Friday, December 8, 2017
K.A.C. 2017 - T - 17 ...
As many of you know, my secondary school education was spent in two different military schools. They were extremely strict (as you can imagine) and we had very limited access to television. Most of us (myself included) had transistor radios with headphones to listen to after hours in our barracks. Among the programming I would listen to in 1974 was The National Lampoon Radio Hour, the King Biscuit Flour Hour and a personal favorite that I would continue listening to well into college, The Doctor Demento Show.
The good Doctor (real name Barry Hansen, who comes from my old stomping grounds for many a year, Minneapolis, Minnesota) has a long-running program which began in 1970 which plays tunes (to quote Wikipedia) "specializing in novelty songs, comedy, and strange or unusual recordings dating from the early days of phonograph records to the present."
He also has probably forgotten more than most people ever knew about a variety of music and the artists who recorded them, having a Master's Degree in ethnomusicology and folklore.
From 1970 on he used that knowledge to put out a radio show unlike ANY other, featuring artists many had never heard of and introducing new artists who would become household names (he is credited with discovering "Weird Al" Yankovic and introducing him to a national audience). You can read more about him and his accomplishments via his Wikipedia page linked below:
So how, you ask, does this tie in to your humble Conjure Cinema Curator and/or Christmas? Well, every year in December the Doctor would go through the vault and pull out enough material for his Christmas shows - and I'm not just talking one or two songs, like today's "Dominick the Donkey" or "Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer" ... I'm talking FOUR SOLID WEEKS of songs, through the entire month (maybe that's where I developed MY love of them)! His two hour show would follow the same format: the first hour and a half would feature a variety of weird songs, with the Doc giving fascinating tidbits about the tunes and the artists. Then for the final half-hour, it was the time for the Top Ten - the ten most requested songs of the week voted on by the listeners.
Fast forward to 1974. I had been listening faithfully to the show ever since I first found out about it earlier in the year, and more than once ran the risk of getting demerits and having to work them off for laughing too loudly over the more ridiculous tunes after lights out. I was an officer at my school and had an idea: send in a petition from the kids at our military academy to make a certain song Number One for one of his shows. During the mandatory study hall time over a couple of evenings, I took my petition room to room, explaining what it was about and asking those kids interested in it if they wanted to sign it. I did NOT force anyone to sign it, so let's get that out of the way right now. A lot of the other kids knew and liked the show and thought it would be a lark to do so, so they signed the paper and promptly forgot about it. When all was said and done, I had slightly over ONE HUNDRED signatures.
By now I'm sure the burning question you're asking is, "What was the song?" Well, it WASN'T a Christmas tune (although there IS Christmas in the band's name, so it qualifies that way!) - I had no idea when (or IF) the Doctor would ever even SEE our petition, but I sent it off right before Thanksgiving and left it to Fate. The song was a favorite of mine that I had heard a number of times on the show, a daffy ditty called "The Martian March", by the Roto-Rooter Good Time Christmas Band (pictured at left) - the band were favorites of Doctor Demento (he even used part of their "Pico and Sepulveda" music for his opening theme song to the show) and a number of their songs had been played over time.
Fast forward again: the evening of Sunday, December 8th, 1974. My roommate and I have our radios on, headphones fully in place, listening to Doctor Demento's show, with this week's theme being "The Coming of Christmas". After the usual hilarity, we get down to the # 1 Song of the Week ... and, yep, you guessed it, the Doctor READ MY FULL LETTER ON THE AIR (with my name and the name of our school and all!) and happily pronounced The Martian March as the Number One Song Of the Week! My roommate and I were STUNNED ... and were even MORE SO when we started hearing whoops and hollers from the different barracks! :)
The next morning at reveille we were SURE there was going to be a SLEW of demerits passed about and there probably would have been, except for a number of the students explaining what had happened to the Commandant of the school, who called me into his office and had me tell the entire story to him, front to back. He must have figured ANY publicity for the school was GOOD publicity, as he let it slide.
There's actually a great follow-up to this story: I received a few days later in the mail a small reel-to-reel tape (similar to the one pictured at left) with the entire "Number One" segment on it! It was sent to me from the local radio station who had aired the episode, which was very nice of them. Once I heard it and mentioned it to the Commandant, he had me INTERRUPT CLASSES to go and play it over and over in each classroom, so EVERYONE got to hear it! :)
But wait, there's even more to the story! When it came time to leave for Christmas vacation, I made a stop at the radio station (I used to drive from my school in Alabama to my home in Boston and back again during the break, at age 17 ... but THAT'S a story for another time!) to thank them for the tape. It was a TINY station, with only two people on when I stopped in - the station manager and the current on-air DJ. I explained who I was and they were delighted to meet me, as it had caused some notoriety for them, as well. The manager told me she had something ELSE for me from the show, as well - they had kept it at the station, but thought it was only fair that I have it to remember the moment by: an Honorary Doctorate of Dementia from the show for having the Number One Song Of the Week! :)
Now wait a moment, you say: ANYBODY could sit here and spin such a lurid Christmas tale, right? WHERE'S THE PROOF? Well, I'm glad you asked! The good Doctor is still going strong (at 76!) - although his show is no longer on the airwaves, it is still being produced as an online show. The best part? He has archived of ALL his old shows, INCLUDING the one this tale is about. So if you want to hear the ENTIRE two hour show, commercials and all, just pony up $2.00 for the file ... TWO DOLLARS gets you access to a piece of proto-K.A.C. history AND supports the Doctor and his continuing efforts to make sure we all (as he would say) "STAY DEMENTED!" Here's the link to the playlist of the show - should you want to hear it as it happened back on that momentous day, click on the 'Online Listening' link at the top of the page:
Coming Tomorrow: Christmas Potpourri Day descends on us for 2017, and it's the usual scattershot mess of stories from around the globe - we hope you'll give it a whirl!