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It was Mick Jagger who got me fired.

I had dreamt about this all my life. All 17 years. I had waited for this moment like a heron waiting for a frog dinner. And Mick Jagger, that whiny wisp of a rock star, that devil with a blue dress on, blew it up in my face.

Every moment of my life, every breath I took, every move I made, pointed to this day. Music was my life. I remember the great moments of that life not by what I was wearing or which way the wind blew, but by what song was No. 1.

The day I got bar mitzvahed? I might have worn a blue suit. Or maybe it was a gray blazer. But one thing I know for sure. “Kansas City” by Wilbert Harrison was No. 1.

My first date? I think it was cold out. Or hot. I don’t know. Not even sure who I took out. Of one thing, I’m certain: “Blue Moon” by the Marcels was the top of the charts.

Most days, while others smoked cigarettes on the corner or shoplifted at Woolworth’s, I sat in my room, looking out at the rain. Locked away with a little red and black 45 player and stacks of records. In fifth grade, I put together my own “Top 100” list and circulated the one and only copy among the kids in my class. Most kids thought it was cool. An evil kid turned to me and said, “Get a life, man.”

But this was my life. While other boys dreamt of being doctors or lawyers, those careers weren’t good enough for me. I was going to be in this country’s most honored profession: I was going to be a disc jockey.

And I had the best mentors you could have. Only they didn’t know it at the time. Hy “Hyski O’Rooney” Lit, Joe “The Rocking Bird” Niagara and “The Geator with the Heater,” Jerry Blavat. All right there on my radio.

I was the only 11-year-old kid in America who knew what a cross-fade segue was. How? I listened. I practiced. I practiced long, and I practiced hard. I played my records. “Keep-a-Knockin” by Little Richard literally had a hole in it. I had worn the grooves off of that sucker. So, I bought a new copy. Came back tomorrow, and I tried again.

My first job as a real DJ was at the sixth grade Sadie Hawkins dance. I screamed into that microphone and attracted dogs from all over the neighborhood. My teacher, Mrs. Freese, with a pained expression on her face, came and took the mic away from me.

“Maybe you should wait until your voice changes,” she said. And so I did.

With all this preparation, in my freshman year of college, I was on my way to a big future in radio. I got my own jazz show on the campus radio station. And I didn’t just play music, I tried to teach.

One day, I talked about how jazz was influenced by the blues. And I played Muddy Waters’ “House of the Rising Sun.” Then I talked about how rock ’n’ roll was influenced by the blues. And I played the Rolling Stones’ “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.” For about 12 seconds. That’s when the graduate assistant in charge of the station came running into the control room, veins popping, and knocked me off the air.

“This is a jazz station,” he said. “You played rock ’n’ roll. You’re done. You’re finished. Why would you do this?”

I looked him straight in the eyes.

“I know it’s only rock ’n’ roll,” I said. “But I like it.”

“Get out of here,” he yelled at me. “You’re a smart ass. You’ll never amount to anything.”

Just one more anything. In 1993, having amounted to something, I was named my school’s alumnus of the year. Hey, hey, hey…

 

Maury Z. Levy, former editorial director of Philadelphia Magazine, is the retired chairman of Levy Jacobs Marketing in Marlton. Email Maury at maury@levyjacobs.com.

July 2017
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