Monday, October 10, 2005
At the age of 41, Steve Greenwood departed this life. I'm not sure he was ever totally comfortable here. But his life meant a great deal to many people, both those who cared about him and many who never knew him. I guess that's the purpose of this little remembrance; because if you listen to KJHK, you're still listening to Steve's legacy.
He was an eccentric to be sure. With his Johnny Ramone haircut and bag full of records, Steve was a fixture of the Lawrence sidewalks (he didn't drive, never even had a driver's license). While many bought the Dylanesque fiction that he came from Boston, I knew he was a child of nearby Overbrook, Kan. Steve supported his record habit by working for Exile Records. And later as a clerk at Strong Hall, mostly during those times when he couldn't see his way to sell more records from his precious collection.
For our purposes, it's important to appreciate that almost from the inception of KJHK, Steve Greenwood was there. We met in the mid-'70s when Steve was still going through the motions of being a student. I was a graduate student, but I was having more fun working at Kief's Records. As a music nut, Steve was a regular customer. As a fellow music lover, I began listening to KJHK because Steve and his crew were shaping the station into something special. We struck up a friendship based on our shared love of music. I'd always see him out at shows. Sometimes we'd team up to interview visiting rock luminaries (never forgetting to secure a station ID from the musicians at hand).
The late '70s are characterized in mainstream popular culture as the disco era, but the late '70s were also a time of renewal in rock music. Bands that borrowed from rock's three-minute pop past, and from the garage-rock phenomenon were making records, many of them on small, independent labels. They were at the forefront of the developing punk-rock (or as the marketers liked to call it - new wave) movement. Steve Greenwood knew his rock history and he had a vision for its' future - a future that embraced this new punk-invigorated rock.
Personalities of KJHK
Realizing that this new wave of rock and roll wasn't getting much recognition from commercial radio, Steve found in the burgeoning college radio scene a vehicle to expose and champion this music. He saw this earlier than just about anyone in college radio, and he pursued his agenda with vigor, humor and dedication. He encouraged young on-air talent and recruited kids with a passion for the music and for reaching listeners. Many of those "kids" became my good friends. He and his charges turned the young station into a model for what college radio could be, a model that gained the respect and recognition of its peers.
Whether as music director, DJ or spiritual guru, Steve Greenwood was the driving force behind KJHK in the late '70s and early '80s. In addition to making KJHK the first place in the Midwest to play the likes of the Only Ones or the Buzzcocks, he was a major supporter of Lawrence's own music scene. He was a fan of bands like the Embarrassment, the Regular Guys, the Mortal Micronotz, the Clean, and Thumbs (my old outfit). Steve cultivated relationships with local bands and used the station as a platform to promote their music.
Without getting too deeply into the politics of the station's history, I think it's safe to say that, as the '80s progressed, the tension that had often existed between those who saw KJHK as a freewheeling, self-determining, even revolutionary vehicle and those who thought it should be more of a "real world" commercial laboratory became exacerbated. Changes were made in the station's administration and programming that disturbed Steve and his vision for the station. Steve Greenwood believed so deeply that KJHK should be something revolutionary, extraordinary and student-defined that he chafed at the changes that the powers that be put into place.
Just as Lenny Bruce became obsessed with the law after his various busts, Steve Greenwood became obsessed with KJHK's future, and in particular the issue of who would be calling the shots -- some coalition of administrators, alumni and sponsors or the "kids."
Frankly, after some of the administrative take-downs the station stunk. Eventually, equilibrium of a sort always was re-established, but nothing short of a restoration of the vision he had helped build would placate Steve and he became extremist and deeply distrustful of the powers that determined station playlists and policy. Adrift emotionally, disillusioned, and reclusive, Steve spent his last few years pretty much out of the spotlight. When he made it out to shows, he was still the greatest heckler ever (I've taken more than few of his zingers). And he continued to regale a new generation of KJHKers with tales of KJHK past, influencing their vision of the station and its future.
Short of his beloved ABBA, nothing in his short, bittersweet life inspired Steve the way shaping KJHK had. Those who shared his vision and who worked alongside him will never forget him. His love of the music, his razor-sharp wit and his nurturing camaraderie are his legacy. And so is KJHK. Thirty years on, the old girl is in better shape than a dejected Steve Greenwood might have anticipated. But I can hear him criticizing her, too - carping, goading, trying to make KJHK something even better.