25 November 2007

Memory dump 2: Before he was a wild and crazy guy...

Imagine being a 15-year-old standing in the high school hallway (sporting what looks like a strawberry-flavored Mickey Mouse mask because you didn't apply sunscreen before you donned ski goggles and hit the very sunny Colorado slopes over winter vacation, but that's beside the point) and telling people that the best part of your trip was going out to a club one night and seeing this breath-stoppingly hilarious comedian whose schtick involved playing the banjo while wearing a fake-arrow-through-the-head and ended with a poem about all the things he had done and seen, including the memorable line "I've put a telephone in my nose and called my mother."

Imagine the looks you would have gotten, even from people who usually got your offbeat sense of humor.

Of course, we all know now who that comedian was. In 1973, nobody in San Antonio did. What fun to remind my classmates years later that I discovered Steve Martin. At least, before they did.

The show was a benefit for the Aspen Free Clinic, and most of the talent had local connections, such as headliners John Denver and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and other, less famous acts. Albert Brooks presented his one-man performance of "Blue Moon" as the Albert Brooks Big Band, providing vocals, instrumentation and backup vocals -- all a capella. Then there was the guy with the banjo ...

Think about Steve Martin's old standup act. How do you explain his brand of performance -- usually punchline-free -- to someone who's never seen it? And how does a 15-year-old girl convey the hilarity of the line "I've done terrible things to my dog with a fork"?

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10 November 2007

Memory dump 1: KZEW

Today I tripped down memory lane when I heard The Ramones' "I Wanna Be Sedated" playing in the improbable venue of Walgreens. Here's the trippy thing it reminded me of:

I was a disk jockey on KZEW-FM in Dallas. It was a huge deal for me at the time, and I still love the memory.

Getting on the air at the Zoo was the dream of my radio career (many thanks to Ken Rundel for pointing me that direction), and I managed to be there at the tender age of 21, soon after I graduated from college. While I was in school I had worked briefly at some other interesting stations -- notably, KEXL in San Antonio and KLIF (the Mighty 1190, home of Top 40 radio a few decades before I arrived) -- but the Zoo was where I wanted to end up. And that I did: At the end of my tenure I left both KZEW and radio behind forever, thinking I should put my newly earned college degree to better use. Still wondering whether the ensuing decades proved me right.

What a great station -- you still find diehard Zoo Freaks, even though the AOR format we knew and loved last aired more than a couple of decades ago. People still want to buy Zooloo window stickers (see here), and I'm still kicking myself for not keeping one of the satin bomber jackets that the station had made for the staff that year.

the infamous birthday-suit shotI had the great fortune to work with the amazing LaBella & Rody, the adorable Jon Dillon, John B. ("Viacom.") Wells, sweet Beverly Beesley, Michael Brown and Charley Jones. It was the Zoo's sixth year on air, and to commemorate it, some of the on-air staff posed for a publicity shot in our birthday suits ... with strategically placed birthday cake and sound board.

I wasn't there long, and my presence was hardly a dimple in the station's big ol' public face, but being there meant enough to me that I still smile thinking about it. I loved giving the station ID ("You're listening to the Zoo [sound effect: synthesized elephant roar] ... KZEW, Dallas Fort Worth") and coming up with great sets and segues, and in a weird way even the jerkoff who phoned in and, well, jerked off while I gave some long, involved answer to a stupid question he asked -- took me awhile to figure out what he was up to because I had the call on noise-cancelling speakerphone so I didn't hear his, um, utterances until I finally shut up myself. (Beverly later congratulated me on getting my first beat-off call.) Of course there are better, more interesting, celebrity-laced stories but I've saved those for my other, anonymous blog.

Good luck finding that.

The movie Almost Famous weirded me out when I first saw it because Cameron Crowe's kid-in-the-bigtime story felt so familiar. Not that I was as young at the time as Crowe was or could hold a candle to him in talent then or now ... but I felt every bit as awed to be in my situation as he did in his and that movie brought it all back for me.

me & LaBella on an interview setEven so, I didn't realize just how big an impression these folks had made on me until a few years ago when I learned that John LaBella died -- I cried as though I'd left the station only the week before.

So Beverly, guys, others I didn't mention, and even you, Jeff and Tom -- your faces and especially your voices are permanently embossed on my memory. Maybe one of you remembers mine. Hint: There were two cute young redheads on the air around that time -- I was the one who didn't marry Jones...

02 February 2007

Say hello to Ann for us, okay?

Two days ago, January 31, I lost another one of my heroes. Much has been written about Molly Ivins over the past few days -- deservedly -- and I won't repeat it all here. I'll just say that the next time someone asks me what I want for my birthday, my answer will be "the abilities to cut to the truth and see humor in all things, just like Molly Ivins." Sounds like an impossible birthday wish, but keep in mind that a few years ago, I wished for a memorable birthday ... and that day four airliners were hijacked and used as flying weapons. I have a great belief in the power of birthday wishes.

I was thinking about Molly on the 31st, before I heard the news. I had opened a drawer and seen the audiobook of her "Nothin' But Good Times Ahead." I bought that tape as soon as it came out in 1993, needing the solace of her essay "They Killed My Paper Today" about the demise of our former workplace, the Dallas Times Herald. I nearly wrecked on Stemmons Freeway while listening to it because my tears were coming so hard and fast, but I think I would have had that reaction even if I'd never heard of the Herald, that's how deeply felt her words were written and how sincerely they were delivered in her deep drawl. I wish I could listen to it again right now, but I no longer have a cassette player. I guess I'll have to buy the book ... gladly.

If there's a place where righteous hellraising Texans go when they die, I'm sure Molly's there now, reuniting with another of my recently departed heroes, Ann Richards. Even if they're in a perfect Heaven, I like to think they're still raising hell.

13 January 2007

Rethink that advice, Benjamin

written for Earth Day 2004

The other day two of my youngish co-workers were wondering about my rescue of boxloads of foam packing peanuts that they were about to trash. One asked me if it was the same kind of neurotic pack-rat tendency that has me washing and re-using the foam cups that the cafeteria uses for to-go drinks. "They're disposable!" they said. "That means you throw them away after you use them!"

Bolstered by the chance to smarten up these young'uns (not to mention my desire to avoid the "neurotic pack-rat" label, which fits right in with my use of "young'uns"), I stepped up on the soapbox. And because I didn't want to let this extensive expostulation die after a single rant to only two people, I'm recycling it to you with the hope that you'll pass the idea along, too.

I asked my co-workers whether they were familiar with the phrase "our country's dependence on foreign oil," or the debate over drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, or the conjecture that our presence in Iraq has more to do with Iraqi oil reserves than human rights or weapons of mass destruction. Of course they were.

What they didn't realize was something that a lot of people either don't know or don't think about: that styrofoam and its offshoots are petroleum-based products. Everything plastic comes from petroleum in some way, and foam products fall into that huge category. Heck, the guy whose "plastics!" career advice to Benjamin in "The Graduate" probably owned stock in Schlumberger.

During my 6-month stint as an Internet consultant to Oil & Gas Journal, I had the dubious thrill of attending conferences dedicated to the wonderful world of crude oil and petrorefineries. Hybrid-driving greenie that I am, I went home every time feeling dirty ... and not just from being in Houston, the city with the worst air quality in the U.S. So I took a good look at my surroundings and habits and realized that my contributions to this overblown industry were about much more than my car's gasoline consumption.

(At these conventions, I also learned why Shrub insists on saying "newkyulur" -- many oil guys do, no matter where they come from or how well educated they are. It seems to be a dis thang, kinda like Bush 41 calling the Iraqi dictator "SADdam" because that [mis]pronunciation is considered pejorative. But I digress...)

I'm not trying to put oil company employees out of work or even to label this industry as badbadbad. But let's face it, our habit of overconsumption and desire for convenience at any cost has to change if we want to leave behind any kind of decent world -- and that starts with recognizing that most petroleum-based products were not created for longevity, be it gasoline, styrofoam, or shrink-wrap.

So the next time you throw away a used-once plastic grocery bag, dry-clean your clothes, use Vaseline, buy a piece of new plastic furniture, opt for packaged over bulk, or accept takeout in a foam container, think about this essay ... and please think again.

Of course, the answer isn't as simple as "don't use plastics," because sometimes there's simply no choice, sometimes the petroleum-based version is actually the least-destructive option, and other materials have environmental impacts of their own.

But at least think about the alternatives -- and about not choosing "new" at all.

As the folks say, recycling begins with re-use.
If everyone reused just one foam roadie cup a week or gave one box of packing peanuts to a friend who's moving instead of throwing it away ...

Yeah, I guess you can call me a pack rat. Just don't equate "green" with "neurotic" unless you're prepared for me to smarten you up, too, young'un.