Chapel Hill quietly (or not so quietly, if you were turned to 89.3 FM) lost an icon today, for this is the fabled day in history that Jay Murray left Chapel Hill. Those of you who missed 1991-2005 at Carolina can only guess at how unfathomable today is, as Jay was the eternal, steadfast beacon of hope (or at least indie-rock slackerdom) and the last of us still leading an active social life in Chapel Hill. Except for Annie, and that’s Carrboro, gents.
Jay’s fame as the eternal student eclipsed most other fictionalized accounts of other people who never left college, indeed, he eclipsed my own attempts when we made the Pink House movie based tangently on his (and my) circumstances. He had already been a grad student for nine years when we began filming, and that was a while back. People used to ask me if Ben Folds’ song Steven’s Last Night in Town was about me, but I always said it was about Murray.
Jay and I share the same birthday (May 26) which made for great parties when we lived together at the actual Pink House. We had, however, drastically different tastes in music, which led to all kinds of shit-talking in the kitchen after 2am. I found his radio show – and WXYC in general – to be the most pretentious, unlistenable crap south of free-form jazz.
Many songs sounded like a refrigerator falling down an endless set of concrete stairs. Those guys would play anything and everything, as long as it was guaranteed to make me want to claw my face off. One time, me, Scotty and Jay got into another WXYC dust-up, and I bet Jay $20 that we could turn the radio on that second, and it would be something ghastly.
He did, and to my triumph, it was a recording of a guy counting backwards from two-thousand. No lie. Ask anyone.
The farther away I am from Chapel Hill, however, the more I came to appreciate the anything-goes sensibility of WXYC, and even began to listen to it via the Web (it was the first radio station streaming on the internet EVER). I began to view it as a strong antibiotic: you don’t want to use it every day, but I’m glad it’s there when I need it.
And Jay, who has tape-recorded every single 6-hour shift he’s ever done, became the standard-bearer for the musical roads less traveled. Mike Johnson, whose XYC show came right after the inimitable Grant Tennille, once went on a road trip with Jay, who left the radio on 89.3 all the way up the coast just to see who else was sharing the frequency. Annoying, but in a way, quite endearing.
He got his doctorate, so his last radio show was today, and then he’ll make his way to New York City, only a decade or so after the rest of us. I called him up at the station this afternoon, and just to rekindle an old debate, I requested a Beatles song on behalf of me, Scotty and Chip – the three souls forced to listen to Jay’s show ON TAPE for hours in the Pink House kitchen.
His last song was “Within You, Without You” from Sgt. Pepper, which acts as a fitting tombstone to the Jay Murray Era. God speed!
Dave Surowiecki, Scotty Bullock, Jay Murray, Pink House 20s party, 1997 by Lars Lucier