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...