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Happy Birthday Dr. Demento (April 2000)

April the 2nd is the birthday of Dr. Demento, aka Barret E. Hansen, who turns 59 this Sunday.

The records are still demented and the doctor is still in.

Come this October, Dr. Demento will be spending year 31 playing the strangest music you once could find on the radio, all of it drawn from the half-million recordings he keeps at home.

He isn't heard on as many radio stations as he used to be (about 100 around the country now, STILL NONE in San Diego or Los Angeles), but fans who can't tune him in can enjoy his 30th anniversary collection of 42 of his favorite songs - "Dementia 2000."

Fans who wish to listen to Dr. Demento in streaming audio can surf over to this website http://www.krellan.com/demento/ to hear Dr. Demento in Real Audio!

Long before any dementia set in, though, Barry Hansen was a bookish, music-obsessed young man from the northern Plains, a self-described nerd who grew up during the dawn of television but whose family didn't own one until he was 12. So he listened to Tin Pan Alley tunes on the record player each night - and to the classical music his father played on the piano each afternoon.

Soon he was collecting his own records, everything he could find in stores, thrift shops, even places that sold scratchy old 45s taken off jukeboxes.

Sooner or later, he figured, he'd end up running a college music department somewhere, exposing young minds to a wildly eclectic collection of songs including Spike Jones, Gustav Mahler and the Boston Pops performing "The Trish-Trash Polka."

But then he went on a friend's underground FM radio program in the fall of 1970 and played some of his collection.

"You have to be demented to play that," the station's receptionist shouted at him one day after hearing a guy named Nervous Norvis sing "Transfusion," a bouncy ballad about a reckless driver who's his local blood bank's best customer.

"It was not a comment of approval," Hansen says, smiling broadly as he recalls the day he became Dr. Demento.

The persona would stick with him the rest of his life.

While Hansen, with a bachelor's degree in classical music and a master's in folk, waited for that college to call, he kept going on the radio. And there, if Professor Hansen wasn't broadening the musical knowledge of his young listeners, Dr. Demento was.

"I'd play original old blues records that the Rolling Stones had covered and I'd say, `This is where they got this,"' he recalls.

Then he might throw on some Spike Jones, and suddenly the airwaves would be alive with the sounds of something like "The William Tell Overture" being played on pots and pans, with horns honking, whistles tooting, guns firing and cowbells ringing in the background. And the phone lines would come alive as well.

The songs, culled from modern-day CDs as well as homemade tapes, old LPs, 45s, even 78s, all have two things in common: They are different and they have endured.

Just like Dr. Demento, who looks anything but demented.

On a recent day he's dressed in a tweed sportcoat, white, open-collared shirt and dress slacks. His dark, curly hair has whitened and thinned over the years, and the top hat and tails he saves for personal appearances are nowhere to be seen.

But the voice is instantly recognizable to anyone who has tuned in the show. A reedy, sing-song twang that betrays its Minnesota roots, it can quickly become as animated as it is on the radio when the talk turns to music.

And that's what the 58-year-old Demento has come to the West Los Angeles offices of Rhino Records to talk about. The archival label is releasing his new collection, and on it are such Demento classics as the "Lumberjack Song," Monty Python's paean to a cross-dressing woodsman; Dr. Rock's "I'd Rather Have a Bottle in Front of Me (Than a Frontal Lobotomy)" and Weird Al Yankovic's "Another One Rides the Bus."

Demento discovered the song parodist when 16-year-old Alfred Yankovic sent him a homemade tape back in the '70s, and that tape is still in Demento's collection, along with all the others he began collecting when he was 12.

"I was what you call today a nerd," he says of those days in Minneapolis. "Socially rather awkward. But by the time I was a junior in high school everybody realized, `Hey, if you invite Barry to your party, at least you'll have good music."'

Indeed, music was soon occupying every aspect of his life.

He played piano in a Los Angeles jazz band in the late 1960s, and worked as an usher at a folk music club so he could see the likes of Lightnin' Hopkins and Mance Lipscomb perform.

He wrote about rock 'n' roll for Rolling Stone in the magazine's early years and wrote scholarly essays on the history of the blues. He even worked as a roadie for two of the bigger rock bands of the 1970s, Canned Heat and Spirit.

"But I quickly realized that probably wasn't the life for me," he says, noting one of his jobs with Canned Heat "was to score dope for them."

"Not that I have any kind of a puritan attitude about that," he quickly adds. "But trying to buy drugs, illegal drugs, in a city I didn't know that well wasn't my idea of something I wanted to do the rest of my life."

So instead he became Dr. Demento. He got married, kept collecting records and waited for that college to call.

The call never came, but he has no regrets. He got to be a musicologist anyway.

Memo to San Diego Radio: Get Dr. Demento's Show On!

So when are these corporate radio bozos in San Diego ever going to get it right?

San Diego's intelligent radio audience has access to the overrated Dave, Shelley and Chainsaw so-called laugh riot full of potty humor on KGB, but shut out when it comes to intelligent humor and mind-expanding music found only on the Dr. Demento Show.

Upcoming Topics on The Dr. Demento Show

April 30 (00-18) Dr. Demento's Dairy (songs about cows)
May 7 (00-19) May Madness Contest winners

Yup. San Diego's funny music writers were left out in the cold as Dr. Demento's affilliates ran a Demented Song Contest recently (through April 1st) and San Diego's funny music fans, among other cities, couldn't compete because no local station carries Dr. Demento. It leaves me to wonder whether San Diego is still part of the United States or is San Diego in a country of its own devoid of musical and humor culture. I seceeded from San Diego mentally around 1981 or so and live in some other part of the U.S. in the San Diego city area.

Even I wrote some songs, but with no San Diego outlet for funny music, who would listen?

Is the silent majority maintaining the status quo of settling for dumbed-down corporate-carved genres, cookie-cutter formats, and predictable playlists? Judging from the Aribitrons, the San Diegans responding to the diaries just don't know any better about the kind of radio they are missing out on.

The radio revolution is not being televised in San Diego!

Meanwhile, visit my Dr. Demento page, the new Funny Albums/Lyrics Page where you can buy some funny music out recently, listen to my DFSX Comedy Radio playing the best hits of all time, heck even listen and download Dr. Demento shows, at my portal at http://www.davesfunstuff.com.

Don't let San Diego corporate radio dictate how you should spend your music listening time!

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