At her memorial service, I told those assembled that I was the "luckiest guy in the world because I got to be Mary Ellen Farrell's brother for 55 years!! And I meant every word of it!
Mary Ellen or "Mel" as she became in High School, was 8 years my senior, and from the minute I was born she was my mentor, my protector, and my best friend! Despite the difference in our ages, I never felt like "little brother," when Mel would include me in activities with the older kids. But it was music (and love of the NY Mets) that truly bonded us together.
I remember Mel insisting that I watch The Ed Sullivan Show on that January night in 1964 when The Beatles premiered ( I was 5) , and she took me to see "A Hard Days Night" and "Help" too...It wasn't long before I got my first guitar and started playing and singing in public at church and in local bands. And when Mel came back from college, we went to the drive-in to see "Yellow Submarine," and I remember her returning to the car with her friend, and the "smoky" aroma that seemed to return with them! Hell, Mel, was one of the half million people who made the pilgrimage to Woodstock. She said Sly and The Family Stone were the best!
Later Mel shared her discovery of Southern Rock, The Allmans, and Lynyrd Skynyrd. I remember how excited she was to play me Reggae music. It took me a while to understand it, but once I started reading about Bob Marley and really dug into the music, I became a total convert, and I'm proud to say that I've seen most of the Reggae masters in concert. And when I got a little older, I was able to share my love of NYC Punk Rock, the Ramones, Blondie, Talking Heads...and we both LOVED that first Pretenders album!
It was right around that time that I was getting my broadcasting career underway. With no experience to speak of, I was having trouble even getting an entry-level position in the NY/Philly area where I lived, so when Mel offered me a room in her house near Champaign, Il for $50 a month, I jumped at the chance, and soon had my first job, overnights at WLRW-Champaign, a college town with an incredible music scene...and I was making a cool $2.75 per hour!! We had a blast the two years I was in Illinois. Went to all kinds of amazing shows, and grew even closer as brother and sister. Great times, and Mel was always there to help me if I got low on funds, or homesick.
Eventually I went back to NY to continue my broadcasting career, and in '95 my family moved to Florida, and we saw less of each other. Kids were born, but Mel and I talked every Sunday, and corresponded on Social Media when that became a "thing." And we got together for vacations when time permitted.
About 5 years ago, Mel retuned from a trip to Europe and seemed disoriented. My nephew immediately took her to a hospital, where she was diagnosed with a brain tumor. She was treated, but passed away several months later. Naturally, I was devastated. Nothing I'd every experienced, and I'd already lost both of my parents, and a daughter, brought me to my knees like losing Mel. I lost interest in everything. It was the first time in my life when I truly didn't have ANY answers. Then an opportunity arose with Stepnorth Media to work on a project that later became US 41. It was just what I needed. Rather than sitting around and feeling sorry for myself, I poured all my creative juices into creating a radio station that was a musical dialogue between Mel and myself. All the music we loved. The British Invasion and our beloved Beatles, Stones, Kinks and The Who. Southern Rock, Reggae, Blues. It was working on US 41 that pulled me out of a downward spiral, and got me "back in the game," so when Stepnorth gave me the opportunity to resuscitate the US 41 project a few months ago, I did it knowing that a lot of love and creativity went into it. And with Mel keeping an eye on me from above...How can it fail? This one's for you Mel!
Mary Ellen "Mel" Farrell and myself in 1979 at "The Barn," Hampton Bays, NY