I know this is going to sound weird, but here goes.
My father died when I was 15, and I’ve had a few father figures since then. And Vin Scelsa was one of them.
Now, this is a person that I’ve only talked to a handful of times, and mostly by phone. I’ve met him just twice in person: When I did an in-depth interview at his home in Roseland, for The Star-Ledger, and also a couple of days before that, when I watched him do one of his radio shows live, as background for that article. But I listened to him religiously on WNEW-FM and K-Rock, in the ’70s and ’80s, when I was in my teens and 20s.
I’ve listened to other disc jockeys a lot in the years since then — Howard Stern, Mike and the Mad Dog — but not “bonded” with them in the same way. There’s something unique about being a young music lover and finding a DJ who not only shares your tastes, but is constantly turning you on to new artists you end up loving. Who also loves books and movies the way you love books and movies, and shares long, winding stories from his own life that make you feel you know him well. And who takes pride in his home state, which happens to be your home state, too.
Vin Scelsa was all that to me. And, I know, to many other people as well.
I used to tape certain shows, and listen to them over and over in my car. I used to go to his “A Bunch of Songwriters Sittin’ Around Singing” shows at the Bottom Line. Just the sound of Scelsa’s voice made me feel good.
Scelsa began his career as a free-form disc jockey at WFMU at Upsala College in East Orange, in the ’60s. (WFMU is still going strong, and still free-form, but now based in Jersey City). He has also worked for WBAI and WABC.
“The kind of programming autonomy I’ve enjoyed, on both commercial and public radio over all these years, is unique,” he said in a statement. “I am grateful to all the stations I’ve worked on for the privilege of being allowed to wander through their airwaves wherever my interests have taken me.”
City Winery in New York will present a “Fare Thee Well Concert for Vin Scelsa” on June 8. The lineup is not yet available. Tickets for the show will be given out in return for donations to WFUV.