You Turn Me On, I’m A Radio

If there’s no good reception for me
Then tune me out, ’cause honey
Who needs the static
It hurts the head

In the above 1972 clip, Joni Mitchell says she wrote “You Turn Me On, I’m A Radio” because she’d never had a hit (the audience scoffs in laughter, but it’s true, at that point, despite having a loyal following for several years, top-of-the-charts fame had eluded her). She says she was trying to figure out how to appeal to DJs (“I was in a very sensitive place, you must understand, but I decided I’ll channel all this sensitivity into commerciality.”) She figured that radios appealed to DJs, so why not write a song that’s, on its surface, about the radio?

Oh honey you turn me on
I’m a radio
I’m a country station
I’m a little bit corny
I’m a wildwood flower
Waving for you
Broadcasting tower
Waving for you

I’ve sort of skipped over it it all of these years that I’ve had a copy of Joni’s “Hits” (not to be confused with “Misses,” a disc of b-sides and not-hits), but “You Turn Me On, I’m A Radio” is just what I needed to listen to this week. At one point, the guitar breaks, and she warbles, “honey, who needs the static, it hurts the head.” Good question.

Who needs the static?

I’ve had to fight my desire to tune out the static this last week, which has brought a lot of feedback of my City Paper piece. I’d say most of it is positive, and some of it is critical. That criticism breaks down into two areas: very contructive and straight hating (ha, I know, “hating.” Who am I, Chris Brown?). But Ta-Nehisi wrote a pretty great post yesterday critiquing the story and some of the criticism:

If you don’t reach outside your peer group, expect that your piece is going to be somewhat myopic. But with that said, I think it’s really important to consider “Confessions Of A Black Gentrifier” within the context of journalism about gentrification, and the fate of cities in general.

I cut my chops writing and reporting about D.C. for five years. I’ve written and reported on the problems of cities, and the problems of black people, for fifteen years. In all the journalism I’ve produced and consumed in that time, on the subject of cities, in general, and on gentrification, at large, I’ve never noticed any shortage of quotes from the black poor. Indeed the standard conflict pits poor black vs. yuppie whites. More broadly, there’s a recurring theme of black people being “pushed out” usually because of money.

From my perspective, Shani is introducing a narrative, and an angle, we see too rarely in discussions about the problems of the city. There is no question in my mind, that more reporting–and specifically more reporting beyond her social circle–would have made Shani’s story better. I hope she’ll take up that challenge in the future.

As I commented in the thread, both Ta-Nehisi’s interpretation of what I was trying to do, and his criticism of it were accurate. There is more reporting I could have done and more I would like to do. That’s kind of the beauty of not being dead yet, though, right? I can keep pushing. I will keep pushing.

I know you don’t like weak women
You get bored so quick
And you don’t like strong women
‘Cause they’re hip to your tricks

Oh, and “You Turn Me On, I’m A Radio” ended up being Mitchell’s first big hit, getting to #25 on the Billboard charts.

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2 Comments

Filed under D.C., Journalism, Race

2 responses to “You Turn Me On, I’m A Radio

  1. Just wanted to say that I think you have handled the critiques–both constructive and, in my view, over-the-top not constructive–of your essay very gracefully. It is hard enough to accept even constructive critiques when they are offered publicly. But not taking the bait when it is wielded so self-righteously? Impressive.

    I saw your essay as one voice in a larger, ongoing discussion so I did not need or expect for it to be definitive. While I don’t disagree with the best of your critics, on its own terms I thought what you wrote was successful. The intelligent debate it inspired is proof of that, not the opposite.

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