If you grew up anywhere in earshot to Boston rock, or went to school in these parts and had a radio sometime between the Vietnam quagmire and the US military’s march into Afghanistan and Iraq, then legendary Hub radio man Charles Laquidara probably showed up in the soundtrack of your life at some point. You may have caught his waves while the Milford native was holding down late nights or morning drive-times on WBCN, formerly 104.1FM, where his Big Mattress show bent boundaries for alt rock radio, or in his latter years at WZLX 100.7FM.
Laquidara is the last of a retiring breed, though his influence and imprint endure—through former colleagues such as top jock Matt Siegel, as well as much more generally, as his unpredictability and free-range creativity can be traced to the boundless and exploratory podcast-palooza that exists today. Thanks to the David Bieber Archives, whose videos and photos Laquidara used to curate Daze in the Life, his “multimedia memoir,” there’s also something of a proper record of his impact, the scope of which Laquidara will explore with a crowd of his closest friends and fans at the Wilbur on Dec 10.
With this being the last time he plans to engage such a large crowd on stage and in public, we asked about his strategy for the intimate evening, as well as his possible special guests plus all sorts of old memories, or at least the few that he can actually recall.
After decades of waking up early for drive time, are you automatically just awake before the roosters?
I’ve always only needed six hours of sleep. Which is great, but it’s also a problem, because if I go to bed at 10 then I wake up at some ungodly hour. Now being retired, it doesn’t really matter. You know how when you wake up at 2 in the morning and say, Oh shoot, I have to get up at 6, what am I gonna do? When you’re retired, you just get up and have coffee.
Back [during the drive time years], Matt Siegel and I would go out. We couldn’t go to concerts; if I went to a concert, I had to leave halfway through it because I had to get up at 3:30 the next morning. But Matt and I would go to do shooters at a club called Zanzibar. We’d walk in, and the girls would go up to Matt, and he would go, You know, this is Charles Laquidara, and they would go, Yeah, OK, so, Matt … But if we went to football games, the guys up in the rafters would say, Chuck, Chuck, Chuck, and they would totally ignore him. He had all the women; I had all the guys.
Do you use the word retired for what you are? Considering you still do quite a bit of stuff, have an online station, stuff like that …
I retired on Aug 5, 2000. I’ve done a bunch of things, like pushing my multimedia memoir. … It’s good because my memory is so horrible—I don’t even remember if I interviewed Pete Townshend. Seriously—that’s not from being smug or being an asshole, it’s like I just don’t remember stuff. You know how all these yoga people go on these retreats, and there’s no past or future, there is only the present; well, for me it’s always the present. People go, Charles, you don’t remember that I stayed in your house in Maui for a week? Now, I can just chalk it up to being old, but I’ve had a memory problem since I was born.
As an actor I couldn’t remember lines. The last thing I ever did as an actor was they cast me in a play at the Loeb [Drama Center at A.R.T.]. They cast me as an Italian-American womanizer from Binghamton. I had to remember my lines, and it was so stressful that even though I’m an atheist I said, God, if you’re up there, if you let me get through this and not screw anybody’s career up I promise I will never get on stage again. And I didn’t.
What about now?
This thing that’s happening on Dec 10 at the Wilbur will be the last time that I will get up in front of an audience. It’s just so much work—even though this gathering is going to be pretty informal.
How does somebody with such a shit memory go about putting together a time capsule? What toys and props do you bring?
I just try to go out there, and we’ll have one or two slides. I also heard that [Laquidara alter ego] Duane Glasscock might be there. Don’t forget—I’m going to be up there on stage and looking at people from my 30 years of radio. Some of these people will know who Duane Glasscock is, and some of them won’t.
You were probably one of the guys saying, Laquidara get the hell [off of WBCN], we want to hear [Howard Stern]. He was doing mornings at rock stations all across America, and I was still doing mornings at WBCN in Boston, and Howard would say, Man, when is Laquidara gonna die? All of his listeners would call and go, Get the eff off the air.
Who do you like for radio or podcast personalities these days? Who really entertains you?
My son turned me on to Bill Burr. I like him. I don’t listen to that much radio anymore. I spend most of my time in Hawaii kind of just swimming and going on Facebook and yelling at people and watching sunsets.
Are younger radio personalities who look up to you jealous of the freedom you had to play what you wanted?
That’s what we did from ’68 through maybe ’76 or ’77 when the suits came in and bought the station. If you want good ratings, then you gotta have bad radio. You have to play the same songs over and over, because people are going to work in the morning and they want to hear five or six songs to get them going. If you’re going to have bad radio, then you’re going to have great ratings.
WBCN was really [more than one] station. … There’s a debate about what was the golden era of BCN. Was it ’68 to ’72, when announcers were turning people on to music? Or was it when BCN was kicking ass and not being political? That’s a debate. When I go on Facebook, when I do a political thing, which I do a lot, these guys are going, Charles, stick to music like you used to. How come you’re not doing what you used to do. You’re being a socialist. Which is crazy, because that’s what I was known for. Whether going after Nixon and talking about the Vietnam War or trying to get people to understand that corporations were taking over and we were slowly being taken over by big business.
With Duane Glasscock, I came up with the idea as the antithesis of PC. He was all the things that a lot of people think but don’t say. He came along on Saturdays and really kicked ass in the ratings. It had incredibly high ratings. Duane appealed to all of the deplorables out there.
How is Bill “Spaceman” Lee involved with this?
He’s going to be opening the show, and maybe he’ll come back somewhere in the middle. I asked him if he’s sure he could handle it, and he told me he was the emcee at a national comedy competition and that he was better than all of the comedians, so he can handle it.
So this is really the last time you are going to be doing this?
Yeah, it’s just too stressful. I just don’t want to do it anymore. It will be a last gathering, and any of us who are still alive and remembers BCN and stuff, I just want to have a final reminiscing, knowing we were part of a generation that did radio back then.
CHARLES LAQUIDARA’S THE FIRST FAREWELL TOUR. TUE 12.10 AT THE WILBUR THEATRE, 246 TREMONT ST., BOSTON. MORE INFO AND TICKETS AT DAZEINTHELIFE.COM AND THEWILBUR.COM. YOU CAN STREAM LAQUIDARA’S RADIO STATION 24/7 AT CHARLESLAQUIDARARADIO.COM.
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A Queens, NY native who came to New England in 2004 to earn his MA in journalism at Boston University, Chris Faraone is the editor and co-publisher of DigBoston and a co-founder of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. He has published several books including 99 Nights with the 99 Percent, and has written liner notes for hip-hop gods including Cypress Hill, Pete Rock, Nas, and various members of the Wu-Tang Clan.