One of the biggest winter storms in several years is slamming a huge portion of the United States today. Kids are praying for snow days, businesses are closing early—and media outlets are overreacting. It’s a mystery to me why, up here in the snow belt, where winter comes shortly after Halloween every year, the local TV take on every big storm is one click north of panic. I tried summing it up on Twitter last night: “Snow snow snow oh my god snow everybody go out buy food stay home it’s the end snowstorm blizzard frozen death snow aggggggggh.”
Whenever I hear an anchor or reporter say, “If you don’t have to travel tonight, please don’t,” I remember a wise old newsman who said, “It’s not our job to tell people to stay home. If the cops or the weather service say that people should stay home, we’ll report it, but we don’t make the call on our own.” Our job was to tell people what was happening (or not happening), and not to take on responsibilities above our pay grade. We weren’t rigid about it, though—if you’d just spent an hour on your typically-10-minute commute to work, it was perfectly acceptable to say that on the air and let people draw their own conclusions. On that score, I’d take the word of a wise old newsman more seriously than that of a callow young local TV reporter who was in the sixth grade the last time there was a storm this big.
Looking over my Desert Island list, I find a couple of songs that remind me of the giant snowstorms of youth, the kind we always say we don’t get anymore. There’s Badfinger’s beautiful “Day After Day,” featuring George Harrison’s indescribably sweet guitar, Leon Russell on piano, and one of the greatest singalong lyrics the English language has ever known, which rode the charts in the winter of 1972. On snowy mornings back then, we were never allowed to stay in bed on spec, gambling that school would be called off—we had to get up and get ready. When the word came that school was closed, we were already prepared for the world of adventure that opened before us. We might go sledding, or play in the barn, or surround ourselves with toys in the bedroom or the living room. By 1972, I’d have spent a lot of time listening to WLS, because I never got to hear the midday jocks when I was in school.
“Can’t Get It Out of My Head” by ELO ran the charts at the very end of winter and into the early spring of 1975. I was a freshman in high school by then, and home life would not have been quite so idyllic as it might have been three years before. On a snow day, I would have been less inclined to go sledding by then, and not at all inclined to build hay forts in the barn. But I would have had the radio on through the middle of that winter’s snow days too, often the big console stereo in the room we called the sunporch, where the FM station I liked sounded so much better than it did on my little bedroom portable.
We love the songs we love because of the constellation of associations that accompany them. Snow-covered winter mornings home from school are not my only associations with “Day After Day” and “Can’t Get It Out of My Head,” and not even the primary ones that make them Desert Island essential. But on this particular snowy morning, they’re the ones that matter.