer/creator, you have, in turn, the opportunity for a very direct and personal listening experience which, for Glenn, was the sort of acoustic environment for which no concert stage could capture.

Back to the cat dedication of I Love You Because.  The story is ever so sweet, of course, because it involves animals and we all know how Glenn adored his four legged friends.  It seems to me that if a person is to dial up a radio show to request and dedicate a song to their cat, they not only love their pet, but also, there is – though perhaps not acknowledged as such – an appreciation for the unique qualities of radio.  The direct-to-listener space that one gets through radio is surely not as easily attained on television.  Dedicating a song to your pet over a cool medium like television is rather silly.  So then, radio – even the linear type programs that were a far cry from Glenn’s densely textured contrapuntal radio documentaries – is still a trusty vehicle for delivering personal and moral listening experiences.  And as Glenn’s best friend, Lorne Tulk (a retired CBC Radio technician) told me, radio is a much simpler medium than television.  You don’t have lighting, sets, camera angles, etc.  It’s just sound.

Glenn worked very hard at being a good person.  It’s something that I’ve touched upon in nearly all of my posts, in particular Glenn and Corduroy and Why Glenn Gould Loved The Mary Tyler Moore Show.  It also served as the point of departure for 1982 Times Two, a post about Glenn’s humanitarian efforts and his having left his estate to the Salvation Army and the Toronto Humane Society.  Glenn used to say that he got along much better with animals than with humans.  And so it is, that the world famous pianist who, during his historic 1957 Russian tour, sent his dog, Banquo a charming post card – and who would, later on, be criticised for having abandoned the concert stage in favour of working in front of a microphone – could very well have penned, as a letter to his own four legged friend, the lyrics from our radio cat lover:

I love you because you understand, dear
Every single thing I try to do.
You’re always there to lend a helping hand, dear
I love you most of all because you’re you.
No matter what the world may say about me
I know your love will always see me through.
I love you for the way you never doubt me
But most of all I love you ’cause you’re you.
I love you because my heart is lighter
Every time I’m walking by your side.
I love you because the future’s brighter
The door to happiness, you open wide.
No matter what the world may say about me
I know your love will always see me through.
I love you for a hundred thousand reasons
But most of all I love you ’cause you’re you.
(Song by Leon Payne, 1949).
I think that, apart from perhaps Lorne, nobody truly understood Glenn as well as did his animal friends.  In many ways, I Love You Because is a perfect song for Glenn.  Now, look at this next photo and tell me the shoe doesn’t fit.  (P.S. Thank you to The Glenn Gould Foundation for sharing this and other photos of Glenn and kitty.)
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To the lady who called in to request a song for her cat, I say thank you for giving me an idea for a blog post.  To the fellow who called in the Blue Rodeo song, thank you for just plain picking a good song!