A crappy thing happened in my neck of the woods recently. One of the best radio stations ever went off the air – 95.1, Best Mix in the Stix. Sammy, the main dude, had this great way of playing a variety of music that was off-beat and followed no traditional programming. For me, that was the best thing about the station. Within a span of twenty minutes one would hear such artists as Beck, Lucinda Williams, and Chuck Berry. I loved the spontaneity, the proud lack of conformity. In fact, I’ll never forget standing in my bathroom, curling my hair, and hearing Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros’ “Home” for the very first time – what a great way to start off the morning. And while I do love NPR, I do not want to begin my day with the Morning Edition – in fact, I want to crawl back in bed and sip coffee for that. My personality is more suited to good tunes first thing in the ante meridian, so 95.1 and its wonderful mix will be deeply missed.
Playing such a variety of music takes talent so that it does not sound disjointed and thrown together (for those of us old enough, think “mixed tape”). The skill of mixing a tape or putting together songs for an hour of play makes me think of tone. When you write a poem (or any work for that matter), one of the most invisible yet powerful things at your disposal is tone. To switch tone without a reason, without a change in mood or speaker or emotion, will only make the writing sound contrived and dishonest. Dishonesty is one of the first things a reader spots, whether she or he realizes it or not. If you stop being true to your voice you should not be surprised if the reader stops reading. For me, tone is largely an intuitive act. I never set out to write a poem with a certain tone in mind, but tone is certainly there. Recognizing it, honoring it, and staying in tune with it only makes the work better. In fact, as I think about it, a good way to practice tone may very well be to mix a tape, burn a CD, or shuffle your iPod – whatever medium it takes. So here’s to authentic tone and great tune-age. While a kick-ass radio station may be off the air, it doesn’t excuse us from honoring authenticity or creating something new, so get busy!