National Easter Seals Society, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Wolfman and The Righteous Brothers
Barstow to Boron, bound for Bakersfield
we fly across the Mojave Desert, will wind
through and over the Tehachapis
only to come to rest in another desert
on the rim of the sink of California.
Past Edwards Air Force Base, near Mojave town
Bill Medley moans a basso so low, so
profundo, he falls almost below
the modality of the audible
of the Motorola AM radio
bolted loosely to the underside
of the cracked and faded dashboard
of this fifty-seven Dodge.
Now Medley’s Righteous Brother Bobby Hatfield
soars his Unchained Melody solo
then falls from the spattered stars
embers of his own voice’s fireworks
or man, so it seems.
We’re seventeen, driving a found car
racing a mostly empty mile-long
train of boxcars we almost took
veering away now in a mile-wide turn
north toward Death Valley.
The DJ plays it one more time, “for Maria.”
Hatfield’s voice, feet rooted you feel,
belts out “Are yooou –, ” then cries “still mine?” so high
he seems to hover over that slip of moon
off to the west in the cobalt sky ahead.
The station is Wolfman Jack’s, XERB–
X-E-R-B from Chu-la Vis-ta Cal-i-forn-ya!
He rasps those call letters, chortles Chula Vista,
then howls. The Wolfman is always on.
Twenty-four hours you can hear him at his mike
everywhere in the Southwest, anywhere in the West,
in Hawaii, Guam and the Philippines too they say.
His gravelly voice boasts of the outlaw station’s
“two hundred fifty thousand watts
broadcasting all…. across…. the Pacific!”
from just over the border in Mexico,
from the tallest radio tower on earth.
Friends in Viet Nam even get him
nights sometimes, on their transistor radios
as they stalk the stalking Viet Cong
each awaiting ambush on the slender paths
that craze the Mekong Delta.
Hatfield sings again. The signal fades.
I want to pull over just to listen
but this road has no shoulder and I drive on
barely hearing the last crescendo
before the signal dies. I want to know is this
what real life is like, what making love is like,
what being loosed from life is like?
John Briscoe is a San Francisco poet, author and lawyer. He has published four books of poetry, and five of prose. He’s received the Oscar Lewis Award in Western History, first Prize in the Top Shelf Book awards, and other literary distinctions. His law practice for more than fifty years has included representing countries in disputes with other countries in international courts, and advising the United Nations in the aftermath of the Gulf War. He serves on the boards of several literary organizations, and is a distinguished fellow at the University of California, Berkeley.
Listen to the 1965 recording of the Righteous Brothers performing “Unchained Melody”
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