I'm sitting on one of those Midwestern metal lawn chairs, the kind that look like they took their color scheme from a picnic tablecloth.
There are no windows, and the musty smell of sweat, dust, and teenage angst fills the room so thick you could choke on it.
My best friend Matt McLemore is pouring his heart out. He's lost and more than just a bit confused. It's not just the scattered pool balls that leave him pondering his next move, it's his love for a girl named Sabrina Stade. She's an impossibly beautiful girl with impossibly impeccable manners. When Sabrina sings, people listen. Her ivory skin is porcelain; it only irritates you more, constantly thrusting her angelic presence in front of you.
Sabrina is the type of girl Matt might just be lucky enough to date, only he isn't.
And that's where he stands now, lost and lonely and wondering what it is about him that turns Sabrina off.
I listen intently, knowing all too well what it's like to pine after a girl who you'll never get. My own personal quest to get just a mere hello from Harmony Willis has been met with futile resistance.
The opening chords to "Black" by Pearl Jam begin emanating from the AIWA speakers, leaving Matt and I speechless for the roughly 6 minutes it takes Eddie Vedder to wail out his own personal suffering at the hands of a girl he loves.
But the music filling my incomplete basement isn't from a CD, it's from the radio.
It's from the radio station that carved a deep road within my youth and development. It's coming from Chicago's New Rock Alternative, Q101.
Matt and I sit there, as we would do for hundreds of hours throughout the next five years, and we opened up about life.
It's impossible to overestimate the effect Q101 had on my formative young adult years. I certainly wasn't alone.
I often feel sympathy for high school kids who grow up in an age where music revolutions cease to exist. Real shifts in music palettes are rare. Luckily for me, the advent of grunge and the shattering of hair metal coincided with my high school years. For up until the point when Kurt Cobain said 'enough' and rewrote the playing field on what kids would be listening to, I was laboring in an a non-existent pool of music levity. I knew of The Beatles, of Motown, and of oldies.
I had no real music knowledge.
Then, in an instant, Q101 blasted onto the airwaves with the same 'take no prisoners' attitude as the bands that they played in endless rotations. Q101 was everything to us. Their simple black and white logo reenforced all our opinions on the world looming in our near future. We were sixteen, there were no shades of grey.
You were either one with Q101, or not.
Without Q101, I may have never delved deep into the back catalogues of legendary musicians. Without Q101, I may never have found Pearl Jam in the way that I did. To this day, the band that helped shape my ideals and morals rests with the medium of Q101. They were a comet onto themselves, and Matt and I called in day after day requesting their music.
It wasn't just Pearl Jam.
I discovered Green Day through Q101. Smashing Pumpkins. Soundgarden. Nirvana. The Cure. STP before Weiland went lame. And the list goes on and on...
Q101 was the soundtrack to my youth, constantly humming in the background of parties, get-togethers, and the cars that drove us there.
Driving into the city at night, filled with an enduring equation of both fear and courage, Q101 lifted your spirits and gave you an edge. You might be naive, but at least you had the anger of Trent Reznor to get you through the night and all its offerings.
There were no IPODS.
There was Q101.
Q101 brought people together, most notably the opposite sex. Without the crooning of Bono on U2's "One", I may have never pursed lips with Christie Hart. Or her best friend Stephanie Womback. Admittedly, not my classiest move, but at least I had the emotional dexterity of The Counting Crows to balance out my guilt. Q101 gave me Adam Duritz and his bizarre tight-rope walking emotions. I felt okay.
In later years, I danced merrily to The Dave Matthews Band. Got snotty with the boys from Oasis. And mourned like everyone else when Kurt left us.
Q101 was the older friend that understood what it was like to be 18. To feel alone. To feel outcast.
And yet you never were, because you had Q101.
Like all great loves in life, things changed.
I moved to Los Angeles, and Q101 moved on to less relevant bands. They had no choice. At some point, people stopped wanting the anger of alternative, and instead gravitated toward eye-liner and flash. History will show reality.
The early 90's will stand the test of time for rock music. And for millions of us in the Chicago-land area, Q101 was the beacon of relevance.
I'm on a quick vacation to visit family. And I'm in the place where it all began. The basement.
It's no longer half-finished. Instead, it rings with all manner of bells and contraptions. There's a talking moosehead. A few singing fish. Flashing lights from the slot machine and dart board blink in an incongruous manner. My senses are on overload, unable to take in all the kitschy items that currently infest where I once habitated unbothered.
It's bright, and certainly more appealing to the average person.
But a funny thing occurs.
I miss the cracks of light that just barely survived the drainage windows. I miss the cold air. The nights where it was just me, Matt, and our dreams and goals.
I take a moment after everyone has retired to bed. Just me and this Frankenstein remnant of what once was. I go to the stereo...
Like an old girlfriend that stirs up feelings of yesteryear, I turn on Q101.
I smile. The deejay plays a new Foo Fighters track. It's good. Nostalgic.
And then, as if it needed to remind me of how great our relationship was some 15 years ago, Q101 ques up Pearl Jam's "Alive".
It's a fitting song. And a nice cap to the end of something I hold dear.
Q101 announced they would no longer be. Not in the way I remember. They're going strictly online, a casualty of the tumultuous waters that exist in our economy today. I feel conflicted. Q101 ceases to be a staple in my life now, yet I can't help but feel sadness. Sadness over a radio station. Funny how life does that to you.
I'll miss you Q101.
And like that same girlfriend moving on to another world and another place, I'll wish you the best.
Thanks for it all...