Monday, February 26, 2007

Forsaking Bonaduce.

I am almost thirty-eight years old, but that didn't stop me from crank-calling a radio station today.

It was the first time I've ever done it, I think. Of course, there was plenty of goofing on local pizzerias and neighbors when I was a snotty little Long Island punk. And there was one time, about fifteen years ago, when I called a college DJ who kept cutting off songs early and saying, "I'm sorry for all this bad music, I was trying a little something different today..." After abbreviating the fifth song in a row, I called and asked the guy who answered if he was the DJ who'd been on for the last half-hour. He proudly bellowed, in his wanna-be jock voice, "Yes I am!" I said, "Just play the fucking music and stop cutting it off, you stupid cunt." After a long pause (most guys just don't know how to respond to being called a cunt), he quickly said, "Thank you very much." It didn't go out on the air, so that doesn't really count.

The impetus for my late-in-life crank-yankery was the addition of Danny Bonaduce to The Adam Carolla Show. Last year, TACS took over the Howard Stern time slot out here on the West coast, including my local station, the otherwise awful KUFO. Never having listened to Loveline, it took me a little while to get into the Aceman's shtick, but it wasn't long before I was tuning in every day. If anything, it was refreshing, after twenty years of Stern, to hear a different format. Adam is advertised as "American Genius," and the hype is not far off the mark. I don't always agree with him, leaning to the left as I do, but his rants on any topic are never less than well-thought-out and steeped in common sense. His crew had some shake-ups over the year, but by the end of 2006 the line-up (with Dave Dameshek doing sports and Teresa Strasser delivering news) was solid and had very entertaining interplay.

Then, upon returning from Christmas break, the show took a dramatic turn: Dameshek and some other, behind-the-scenes folks were gone, and Bonaduce ceremoniously added. I knew little about Bonaduce's radio career before this, other than Stern's dismissal of him as a typical shock-jock clone, so although I though it an odd fit, I figured I should at least give him a chance.

Within the first show, I was growing to dislike him. His tobacco-ravaged voice was the first thing to offend. A phlegmy gargle of ground glass, it reminds me of the old dead guy with the dirt-clogged throat shrieking "Bedelia!" as he claws his way out of the grave in Creepshow. After a few days, it became apparent that Bonaduce (or "the DB," as I have referred to him on the show's messageboard) had no interest in following along the thread of Adam and Teresa's topics; they existed solely for him to repeatedly interject long, pointless, factually dubious stories about his history of rampant drug use, his former life as a celebrity (and life as a former celebrity), his bizarre and sad home life (never mind his two unfortunate kids--if this guy has a goldfish I would recommend the state take it away), and so on, and on, and on. When he doesn't have a rambling personal anecdote about a subject, he just blurts out random facts, whether they suit the conversation or not (and much of the time he's just wrong). Interviews run horribly aground as the guests sit there largely silent, listening to the DB's endless noise. Adam's justly famous rants are blunted by his humor-free interruptions. The flow of the show is reduced to a flaccid dribble when Ace and T have to stop and explain jokes to the DB (who claims to be a comedy expert yet can't seem to grasp the simplest conventions of the form other than loudly exclaiming the creakiest gags from the Vaudeville dustbin). Not only is he a drag on the show, but the man himself just seems so unsavory--literally tasteless--that the show sometimes begins to take on this feeling too.

I listened less and less as the show became the Braggy Baggadouchey Show with Adam and Teresa, until now I check in only a few times a week, usually for less than a segment. A number of fans have bombarded the show's Danny-centric messageboard with desperate exhortations to ditch the DB (or "Can Dan" as some have dubbed the movement) and save this once-great show. Posters were lamenting the lack of anti-DB callers, so I decided to see if I could get through. I've gotten on the show many times with small contributions to various segments, so I thought I'd take a shot.

Adam doesn't take calls so much as suggestions for rants, including a bit called "What Can't Adam Complain About?" You call in, mention a topic that seems like something no one on earth can bitch about, and then he does, and vigorously. I called this morning and suggested that Ace couldn't dis new socks.

"Oh, yeah," said the surprisingly enthusiastic screener, "like fresh from the package..."
"Yeah," I continued, "they fit nice, no holes..."
"That's good!" he said, then ran through the litany of caller instructions, turn off your radio and so on.

When my turn came, Adam asked what I felt he couldn't complain about. I quickly ejaculated "Your show last year before it was torpedoed by Bonadouchebag!" Then, in a tribute to the Bababooey callers of yesteryear, I continued with

"Bonadouchey! Bonadouchey! Bonadouchey! Bonadouchey! Bonadouchey!Bonadouchey! Bonadouchey! Bonadouchey! Bonadouchey!"

It wasn't exactly Oscar Wilde, but I felt I had made a contribution, if not an impact. They hung up on me after a few Bonadoucheys, laughed it off, and Adam went on a long rant about my bogus topic. Yes, it turned out, indeed he could complain at length about new socks.

You know, I'm not even saying Danny shouldn't be on the radio. I'm sure if he had his own show there would be an audience for it. Some people like pro wrestling. I don't know why, but what the hell. I say give the DB his own show. Just stop ruining the Carolla show with him--he doesn't fit.

The DB has ten more months on his contract, if it plays out, which I sadly suspect it will. I suggest you check out the show after that, if it is still on the air. If you want to hear my call, on KUFO there is a 5-6am replay of the previous day's best bits--I suspect they will have the "WCACA?" segment on there tomorrow. [2/27 add: they didn't.] I don't know if there's a replay in other cities. Also, you can download segments at the ACS website. Will my call be excised? Don't know, don't really care.

In closing, as "Robert Higgins" once said to Peter Jennings: "And a Bababooey to y'all!"

Friday, February 09, 2007

Celebrity, Be Not Proud.

So Anna Nicole is gone, a surprise if not exactly a shock. Not like when Steve Irwin died. Even given his adventurous passions, I'd once have put money on her demise occurring before his. Especially the whole stingray thing--that was tantamount to Smith being felled by a tainted Tylenol.

As a child, I had no direct experience with death, had never even gotten close enough to whiff its sulphur. I was too young to really process the passing of my last grandparent--grandma Busch, in '73, I think--so perhaps, until my dad's death a dozen years later, the closest thing I had was the ceasement of celebrities.

At my home, for most of my youth, we received three newspapers. Before school, I read the New York Daily News and the Post (over chocolate milk, ridiculously light toast--hot bread, mom called it--and a pre-bus-ride stomachache as reliable as an atomic alarm clock). Newsday was waiting when I returned in the afternoon. I began reading the papers regularly, and then more and more thoroughly, around 1979, at about ten years old or so. In the years before this, I suppose I learned of celebrities' deaths via the television news, or scanning the paper for a Social Studies assignment, or from my pee-wee pals dropping overheard current events into the shrill schoolyard palaver.

The first one I can remember is Arthur Treacher in 1975. I don't remember how I heard of it, but it meant something to me because my father had met him while overseas in the service. This fact would be mentioned by my mom whenever we drove past Arthur Treacher's Fish and Chips on Hicksville Road. When Treacher died, I wondered if the restaurant would close now that he wasn't there to run it.

The first obituary I can specifically recall reading (or, more accurately, looking at) was that of Anissa Jones, Family Affair's Buffy, August 8, 1976. The show was still syndicated, airing in the wee hours, and I watched it on those occasions when I crawled out of bed predawn in anticipation of a marathon of cartoons. I doubt I understood the idea of an overdose, but the part I really couldn't wrap my head around was her age. Sixteen? But she's littler than me! The obit had a picture of a girl who sure did look like a teen version of Buffy. I figured it had something to do with how her TV brother Jody also looked older on Sigmund and the Sea Monsters.

Last photo.

1977. I knew Peter Finch was from some big movie, but mainly knew him from dying. Burt Mustin, an old, old character actor that I knew well from his many appearances on my favorite sitcoms, inevitably succumbed at last, two weeks after Finch.

Gone thirty years, but on TV every day.

That very next day, the world of my evening viewing was further decimated by the suicide of Freddy Prinze. That one really puzzled me. I thought maybe I didn't understand what the word 'suicide' meant---Chico always seemed so happy. But there was no mistaking the meaning of putting a gun to your head and shooting it, like, on purpose.

I'm not sure how I knew of Diana Hyland, as she wasn't very famous. Of course I knew John Travolta (and Vinnie Barbarino even better), so I guess I knew she was his real-life girlfriend. In any case, two months after Prinze taught me of suicide, she introduced me to cancer, another mysterious fiend whose name must be spoken in whispers.

That summer, Elvis was laid out on the cover of the National Enquirer, his unmistakable profile serenely peeking out of his coffin. He was almost certainly the first dead person I'd ever seen. I was eight. He was already so unreal to me in life that it was mainly the spectacle surrounding his demise that made an impression, with no thought given to the death of the man. A living legend slips easily into death, an irony barely recognized and yet, I think, not lost on me. By simply not ending, life only erodes the veneer. So while others lamented his absurdly abbreviated life, to me it sort of made perfect sense.

The wax replica is displayed.

Far more affecting for me was the death of Groucho Marx, three days later. Shortly before his death, I had gotten a Disney magazine that came free when mom bought detergent or something off a display at Finast, my family's market of choice. It had an article about him, with a picture of Groucho looking thin and queer in his beret. I tried to reconcile that frail Groucho with the lively, grease-painted Groucho of some of my favorite comedies, and furthermore with the expired Groucho of a newspaper headline. (Gummo died four months earlier, a departure which made little impression on me.)

Missed Gummo.

Three days after that (and less than a year after Buffy), Mr. French tipped his derby, making Family Affair viewing bittersweet indeed...

That fall, Bing Crosby went, but left one last Christmas special which I remember dispiritedly watching. Then Guy Lombardo went, and now, too, New Year’s Eve would be a whit bluer. Then Chaplin on Christmas Day? The legends fell resoundingly, like Sitka spruces in decay.

1978. The sun last sets on Robert Shaw, a favorite from Jaws and in particular Swashbuckler (a now-forgotten movie which I got my mom to take me to twice). Jim Jones took a thousand with him in an event that took years for me to comprehend. Other deaths having an impact, or at least registering: Will Geer, Bob Crane, Totie Fields, Frank Fontaine, Pope John Paul I, Keith Moon, Edgar Bergen, Norman Rockwell.

1979. Jack Soo and Ted Cassidy passed in January, again making their respective sitcoms somber viewing for a time. Darla Hood of The Little Rascals left us in June, and when I learned this I was amazed she had been around so long--she was in black-and-white, after all. Sweet-voiced Minnie Riperton warbled her last in July, and I mournfully played her single. So long to The Duke, Ethel Mertz, Arthur Fiedler, Zeppo and the Tin Man.

1980. All going sweetly thereafter: The Schnozzola, Harry O and Tonto. Mae West, Hitchcock and Sellers. The guy who wrote "The Amityville Horror." Bobby Van. Tex Avery. The Shah. The Colonel. Steve McQueen.(Steve McQueen? How is that possible?) As a die-hard Our Gang fan, I probably felt the passings of Buckwheat and Farina most strongly.

The one that took the longest to sink in came that December. I was overdue for bed when I heard over the radio that John Lennon had been shot. The next morning on the bus I bragged that I learned the breaking news at the adult hour of eleven o’clock, while my little classmates were asleep. Four years later I would read the Rolling Stone issue devoted to the Beatles, learning about Lennon and his life, and I’d cry, feeling the loss for the first time.

The ever-tasteful National Enquirer, 12/30/80.

1981. Good lord, Stymie too? God took all the fat and funny-looking Rascals decades ago, and now He was apparently working his way through the minorities. The Man joined Chico. So did Sadat and Dayan, Bobby Sands and Bob Marley. Bill Haley and Harry Chapin (not far away on the Long Island Expressway, no less).

Together again, 11/25/81.

By the time Belushi speedballed from the mortal coil in March of ’82, I guess the strangeness of watching famous people expire had sort of worn off. There would later be deaths that startled me--River Phoenix, Phil Hartman, Chris Farley spring to mind—but now when I hear of another loss, I just get that tiny tinge of sadness that defies description. Is there genuine grief there? Who is it for?

As a child, when I saw my parents react to the deaths of their own icons, many of whom I didn’t know, I always thought the same thing: They’re getting older. They’re getting older and the people they’ve watched and listened to and read about, their contemporaries, are dying. I wondered what they felt. Now I watch my contemporaries die, and it’s no longer murders and suicides and accidents and dammit-they-were-too-young, it’s cancer and just plain wearing out and oh-well-it-was-their-time, and now I realize that maybe my parents didn’t exactly know what they were feeling either.

I do know that Anna Nicole Smith was a mess, and her life was rife for jokes, and I loathed and disparaged her every time I saw that show of hers, and when I saw that she had died, I know that I was sad.