Jack Straw from Wichita

Hundred Year Hall album cover

I had a college chum named Brian Muir who was a serious Deadhead. During those years I was working in radio, as was Brian, and it was a tossup as to who was forced to deal with more offensive music. I was working for KEXI – “the valley’s entertainer” – a station that played “adult contemporary” – Barry Manilow and the like. In those days, before satellite feeds, canned music at stations like that came on these big reel-to-reel tapes, and we had a computer that would mix from one tape deck to the next: hot hits on one machine, instrumentals on another (to segue into the newscasts) and a couple of machines that played classic adult contemporary oldies. In the whole playlist, there was exactly one song that any of us liked: Neil Young’s Heart of Gold. We all knew which reel it was on, and we waited anxiously for it to come up in rotation – probably once a week – hoping it would be on our shift. We could have cheated, I suppose, but that would have ruined the game.

Brian was working at a KTEL, a country station that required the actual playing of vinyl records. Brian hated country music. So he’d bring a little portable tape deck on which to play his Dead tapes. He’d leave the country turned down, listening to the Dead, until the record was about to end. He’d stop the tape, do the mix, cue up the next record, then go back to the Dead. This was country top 40, so the longest cuts were 4 minutes, tops, so it was a bit disjointed, and took a certain amount of concentration, but it did the trick.

Brian and I were also doing radio journalism on our college station, and one day we went out together to interview the warden at the State Penitentiary. When we were introduced, the warden repeated Brian’s name back to him. “Muir? Are you any relation to John Muir?” The warden was an old mountaineer, and revered John Muir. Brian said yes, and explained a somewhat byzantine family connection, the details of which I have long forgotten.

There ensued a long and enthusiastic conversation between the two of them about John Muir.

Later, as we were walking through the parking lot, I said to Brian, “I didn’t know you were related to John Muir.”

“I’m not,” he said.

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