Saturday, January 17, 2009

Dementions and dementites...

Imagine getting the chance to meet Michael Jordan, Paul McCartney, or someone else who was your hero when you were young.

The Flying Spaghetti Monster willing, I will get that opportunity in July.

It started a few months ago when plans were being made for the 2009 Annual Gathering of American Mensa, which will be held in Pittsburgh 4th of July weekend. The theme is “AM-FM, About Mensans, For Mensans.” Since the AG is the year’s biggest Mensa event, there’s a dinner with a keynote speaker. I started thinking about the theme, and one speaker leaped out at me, so I made the suggestion to the AG speaker chair, Brea Ludwigson.

Earlier this week, I learned that the plans are on.

Dr. Demento is coming to the 2009 AG.

It’s more than an honor to finally meet the man who provided the soundtrack for my Wonder Years.

Thanks to someone desperately in need of a life, I can pinpoint the night—actually, the moment—when I first heard The Dr. Demento Show.

I was 12 at the time, and my tastes in music—and just about everything else—were starting to set me apart from my peers. I already preferred The Beatles to The Bee Gees, Chicago to Boston, and Al Stewart to Rod Stewart (although I should note that, at the time, Rod was slogging through dreck like “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy?”). I watched every British comedy that Channel 34 showed (we all know about Monty Python, but how many Americans remember “Dave Allen at Large”? Or “No, Honestly”?). And I actually—gasp!—read for fun. And I couldn’t figure out why I didn’t have a date for the eighth grade dinner dance?

So, one night (apparently, Oct. 22, 1978), I was flipping through the FM stations trying to find a rabbit hole to crawl in before I went to sleep and came across Q-FM-96, which, like most album-rock stations in the late ‘70s, played “Stairway to Heaven” and “Free Bird” on a continuous loop. I was not expecting to hear Cheech and Chong singing the theme from Up in Smoke. This was followed by “There’s a New Sound”—which was “the sound that’s made by worms.” Don’t ask.

Within weeks, Dr. Demento had replaced "American Top 40" as my required Sunday radio listening. Not only was I taping the show to play during the week, I was writing the lyrics to Funny 5 favorites in a notebook. There was “Fish Heads,” “Dead Puppies,” “They’re Coming to Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa!” and the demented oeuvres of Allan Sherman, Tom Lehrer, Shel Silverstein, and, of course, Frank Zappa.

It wasn’t all songs about dead dogs and seafood detritus, though. Some of the show’s best parts came when Dr. D got deep into music history. He could go on about what ASCAP and BMI were and how they came to be, or how “Yes! We Have No Bananas” became a big hit in the 1920s. I was just as likely to hear Al Jolson on the show as Weird Al Yankovic.

It was during these years that Weird Al first gained airplay with “My Bologna” on his way to mainstream fame. He was interviewed “under the smogberry trees,” as were Zappa and demented music makers ranging from Lenny and Squiggy to Barnes and Barnes. While a Funny 5 favorite occasionally received mainstream airplay, nobody else that I knew really cared about this music. It was, as far as I knew, my own, private musical world. And, apparently, it was, as the Q stopped carrying the show in 1982 due to low ratings (although it has resurfaced on that station on Sunday mornings).

It was not until I started going to RGs regularly in my 30s that I learned that I was, indeed, not alone. There are many people in Mensa who are, to paraphrase The great Luke Ski, true “D” fans—who own every Weird Al CD, once drove three hours to see DaVinci’s Notebook, and can recite “Earache My Eye” from memory (not just the song, but the father-son tirade as well).

And so it was, when I found out that the AG would have a radio theme, I could think of only one choice for a keynote speaker.

As Wayne and Garth would have said, WE’RE NOT WORTHY!

No comments: