Casey Kasem 1932 – 2014

Casey Kasem is partly to blame for my lifelong obsession with music.

It goes back to the late 70s and early 80s, when my older sisters listened to the radio and caught the countdowns. They were nowhere near obsessive about it as I was, but it was my eldest sister who would sometimes tape songs off the radio, creating her own mixtapes, a habit I would pick up in the early 80s myself. We’d listen to the American Top 40 on weekends, catching the countdowns during our roadtrips to Keene or Leominster, or I’d catch them while scanning the dial looking for something to listen to while I did my homework.

Kasem was the co-creator of the long-running American Top 40 radio show we all know and love. His version of the countdown was a flashier, glossier version of the old AM Top 40 announcer of the 50s and 60s, ready with a soundbite or a PSA or an emotional Long Distance Dedication. Sure, it was scripted and flashy and aimed to excite the listeners, move them emotionally somehow, and it worked. Kasem delivered it with panache, sometimes corny and sometimes ridiculous in its earnestness, but you could tell he meant every single word of it. The whole point was to say “Hey–listen to these great songs.” The countdown itself was originally pulled straight from Billboard (and later Radio and Records, and now Mediabase) so you understood that it was about sales and popularity, but that was part of the game–what song was going to hit Number 1 this week? Who was it going to unseat from that top spot? What new songs would debut? Kasem understood this game, and played it perfectly.

He was also one of the deejays with a distinctive voice: Wolfman Jack’s growl, Howard Stern’s bassy, nasal chatter, the homey drawl of Garrison Keillor…the showbiz flash of Casey Kasem. It was also the voice of Scooby Doo‘s Shaggy of course, forever regaling us with the classic flustering “Zoinks!”, but for many of us, especially those of us who tuned in every week, it was the friendly voice of our best friend the music geek, giving us the most obscure and left-field music trivia about our favorite songs. He’d even throw a fascinating 12-inch remix in there if he could. It was great fun.

I wasn’t a constant listener to AT40, but for a while there in the mid-80s, from around 1984 to 1987, I listened enough to pick up on all the latest and greatest. A lot of my mixtapes from then were songs culled from those countdowns. Those mixtapes would in turn inspire my ‘compilation’ mixtapes, and his countdowns would inspire my end-of-year countdowns over the years. He was a showman and quite an inspiration to me.

Rik Mayall 1958-2014

I remember the first time I ever watched The Young Ones on MTV. It was probably early 1987, after I’d started watching 120 Minutes, taping episodes and watching them later that week. At first I only taped 120, but as I would start the VCR timer a few minutes early, I’d always catch the last few minutes of whatever previous show was playing. They were no longer playing music videos but some loud and wacky UK show, so I thought I’d give it a go, set the timer a half hour earlier.

The “Bombs” episode was the first one I’d taped and watched. The first thing you see, after stock footage of a fighter plane dropping the titular bomb, is a close-up of Rik Mayall’s character attempting to pop a zit in the bathroom mirror, spouting ridiculously bad political poetry and singing the Beatles’ “Revolution” while putting on deodorant. Within minutes he’s having an argument with his roommate Vyvyan, and things head downhill from there. It’s loud and boisterous, quite often in poor taste, and VERY of its time of Thatcher’s early 80s Britain. And it’s goddamn hilarious.

Rik was often my favorite character on this series, taking everything to brilliant and often absurd extremes. Vyv might be the amusingly destructive punk, neil the lovably dim hippie, and Mike the shyster and person in charge (read: the only roommate with somewhat of a brain between his ears), but Rik was the character who sang to me. He was the most vocal character, unafraid to cross lines in his dialogue, sometimes completely unaware that there were lines there to begin with. He spoke what was on his mind, regardless as to whether it made sense.

In “Bombs”, each roommate has their own reaction to finding a bomb in their kitchen, blocking the refrigerator. Vyv attempts to set the thing off (and delivering my favorite non-sequitur of the entire series when he fails). Mike is cool-headed, already planning to sell it to the highest bidding government. neil appropriately freaks out like any good hippie should, and prepares himself for the fallout accordingly. It’s Rik who has the most realistic scheme, immediately deciding to use it as collateral against Thatcher’s rule. He too completely fails, but not before he manages to go on a number of lengthy political diatribes. Most of them are extremely leftist and completely absurd, and ultimately brilliant satire.

Ultimately, I think The Young Ones influenced my outlook on life from my late teens onwards; life just seemed to be much more agreeable if I remembered just how absurd it often is. Rik Mayall often played those types of characters; hapless bassist Colin Grigson in the “Bad News” episodes of The Comic Strip, the moral-free but ultimately kind-hearted titular imaginary friend in Drop Dead Fred, the over-the-top military hero Lord Flashheart in Blackadder II, and the ridiculously conservative MP Alan B’stard on The New Statesman. He was never big here in the US other than in The Young Ones, but he definitely left a mark on me.

RIP, Rik, you right bastard…thanks for all the laughs.

Fly-by: I’m wide awake and these memories can’t wait

So where have I been for the past month? I had planned on getting some blogging done here, but as you can see, there’s been a bit of a delay. A good delay, though. Since my last entry here, I’ve been working hard at the Walk in Silence outline. It’s quite long at 30+ pages and around 11k words (granted, a lot of those are song and album titles I may use), and I just finished it up a few days ago.  That took a lot of my time, because I didn’t want to forget any details.  Am I going to use all of it?  Probably not…I can already see a few places where I’ve repeated myself, and I can fix that when I come to the writing part of it.

So how am I going to write this, anyway?  I have absolutely no background in writing nonfiction other than blog posts here and elsewhere, where I wax poetic either about past personal events or write overviews about albums and/or bands.  But really…I had no background writing science fiction and fantasy before I started the Mendaihu Trilogy, so I have to start somewhere, right?  And I figure–just start at the beginning, let it flow and not worry too much about the wording just yet.  Just like my fiction.

I started writing it just a few days ago and I only have about 1500 words so far, but once I get back into the groove of writing again, I’m sure the word count will rise.

So yes…that’s what I’ve been doing.  I wanted to give as much focus to the outline as possible and prep myself for the Big Writing Push, and because of that, a lot of my blog posting fell by the wayside.  [I’ve also been filling in for a vacationing coworker and doing double-duty for the last two weeks, so there’s been absolutely no downtime during the day to sneak in some extra work.  She’s returning tomorrow, so I’ll have more breathing room quite soon.]


So!  That being said…as mentioned over at the other blog, starting soon I’ll be working on new blog posts very soon, perhaps starting off once a week and maybe expanding further down the line.  I still have a backlog of ideas I’d like to hit on, so expect to see those quite soon!