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My Turn: East End's 'easy listening' station is hard on the broken-hearted

Frank Vespe

Frank Vespe Photo Credit: Courtesy of Frank Vespe

Happy, relaxing, easy-listening. These are words many use to describe the East End’s light-FM radio station, 104.7, WELJ, which plays many ’70s tunes. I prefer: painful, melancholy and depressing to describe a station that also resurrects memories of my broken hearts.

Thirty-first Street in Astoria is like Manhattan’s Broadway. Nearly everyone walks along it, and so it was in the summer of 1970 when I descended from the Ditmars Boulevard elevated train station. I never imagined encountering my first heartthrob, Celia, who walked toward me as if in a movie in slow motion. Her long black hair blew in the wind, gold hoop earrings twinkled in the sunlight, a burgundy ribbed turtleneck fit well, a glowing summer solstice smile filled her face. It was love at first sight.

We spent every spare high school moment together in her home on 27th Street. Soon, I gave up going to high school baseball practices, lost my starting catcher’s position to be with her as her Bee Gees album “Trafalgar” played from the living room, immersed in their “How Do You Mend a Broken Heart?”

Hearing the song recently on 104.7-FM hurled me back to 1970, to my first love, my first heartbreak. I was rattled for the remainder of the day, and to this day.

I have tried my best to get over Celia.

Three years after my inaugural broken heart, it was Memorial Day weekend in 1974. Eddie pulled up to my house on Crescent Street — in his brand-new, neon-yellow, souped-up Plymouth Road Runner — and yelled, “Yo, Frankie, let’s cruise Flushin.’ ”

After running inside to splash on English Leather cologne, I jumped in the front seat and blasted his stereo to “Operator,” by Jim Croce, then “Loco-Motion” by Grand Funk Railroad. Without missing a beat, Eddie floored the pedal, and we flew along Northern Boulevard.

It was a warm summer evening, so I cranked down the window, my long blond hair blowing as I sang along to Paul McCartney’s “Band on the Run.” Then Eddie made an erratic, illegal U-turn on Northern and skidded to a stop in front of The Rusty Nail, a Tudor-style bar in Flushing.

“They play great tunes,” Eddie beamed as we entered by way of its wood front door. The interior was awash in Northern pine and a long rectangular, walk-around bar sat in the center.

Eddie ordered a beer on tap in a frosted mug with a handle. I ordered a Seagram’s and 7Up as songs of the ’70s played.

An hour of Mets chatter followed, and as we got up to leave, a woman slowly entered; shoulder-length blond hair, green eyes, white T-shirt, white jeans, straw Espadrille shoes and the warmest smile glowed toward me from across the bar.

As if on cue, “Rock the Boat” by the Hues Corporation filled the room. Without hesitation, I strolled around the bar and pre-Tony Manero, flippantly asked its most beautiful patron, “Wanna dance?”

“I don’t care for this music,” she answered. “I’m a Beatles fan.”

“Me, too!” I whispered. So for the summer of ’74, my 1967 blue Mustang drove daily from Astoria to Suzanne’s house off Horace Harding Expressway in Flushing, then parked inside Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, where we listened to my eight-track Bread album, notably “Make It With You” and “The Guitar Man,” since she knew I played guitar.

The summer of ’74 had divine moments: Suzanne meeting my parents and grandparents, my friends, everyone enamored by her infectious soul. Each kiss engraved with a special tune: “Come and Get Your Love,” by Redbone, “Rock Me Gently,” by Andy Kim, and, of course, “Love’s Theme,” by Love Unlimited Orchestra — more songs heard on 104.7. They’re a reminder of Suzanne and our parting that September, when I returned to a full-time job during the day and college classes at night, and she got a job in Connecticut. All this made me visit Flushing less often and allowed her former boyfriend, Marty, to swoop in — hastening my second broken heart.

I tried my best to get over Suzanne.

As that dreaded 104.7-FM plays now in my living room (it’s also the No. 1 preset in my family’s five vehicles), I revisit two broken hearts with sadness, fond memories and — hey, wait a minute! Is that Three Degrees? “When Will I See You Again”?!

Like I said, I tried my best.

Frank Vespe,

Springs

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