Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Charity on the Sly

Anyone who knows me knows I am huge fan of KCRW. I’m a huge fan of public radio in general and look to KCRW as the taste maker for music. I need KCRW in my day. As far as I’m concerned there is no other radio worth listening to in LA. It’s either KCRW or my iPod.

I got my start in music snobbery early. I was perfectly willing to come to blows over musical taste and once pulled over and kicked a friend out of my car for slagging one of my favorite bands. For me, musical taste is not a matter of opinion, it’s a question of right and wrong.

I honed this attitude in college radio where I worked with several of KCRW’s current players and where I developed my CD collection. Back then I’d try to explain to the frat boys that if they listened to us, they could hear the next Chili Peppers or Cure or Nirvana before they became huge. They’d be on the cutting edge. They’d have none of it. Being on the edge was too much work for them. They just wanted to have their tastes formed neatly for them by KROQ. Here I proudly state I never dated a sheep-brain frat boy.

Luckily, my man shares my tastes for the most part or we’d have ended in tears long ago. He takes it one further. When flipping across the dial, if we catch a glimpse of generic pop pablum (read: every other corporate station now that Indie 103.1 is dead), he’ll quip “Ah yes, music for people who don’t like music.” His tartness on this topic steals my heart. But he’s got a great point. Because if you really thought about what you were hearing on corporate stations, if you delved into the artistry, you’d find none. If you really listen, you couldn’t possibly be satisfied by corporate crap. It’s music for people who don’t really listen but just need something to fill their ears. Like aural junk food.

Anyway, I love my indie music and my NPR. So every six months when KCRW conducts their on-air fund drive I always sign up for as many shifts as I can fit into my overtaxed schedule. Until the day I can afford an angel membership, I feel it’s the best way I can give back. Plus you meet the coolest people. Plus it gives me a teeny nostalgia flashback of my college radio days. So much joy.

The thing is because of my overtaxed schedule, because I have so many people depending on me to run our company, I don’t feel I can tell anyone that’s what I’m doing with my day. I’m not alone.

This time around I struck up a conversation with the project manager at the phone across from mine. She furtively slipped off a cell phone call. “That was my work. As far as they know, I’m at the doctor.” Like me she was over-scheduled, trying to be great at three jobs at once, occasionally sleep and have a social life. Like me, she felt that if the people that depend on her knew she was helping instead of working they’d be pissed.

What is that? We should be proud of our charity. Heck, our work should be proud of our philanthropic spirit, not to mention our good taste in radio. Yet somehow, we both felt like kids that might get caught playing hooky. What does that say about the priorities of giving in our culture?

“Must be nice,” quips a co-worker when I slip up and mention my first shift. He heads back to his to-do list while I am left stinging from the implication that I’m not working as hard as he is. Though I am his boss, I feel the need to justify my choices, to prove that the company is not at risk if I also live my life.

In our modern life, balance seems like indulgence. If you have time to balance your life, you are not working hard enough. This feels like not seeing the forest for the trees.

Last year I wrote about the wonder of discovering the weekend again. I vowed not to work on weekends. As predicted, I have back-slid somewhat on this. That constant need to prove I’m working hard enough is a demanding master. But my co-worker is right, albeit unintentionally: taking time to do what I need for me must be nice indeed.

So, you know what, working world? I took time from my work week to help out a cause I believe in.

As I say that I feel the panic rising; “say you still got more work done than they did,” it chirps. I’m tempted but no.

That’s the lesson. I may have in fact gotten less done than you did. And I’m OK with that because I did something that helps define my life. I am reaching for balance and doing something that I believe is an important contribution for the greater good.

I may not be able to give everyone good music taste, but I can do my part to ensure good music is accessible for those of us who know it when we hear it. And even for those sheep-brains should they ever choose to change their dials. I may be years from my beloved college radio but I’m still fighting the good fight. And keeping that spirit alive helps me do a better, fulfilled job running my company. Everybody wins.

p.s. your favorite band sucks.

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