I doubt there’s much I can say that hasn’t already been said by all the people posting on websites and emailing and texting BBC radio about John Peel. But hell, I cried for half the afternoon so…
The most surprising thing is perhaps how deeply many people seem to care. As a friend said, he’s a stranger, someone most of us have never met, so why does it bother you so much? It was bizarre to me when the whle country appeared to go into mourning when Princess Diana died, especially as I was abroad at the time. So why should I cry now that a DJ has gone? Somehow, I realise, it’s possible to feel a great attachment to a stranger.
So many people have been introduced to a new musical world by Peel’s shows, without which their lives would have been poorer, if not entirely different. I know that in my case he’s introduced me to favourites such as The Wedding Present, Pavement, Sonic Youth, Cinerama, Laura Cantrell, Ballboy, Camera Obscura, Half Man Half Biscuit, Dinosaur Jr, Low, Madder Rose, The Orb, Prolapse, Quickspace, That Dog, Gene, Ivor Cutler… and many more. I’ve taped his Festive Fifties for years, I’ve taped sessions and fragments of tracks I liked the sound of, listening over and over, eventually buying CDs. In that respect I’ve never stopped being a teenager.
But if it was just the music, it wouldn’t be that big a deal; there are always new places to hear music. There’s also the “nice bloke” factor. On the radio he sounds genuinely enthusiastic, unlike most of his fellow DJs who rely on shouting to get across any vestiges of enthusiasm. For many people, Julie Burchill aside, he was someone you’d love to just go to the pub and have a chat with. There aren’t many famous strangers I can say that about, let alone radio DJs.
And then there’s the power of radio. It feels more personal than any other medium, and combining that with a nice bloke playing records he loves and that you mostly like, late at night, just to you, for decades… what’s not to get excited about. So yes, I’m surprised quite how upset I am, I still can’t quite believe he’s gone, and I’m going to miss that stranger.