There was an open bottle of red wine that was making the rounds, and a selection of Chinese take-out in those distinctive little cardboard boxes but, Norvel Trosst insisted, Sunday night in the KPBX control room was just like any other late-night shift during his 20 years at the station.
Except it wasn’t.
He doesn’t usually cry.
Every Sunday night, a disturbance in the sonic force at about 91.1 megahertz occurs in Spokane. That’s when KPBX airs two hours of “space music” — trippy, eclectic, sometimes eerie, sometimes dreamy, frequently touching soundscapes. It’s music that can run for long stretches uninterrupted by the human voice.
Trosst has had one of those hours in Sound Space, a show he inherited 19 years ago and made his own. This is clear from the constant ringing of the telephone in the control room on Sunday night as listeners called to express their love of the show, which is also not typical.
Sunday was the final hour for both the host and the show. Trosst, it turns out, is retiring. And that’s a pretty bald and plainly inaccurate sentence for a trim, contemplative fellow who just turned 70 and figures it’s high time he gets on to the next phase of his life. Which means, apparently, that the next time anyone sees Trosst, he may be entirely naked. Except for a wolf mask.
“I’m just trying to have more of my life before I drop dead!” Trosst says, throwing his hands up.
For 40 years, he has been a serious photographer, chasing his own particular visions of the landscape. He wants to do more of this. His photographic forays frequently include series taken at night, seeking out industrial or post-apocalyptic landscapes. He once did a series of nudes, taken at night in freight yards and warehouses, around Seattle and Tacoma.
“I was my own model,” he says. And it turns out, you learn new meanings of fragile by doing this. Like the time a guard dog at a neighboring warehouse came charging.
“When you have no clothes on, and you are being chased by a dog, you feel very vulnerable,” Trosst says. And then there was the time the cops came upon one of the shoots.
“It was a Stalag 17 moment,” Trosst says, describing how he and a friend escaped by running alongside freight cars while police flashlight beams crisscrossed the darkness behind them.
But his latest escape, his last radio show, would have no such drama, Trosst insisted. It would be just like all the others. Pause. “Except for the last song. I’ve changed the last song.”
This is the first crack in the facade. The big clock races towards 10 pm as Trosst cues up a stack of CDs for the final airing of Sound Space. His girlfriend, the poet Zan Agzigian, is here. His boss, Verne Windham, is here. And the phone? It never rang so frequently — especially not during pledge drives — as it did in the hour of the final show. Listeners just wanting to express gratitude to him for being a part of their night.
And in an instant it is 11 pm. Trosst is running long, also something that never happens. And he punches up the last song.
It somehow encapsulates all of his 19 years of Sound Space. The song is “Desperado.” But this is an astonishing, surprising, plaintive and beautiful version, sung by Sheila Behman, a 9-year-old student in rural Canada, recorded with fellow elementary school children by their music teacher in 1976. The obscure album, the Langley School’s Music Project, resurfaced in the 2000s and has become a cult classic.
As the haunting lyric unspool into the night, Windham moves in behind Trosst and holds him in a quiet embrace. And in a moment, the tears come.