I listen to cassettes in the car. I like the old songs, the old sequences. Some weeks ago, I listened to several songs I recorded in 1987 off WFMU, the N.J. free-form radio station that's been flouting convention for decades. One song, a languid, chamber pop confection graced with the sunny yet sad chorus of "I spend/ too much time/ dreamin'," greeted me like an old, dear friend. But I had never known its name. Suddenly, I had to know.
Not too long ago, this sort of conundrum might well have remained unsolved. But now you just Google the chorus, right? This time, that only turned up scores of false leads. So I turned to a more traditional search engine—my music-obsessed friends, folks who might not know the song but would, at the least, fathom the impulse behind my quest. So I played it over my car speakers and recorded it onto my iPhone. I sent it to my wise friend Steve Simels. He didn't know but said it sounded like some kind of home demo. At my request, he posted the song on his blog and asked his readers to weigh in. One floated the theory that it was by The Cyrkle, of "Red Rubber Ball" fame. After some research, I came to doubt the theory. I posted Steve's link on Facebook, only to garner numerous variations on "I have no idea."
Weeks passed, and life went on. But I still had to know who did the song. Finally I got smart. WFMU remains a beacon of eccentric good taste and anything-goes broadcasting, a place where the very DJ whom I thought had played the song in 1987—the wonderfully sleepy-sounding Bob Brainen—still did his show. I sent him an e-mail, and he asked for the song. Bob didn't know who did it, but he was positive it wasn't The Cyrkle. (They never used a pedal steel, he assured me. Bob knows these things.) He suggested some obscure acts I should investigate; he would look, too, but in the end we both remained flummoxed.
Bob wrote and said he'd play it during his upcoming show. Maybe a listener would know. This seemed my last and best hope. The morning came, and I listened. After a long set that culminated in "Dalvatore Sally" by the Boyd Raeburn Orchestra, my moment came. "A listener has been obsessively trying to identify this song," said Bob, "and I am thoroughly caught up in the obsession." He described how I had recorded the song years ago on FMU, and then, after preparing his listeners for my rough recording, he played my clip twice. Before it ended, a listener responded on the comment board: "Hey, it's Jim Price."
Price, as I soon learned, was an WFMU DJ and musician. "Dreaming" appeared on a 1987 cassette-only compilation of songs by DJs that went out to the station's contributors. (So Simels was right; it was a home demo.) Only WFMU's Reagan-era faithful would ever have heard it. I found it oddly reassuring that some things cannot be found through a Google search. (Oops: There goes that.) True, technology had enabled me to pose the question to my far-flung network, but it was the persistence of memory that gave me my answer.