It's one thing to form a bond with a local radio disc jockey - we've probably all had our favorites over the years that we listened to with almost religious regularity - but it is something else entirely to develop an almost familial relationship with a DJ an entire ocean away.
Somehow, some way, I managed to do just that with John Peel.
Now, if you were as voracious a reader of British music publications as this writer was, then you could not help but become familiar with the name "John Peel", as he was often referred to in glowing terms by any number of iconic artists (The Undertones, New Order, and The Sex Pistols, to name a few) for plucking them from obscurity and making them stars. His name was also attached to a now seemingly uncountable number of Peel Sessions albums from Joy Division, Pulp, and Killing Joke to the Chameleons, House of Love, and the Smiths.
Of course, being broadcast by the powerful BBC gave this singular "music whisperer" the largest pulpit anyone could possibly imagine. It is to our mutual and eternal benefit that the BBC, to borrow a popular Clash album title, gave him more than enough rope to hang himself and immediately came to regret it in one sense (Why's he not just playin' the hits?!"), but could not argue with his consistent popularity and steady ratings.
All that ended quite suddenly on October 21, 2006 when John Peel died of a heart attack at 65 while on vacation. Upon hearing the news, Britain seemed to come to a screeching halt as if being informed a member of the Royal Family had passed.
Since then, family, friends, and many of the artists whose careers he helped throughout his five decades on the air have wasted little time in paying fitting tribute to Peel's immeasurable contribution to British music, and pop culture in general, over the past five decades.
Here in the States, it's easy to underestimate the charm of the Undertones' "Teenage Kicks" because, quite frankly, none of us have still ever heard the song on the radio, MTV, or anywhere else. but for an entire generation of kids (now fully grown and wistfully nostalgic adults) who heard the song blaring out of a radio or telly that tyhey knew darn well was tuned to the stodgy old BBC, were immediately left to wonder how such a fun, vibrant, and openly sneering song could have possibly found its way onto the airwaves of the mighty Beeb!
|Screen grab of the John Peel Archive, containing Peel's entire record collection|
But neither geography nor simple physics could keep Peel a secret forever to we voracious consumers of music who long ago strayed from the "trail most taken". Technology has since done the rest, making Peel's radio shows streamable to anyone on the planet with a fast enough internet connection prior to his untimely passing and bringing documentaries like "John Peel's Record Box" (viewable above in its entirety) and the John Peel Archives (where Peel's voluminous record collection is documented and curated).
It gives those of us not lucky enough to have been born within earshot of him the opportunity to be just as amazed by his love for and championing of great alternative music when, we now know, it was often done with the complete disapproval of his superiors.
So today, on the tenth anniversary of his passing - because, let's face it, when the music stops that suddenly, you never forget the day - open your heart and ears to the world of John Peel.