How I Ended up on BBC Radio Today Talking about Grieving My Service Dog

Sometimes life is weird.

You know how when you’re listening to a BBC radio program — a program that mixes music and disability and being gay in the 1980s — and really enjoying yourself? And then you hear your own halting, nasal voice coming out of the speakers, and you become terribly self-conscious? But then you forget yourself, as you are transported back in time and realize anew how much you lost when your best service dog died?

Today was just like that. I know it’s kind of cliché, but it’s true.

The whole thing started back in early May when Maggie Ayre, the host and producer of the BBC Radio 4 program, “Soul Music,” emailed me to ask if she could interview me about a song I once blogged about.

Discussing music is not exactly my forte. In fact, the only time I ever blogged about music, I wrote, “I don’t listen to music.”

So why did I say yes to Maggie? Partly because I love the BBC. I love BBC TV, and I love public radio in general. The idea of contributing in any way to these institutions was exciting.

Another reason was that it would give me a chance to talk about Gadget a bit with the rest of the world. I always like to imagine more people learning who Gadget was and how special he was. (If you haven’t yet “met” Gadget, here is a video of the two of us.)

The song Maggie was collecting stories about is “Don’t Leave Me This Way,” originally written and recorded by Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, sung by Teddy Pendergrass. However, I only ever knew it as the smash hit by The Communards that I danced to in college, after I came out, as one of many songs with a gay sensibility by gay musicians that became gay anthems in the late 80s. (It was a very gay time for me, in both senses of the word.)

And then it took on a different meaning for me after Gadget died, which I wrote about on After Gadget. That is mostly what I talked about with Maggie.

It was a major team effort to get my interview on the air. The first time Maggie called to speak with me about what the song means to me, my spasmodic dysphonia was acting up, so even though she could understand me, I was not really sporting a “radio voice.” Then there was the issue of how to record me because the usual procedure she uses to interview people in the US is to have someone from the local NPR station do the recording with their professional equipment. However, because I have multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS), I thought the chemical fumes on the people and their equipment would make me sick and might very well cause me to lose my voice, which would kind of defeat the purpose. So we figured out how I could use my headset mic and record my answers on the computer as a WAV file, without making extraneous breathing sounds and with my voice still being loud enough. That took a lot of tinkering!

Then we had to coördinate a time for her to interview me when I could position the mic correctly, AND my voice was working well, AND it was not the middle of the night for her (six-hour time difference between the eastern US and the UK). Which we did. (And because I live in a rural area without high-speed Internet, I wasn’t able to send her the file. I mailed a flash drive to my brother, and he sent her the file.)

Unfortunately when we made the recording, I was tired and not thinking very clearly. When I listened to my interview later I was embarrassed by how many “ums” there were and how many gaps in my speech when I was groping for words or forgetting what I was talking about. I forgot names of singers and bands that I had been thinking about before we spoke. I spoke in vague generalities about Gadget, whereas before I had been specific.

All in all, I was a bit worried about how I would sound, and I regretted agreeing to be interviewed, especially when I heard about some of the other guests, including one of the members of the Communards, and someone who was friends with Teddy Pendergrass. I thought, “Oh God, and here I am with my voice cracking about my dead dog.” I figured probably (hopefully) Maggie would just use a sentence or two of what I said.

Actually, when I listened to the program today, I thought it was beautiful. (I was also surprised by how much of my interviews she used!) I felt a real sense of fellowship with many of the other guests. Of course, because “Don’t Leave Me This Way” had been such a big hit in the gay community, and then took on special meaning with the ravages of AIDS, I was not surprised to hear about that part of its story. But I hadn’t known that Pendergrass had become disabled after he recorded the song, so there was a lot about disability and illness and living with loss. I think most people just think of it as a song that was originally a love song, which became a dance hit. But it’s a fierce dance hit. It mixes the sorrow and the joy, which was the flavor of the time of my coming out.

The other people’s stories are fascinating, and I thought there was a lot of insight in their remarks. And even though I did not have a smooth radio voice, by any means, Maggie and her crew did such an amazing job of editing the entire show, including my part, that I ended up being glad to be a part of it.

I’m hoping that other people who have lost a service dog who listen to it will feel some companionship and some solace, knowing they’re not the only one. It also reminded me why I sometimes feel frustrated with Barnum, because even though he is unbelievably sweet and lovable, he will never be the brilliant service dog that Gadget was. Barnum is a capable service dog, but he is not my arms and legs and voice, the way Gadget was. I’m okay with that now.

Please listen, and enjoy today’s edition of Soul Music about”Don’t Leave Me This Way.” And if you’re so inclined, drop me a line in the comments about what you think!

P.S. I inquired about a transcript of the show, but apparently the BBC is not providing them anymore. If I regain the use of my hands enough to be able to type again, I will try to create a transcript. But now it is just too many spoons to try to transcribe a half hour radio program using Dragon. If anyone else would like to transcribe it, please let me know. I really am sad that some of my readers and friends aren’t able to hear the show right now. I hope I can remedy that at some point.


How I Ended up on BBC Radio Today Talking about Grieving My Service Dog — 2 Comments

  1. Your interview and emotion within you was clearly poignant and struck a deep cord of sorrow and loss with me as to the loss of my friend Henry,[ cross black lab] who died after 17 years. We did everything together, he even had his own pilots licence.[always dual controlled of course]This was in 1992 and I have never really gotten over his passing, I swore never to put my self through this again but my partner that I met up with 5 years ago has 2 rescue dogs who are now part of my household and listening to you talking about gadget made me realise how special each of them are. Thank you for sharing this with me [ and the rest of the world] .I hope that you live long, stay healthy and prosper. I hope this link might give you some solace..
    William Turner

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