If I’ve learned anything in 40-plus years on earth, it’s that one of the worst things you can possibly be is a Clod In The Way Of The Music.
Here are a few examples to show you what I mean:
- I’ve got a couple of Beatles live recordings from 1964-65. Just about every one of them starts with a local DJ who admonishes the crowd at length to stay polite, stay quiet, and show everybody how much better an (Atlanta/Philadelphia/Sydney) audience behaves.
And then the lads come out, and it’s inevitable wall-to-wall jet-engine eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee.
Those DJs might have ruled their time slots. They might have had the best ratings in town and all the local fame they could handle.
But for a few minutes in a packed stadium, wagging their fingers and lecturing on maturity, they were Clods In The Way Of The Music.
- From a once-local library, I long ago took out a jazz concert recording in which promoter-snob John Hammond made a series of obnoxious, intrusive between-song announcements.
The Interwebs tell me it was probably the 1938 “From Spirituals to Swing” concert. That legendary concert was released as an LP 20 years later — punctuated by newly recorded “stage announcements” taped specially for the album by Hammond. Now that’s going above and beyond to be a Clod In The Way Of The Music.
- On the Wattstax live album, the Bar-Kays’ histrionic but entertaining version of “Can’t Turn You Loose” gets cut off early by an emcee who ushers the band offstage because the show’s going overtime.
And to make it worse, he spends what seems like a solid minute calling for applause for the band he’s kicking off the stage: “Give it up for the Bar-Kays! The Bar-Kays! The Bar-Kays!”
That would be humiliating at an eighth-grade talent show, never mind a major concert with a big-name band.
Sure, it’s bad mojo to let the show run ’til 3 in the morning. But, better that than to be a Clod In The Way Of The Music.
- When I was growing up, I hated morning DJs. I was all about the tuneage, and I never heard a skit, a stunt or a line of patter that was a better use of airtime than Aerosmith.
As I’ve grown and been exposed to some of the great jocks, I’ve learned to appreciate how much fun a good morning DJ can be.
But when they’re bad, morning DJs are definitive examples of Clods In The Way Of The Music.
You get the picture, I think. It is better to be a squirrel in the way of a Greyhound bus than a Clod In The Way Of The Music.
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It would have been easy for Casey Kasem to be a Clod In The Way Of The Music.
How? Well, let’s look at it through the eyes of an average radio listener in, say, 1975.
Your local station brings you the most popular tunes in your region, and you know the local personalities, and you like them OK.
But then, three hours a week, it hands over the reins to some guy from Hollywood. He plays some sort of national countdown whose songs don’t necessarily align with what you hear locally.
And in between, he tells all these stories about James Taylor’s pet pig, and the rise of the Moog synthesizer, and how the Raspberries’ scented album gave people seizures, and the Beatles … always the Beatles.
Who is this guy, you might have asked, and what makes him so special? What claim does he have to share the stage with the nation’s most popular songs?
It is a testament to Casey Kasem’s style and personality that he was rarely, if ever, a Clod In The Way Of The Music.
The expansion of “American Top 40″ from three to four hours, in 1978, put him at risk from time to time. That extra hour was a lot of time to fill with flashbacks, stories, long-distance dedications and other sideshows.
Still, Casey didn’t make the show seem like it was about him.
For instance, his showbiz anecdotes — at least in the earlier years — were sourced from, and credited to, music publications like Billboard and Rolling Stone.
None of that “I stopped by Mark Farner’s farm in Michigan, and over a couple cold cans of Goebel’s, he told me …” routine for Casey.
The effect was to make Casey look like a big fan with access to lots of magazines, rather than a Hollywood personality in his own right.
It sounded like he cared so much about pop music that he’d set out to learn as much as he could about it, and share that with others who were just as fascinated as he was.
Ultimately, “American Top 40″ was about the music, the people who made it, and the listeners who dug it, not the guy who happened to be spinning it.
Sure, Casey didn’t flee from fame. He did guest shots on TV shows, and acted in movies for a while. But in his AT40 guise, he served the music, and the fame he gained came from the welcoming warmth of his on-air persona, not self-promotion.
That charming quality, and not the tabloid drama of his last days, should be what people remember about Casey Kasem.