If it’s broke, don’t fix it

This week, the MP3 player in my car gasped its last. Not a hip iPod-compatible gizmo, my cheap stereo played MP3 files burned onto CDs. Since about 250 songs fit on a disc, I’d hit “random” on the player and listen to all my favorite music—from Coltrane to Cobain—for five hours before hearing a replay of the same tune.

The technology isn’t exactly robust. I’ve already had to replace one similar player made by Sony that lasted only three months. This one just barely outlasted its one-year warranty. I’m not buying another one.

It’s not a terribly painful loss. People lose homes to fires, house pets to coyotes and elections for governor. My loss, it turns out, was transformative.

That epiphany came to me this morning in my kitchen. My son Jesse, 16, strummed his guitar while we waited for his friend Geof to arrive for the drive to school. After Jesse broke his leg at a skate park last summer, he started playing guitar around three hours a day. He approached music with the same passion once reserved for flying through the air and spinning a thin slice of Canadian hardwood 360 degrees before landing on it again. Or not.

That kind of passion, it turns out, can result in what doctors have abbreviated as a tib-fib. Both bones in his right shin snapped like twigs. Jesse hasn’t skated since July—and doctors say he shouldn’t consider a trip to Mira Loma for another two months.

His guitar provides solace. This morning, he was playing the Against Me song “Unprotected Sex with Multiple Partners” (calm down, moms, it’s about the record industry). I heard skateboard wheels on cement. Geof walked in and parked his board in the closet.

I was humming along with the punk song.

“I can’t believe we can’t listen to music in the car anymore,” I grumbled.

“Yeah,” Geof replied. “But that political station is OK.”

“That political station?”

“Yeah, whatever it is.”

“You mean NPR?”

I was impressed. I wasn’t sure the boys had been listening to the stories on NPR’s Morning Edition—to which we’d tuned out of pure desperation.

I’ve been no big public-radio fan. I read news online and subscribe to a dozen magazines and journals. I’m not starved for intelligent commentary. And music calms me while driving.

But morning radio isn’t about music. This week, while scanning stations, I heard guys on Tucson’s The Frank Show mock Reno listeners who wanted info about an Arizona event. Sacramento’s Rob and Arnie were haranguing Dawn as usual. On the station known as “Bob"—a pre-fab format not named for the station’s janitor—DJ Dave mentioned that Reese Witherspoon and Ryan Phillippe were divorcing. He followed that with an appropriate response: “Who are Reese Witherspoon and Ryan Phillippe?” I smiled, feeling happy. Then came commercials.

I switched to NPR, which was airing a feature on young people’s involvement in politics followed by a fun bit on Charles Addams, creator of The Addams Family. Today we learned about trade relations between China and Africa and heard about the president of the National Association of Evangelicals who resigned after a male prostitute claimed that the two had a three-year relationship.

Geof’s comment made me realize I wasn’t giving the teens enough credit. Why wouldn’t they be interested in stories about the economy, religion and sectarian violence in Iraq? They’ll enter the job market soon. Before long, they’ll have to register with the Selective Service—and by that time, I fear our leaders will have reinstated a military draft.

So for now, we’re listening to “that political station.”