I’m absolutely stunned. I woke up to the sad news this morning that John Peel died while on holiday in Peru. Just like many of his fans will say, Peel introduced me to a whole new world of music when I was in my teens in the U.K. Without John Peel, I wouldn’t have known about The Fall, or The Smiths, or more obscure bands like Fats Comet, Scraping Foetus off the Wheel, Hypnotone, and (the record I’m still searching for) Colonel Kilgore’s Vietnamese Formation Surf Team.
But what made Peel’s show special to me was not so much the music, but his in between breaks patter. Unpolished but never at a loss for words, Peel was a friendly voice there to guide you through some of the noisy patches of alt-rock. Good at popping pretensions and self-deprecating to a fault, he didn’t try to hide mistakes–like playing a record at the wrong speed, or not knowing when a song would start (“This one fades up a bit” he’d say as the music faded up).
When I had a radio show for a brief period in college, Peel was the model, and his chatty, casual style, like a best friend who couldn’t wait to play you the new records he bought, was quite hard to pull off. You realised it came from years and years of work, total comfort at the DJ station, and a humility that kept his ego in check. For someone who broke nearly every major music genre of the past 30 years, he never wore it like a badge.
I remember his glee over certain records. One was “Sidewalkin'” by the Jesus and Mary Chain. He had just got the single and opened the show with it. He loved it so much, he said that he played it again almost immediately afterwards. Then two hours later he closed the show with it, just like a giddy teenager.
Though I found it hard to listen to him here in CA (even with streaming radio), he is still the yardstick I measure other radio shows by.
After Peel, what else is there?
Goodbye John, you will be sorely missed.
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