by carl wilson

He Carried the Holiday in His Eye

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D'ye ken John Peel with his coat so gay,
D'ye ken John Peel at the break of day,
D'ye ken John Peel when he's far away,
With his hounds and his horn in the morning.
For the sound of his horn brought me from my bed
And the cry of his hounds which he oft times led,
Peel's 'view hullo' would awaken the dead
Or the fox from his lair in the morning.
- 18th-century ballad

So John Peel has had his last session. I can't say much about Peel that those who grew up with him could not say better. He was too young to die - and not just because he was 65. He would have seemed much too young to die at 90. But at least he was on an adventure - out among the Aztec ruins in Peru - when it happened. It's the kind of answer you might give if you were asked how you'd like to die, and Peel deserved just that kind, a dream death to cap a dream life, for a man who began as a pirate-radio pioneer and ended up an almost-official international ambassador of new music. "Teenage dreams," as the Undertones sang in his favourite song - "so hard to beat."

He mattered to me less as a DJ - since I could never listen to his BBC programs until lately, when the Internet made it possible - than as a literal icon, the embodiment and symbol of what an engaged, never-stiff, never-calcified listener to music and appreciator of culture could be and could do, with never a sniff of snobbery. That's why he's always been on the links page here at Zoilus. Emerson might have been writing about him when he said, in Of Manners:

Once or twice in a lifetime we are permitted to enjoy the charm of noble manners, in the presence of a man or woman who have no bar in their nature, but whose character emanates freely in their word and gesture. A beautiful form is better than a beautiful face; a beautiful behavior is better than a beautiful form: it gives a higher pleasure than statues or pictures; it is the finest of the fine arts. A man is but a little thing in the midst of the objects of nature, yet, by the moral quality radiating from his countenance, he may abolish all considerations of magnitude, and in his manners equal the majesty of the world. I have seen an individual, whose manners, though wholly within the conventions of elegant society, were never learned there, but were original and commanding, and held out protection and prosperity; one who did not need the aid of a court-suit, but carried the holiday in his eye; who exhilarated the fancy by flinging wide the doors of new modes of existence; who shook off the captivity of etiquette, with happy, spirited bearing, good-natured and free as Robin Hood; yet with the port of an emperor, if need be, calm, serious, and fit to stand the gaze of millions.

Read appreciations of Peel from Sasha, Paul Morley (of the NME and Art of Noise), The Guardian, his BBC colleagues and Peel on Peel. PlusDouglas Wolk on Peel in Slate.

News | Posted by zoilus on Tuesday, October 26 at 9:08 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (1)

 

COMMENTS

He mattered to me less as a DJ - since I could never listen to his BBC programs until lately, when the Internet made it possible - than as a literal icon, the embodiment and symbol of what an engaged, never-stiff, never-calcified listener to music and appreciator of culture could be and could do, with never a sniff of snobbery.

A better FCC would make the above a prerequisite for getting a broadcast permit. Peel is the gold standard for radio as gateway to new music. Everyone reading this site is indebted to him.

Posted by Carl Z. on October 27, 2004 7:41 AM

 

 

 

Zoilus by Carl Wilson