Lin Brehmer said goodbye Friday afternoon, possibly for good, which would be bad. Either way, it’s sad.
He’s taking a leave of absence for “extended chemotherapy” because his cancer has spread, despite radiation, biopsies and drug therapies. He’s been in this fight for several years. Everyone hopes he’ll be back.
I didn’t know all this until Charlie Meyerson mentioned it last Wednesday in Public Square, his excellent email aggregation of essential news.
Brehmer (pronounced Bray-mer), who turns 68 in August, is described as a “mainstay” at WXRT-FM since 1991 — mostly the morning show, but he switched to midday in 2020, maybe because of the pandemic, maybe the cancer, maybe both. He probably doesn’t like the term “institution” but that word also applies. If he doesn’t come back, it’s a big loss for his listeners.
As “air personalities” go, he has the best personality I’ve ever encountered. Wry, ironic, funny without ridicule or unnecessary sarcasm. He never takes anything too seriously, least of all himself. His art is taking things just seriously enough, never underselling or overselling. His touch is just right. Leavened. Lively. Light-hearted but full of heart. I became acquainted with his shows way too late, and I don’t listen to the radio much, only in the car, so I missed most of his “Lin’s Bin” segments, a regular feature of his show — and a form of literature in their own right, unique in all the world — which I hope to God are being archived in the Library of Congress.
Each consisted of his response to a listener’s question, his replies incorporating snatches from his encyclopedic knowledge of rock and roll, interwoven with masterful prose, unexpected from a guy who “spins records” for a living. Much of it was funny, of course, but sometimes serious, frequently touching, even poetic, and always underpinned by that warm tone of wry irony.
Pete Crozier, his former producer, describes him as “the smartest person I’ve ever known. Hell, he’s the smartest person you’ve ever known and I don’t even know you.” Brehmer has done what most would say is impossible, elevating a radio show to the level of art. WXRT in general has given rock and roll a kind of “classical music” status, at least within its genre. Listening to Brehmer’s selections in particular raised my respect level for rock. XRT is unlike any other rock-and-roll station.
His message on Friday’s show, repeated more than once, was, “Take nothing for granted. It’s f-ing great to be alive.” A friend and I listened to the last hour, while eating lunch in the parking lot before taking a hike in Fullersburg Woods. My hiking partner turned it on hoping to catch “Lin’s Bin.” Instead we caught the last hour before his departure. Timing is everything.
His voice sounded different, perhaps impacted by the cancer treatments, but his spirit was intact. The songs were some of his favorites, containing messages. He played Van Morrison’s “Into the Mystic”:
Hark, now hear the sailors cry
Smell the sea and feel the sky
Let your soul and spirit fly into the mystic
And when that fog horn blows I will be coming home
And when the fog horn blows I want to hear it
I don’t have to fear it
And I want to rock your gypsy soul
Just like way back in the days of old
And magnificently we will flow into the mystic …
He mentioned that one of his co-workers asked him to autograph boxes of Kleenex before this show because his colleagues knew the listening wouldn’t be easy. He protested, “I’m not going to make you cry … well, maybe a little,” then played Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now,” the one with the lyrics, “Well, something’s lost but something’s gained in living everyday.”
I don’t know how his co-workers were holding up, but I was having trouble swallowing my tomato soup because my throat was so constricted.
His sendoff song was from back in 1976, sung by Robert Gordon of the Tuff Darts, when Brehmer was just beginning to spin records in his first (low-paid) radio station gig. He recited the lyrics first:
I don’t care about the money
I ain’t seen none
And I don’t care about the women
’Cause I just need one
The reason I say it, you really ought to know
It’s all for the love of rock ‘n’ roll
It’s all for the love of rock ‘n’ roll.
And then he was gone. Annalise Parziale, who follows him on the afternoon show, dedicated to him a song by the New Radicals, which happens to be one of my favorites:
But when the night is falling
You cannot find the light
You feel your dreams are dying, hold tight
You’ve got the music in you
Don’t let go, you’ve got the music in you
One dance left, this world is gonna pull through
Don’t give up, you’ve got a reason to live
Can’t forget, we only get what we give.
A timely message for all of us.
But Lin Brehmer’s message is timeless:
“Take nothing for granted,” he said. “It’s f-ing great to be alive.”