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An article is making the Twitter rounds which discusses “implicit egotism.” The authors suggest that implicit egotism leads us to prefer things that are connected to ourselves, that might have the same letters as those in our names, for example. The writers’ research turned up the fact that the city of St. Louis has a slightly disproportionate number of residents named Louis.
And, that people named Dennis or Denise are slightly more likely to become dentists.
Read a summary of the article here.
Until I realized that D.G. did in fact become a DJ.
We are playing a particularly cool version of “Subterranean Homesick Blues” on KCCK these days, which reminded me of something that has been disturbing me for awhile.
I had a semi-brush with greatness this week when I learned that two Hollywood stars apparently chill out listening to our Iowa Channel webcast. Full story on the Iowa Channel blog, and here is the story that appeared in the L.A. Times.
Believe it or not, this is not the first time my work has been featured in the L.A. Times.
Our tale begins in those halcyon days of 1987. The Iowa Hawkeyes were flying high under
Hayden Fry. In Cedar Rapids, people worked for Teleconnect, Iowa Electric and Rockwell International. They shopped downtown at Armstrongs or at Westdale, which believe it or not, was then the “good” mall. And a young DJ named Dennis Green held down the PM Drive shift at WMT-FM, and was given entirely too much creative freedom.
This particular year, we were electrified to learn that a MAJOR MOTION PICTURE was going to be filmed on our community. Now bear in mind, this was before The Final Season, yes even before Field of Dreams. Up to this point in time, the only fairly recent movie to be made in Iowa was a 1970’s Sylvester Stallone vehicle entitled “F.I.S.T.” filmed partly in Dubuque (Don’t bother).
This movie was to be titled “Farm of the Year,” and would begin with the visit of Nikita Krushchev to an Iowa farm in the 50s (which actually happened). The movie would be the dramatic tale of the sons of the farmer who hosted Krushchev. They fall on hard times during the 80s farm crisis and become folk heroes when they take to robbing banks after the farm fails. What the dramatic connection between the Krushchev visit and modern day Robin Hoods was supposed to be, was never adequately explained.
But the BIG NEWS was that the movie would star Richard Gere, then one of Hollywood’s biggest leading men. And he would live & work in our town for several weeks during filming.
Well, the moviemaking took the town by storm that summer. A lot of people got work as extras and on the crew. A few even got in the movie, including a young Coulter Wood, now a geologist and occasional jazz singer (Coulter’s cousin Elijah had already split Iowa for Hollywood and would get his first pre-Frodo break just a few years later).
The filming was also not without some controversy, as then-Linn County Sheriff Dennis Blome was criticized for giving the production company free or reduced cost security services in exchange for his own part in the film. An interesting precursor to the flap over Iowa’s Film Tax Credit.
But, the one question that galvanized the entire community was “Where is Richard?”
It was a daily occurrence during my show… The phone would ring and the person on the other end would tell me that they had heard Richard Gere showed up at a bar with the cast and crew the other night. He was seen buying a 6 pack at the Handi-Mart. He’s rented a house on Sherman Street…. It went on and on.
So, I did what any DJ at the time would do, created a comedy bit out of it. It took the familiar form of an Emergency Broadcasting System announcement.
“This is a test. This station is conducting a test of the Emergency Richard Gere-Sighting System. This is only a test.”
The familar EBS tone was replaced by a high-pitched voice, dumbfounded by a close encounter with the star. At the end, the announcer instructed people “where to swoon.”
It was good for a few laughs during our shows, and then we kind of forgot about it.
Until one day, several weeks later, my phone rings at the office and it’s an L.A. Times reporter. She’s doing a story on circus a “big-time” film crew creates in an Iowa town, and has heard about the ERGSS. I play it for her down the phone line. She chuckles politely.
A few days later an L.A. friend tells me I’m in the paper. Sure enough, there’s an article, which actually doesn’t completely make us seem like ignorant hicks, and my comedy bit is the main topic. The AP picked up the story, and it also appeared in papers in Alaska and Ohio, among other places.
So, for the rest of my career, my official bio now truthfully can read “…. whose antics were covered by newspapers as far away as Los Angeles and Anchorage, Alaska.”
An interesting footnote is that while we were all so obsessed with Richard Gere, we may have missed out several equally-interesting folks. Now, twenty-plus years on, it’s hard to remember if these were all present in Cedar Rapids, but certainly some were. The movie may have been forgettable but a good half the cast have gone on to long and successful careers: Brian Dennehy, Penelope Ann Miller, Helen Hunt, Judith Ivey, Laurie Metcalf, John Malkovich and Laura San Giacomo all may have spent some time in our fair city.
But, the biggest surprise has to be the director. “Miles From Home” was the feature film directorial debut of… Gary Sinise.
I wish we’d kept better track of Sinise Sightings.
Usually, my colleagues at NPR are spot on both in hard news and soft features, but yesterday…. not so much.
So, the geeky among us know that Google has rolled out a phone service called Google Voice, where you can get a phone number from Google and have the calls forwarded to the phone or phones of your choice.
There are two groups of people who are already tired of Christmas music before most of us have even started our shopping: Anyone who works in retail, and…. DJs.
Personally, I’ve had a love/hate relationship with holiday music for years. As a young radio announcer, I would watch with a sinking feeling as the program director hauled a scarred cardboard box into the studio with the word “XMAS” scrawled on the side in faded block letters. This sight signaled four endless weeks of format-busting tedium, as even the most contemporary station’s playlist suddenly sprouted Perry Como, Bing Crosby and the Boston Pops. For a young DJ who prided himself on being on music’s cutting edge…. pure torture.
Had you asked me in those days, I would have told you the only Christmas song worth the vinyl on which it was pressed was Bruce Springsteen’s “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.” As time passed, a few other tunes made my “tolerable” list: Bing Crosby and David Bowie’s “Little Drummer Boy,” Santa Baby” (Eartha Kitt’s original, not Madonna’s horrifying remake), and the Russian and Chinese Dances from the Nutcracker (although that may have been due more to Disney’s “Fantasia”).
But in 1984 a record arrived that changed how I, and millions of others, perceived Christmas music forever.
It was by a little-known Midwestern group whose music combined the forms of classical music with the rhythms of rock & roll.Up to this point, the major market for their albums had been to audiophiles and the occasional stereo store, who used their high-quality vinyl pressings to demo stereo speakers.
I’m speaking, of course, of Mannheim Steamroller. Chip Davis began writing what would become his Fresh Aire series when he was a junior high music teacher. Adding some drums and electrics helped his students relate to the classical structures he was trying to teach them. Later, as the leader of the “Fort Calhoun Nuclear Power Plant Band,” backup group for 70s star C.W. McCall, Davis parlayed some particularly savvy instrumental work on the novelty hit “Convoy,” into a Grammy award for best Country Instrumental and subsequently a chance to record his own unique music.
But classically-inspired rock wasn’t easy to pigeon-hole, and Mannheim Steamroller’s Fresh Aire might have remained just a musical footnote (or perhaps, grace note), had Davis not turned his attention to Christmas music.
For my money, the release of “Christmas” is one of the major musical landmarks of the last thirty years, because it completely rejuvenated the holiday music industry. It not only made people take holiday music more seriously, it paved the way for other artists to get their Christmas music heard, even if it didn’t fit into the usual pop milieu.
Certainly, Mannheim Steamroller changed the way I thought about Christmas music. I was captivated not only by the fresh spin Davis put on familiar tunes, but also the obvious passion and love he had for this music. It made me listen to other Christmas music with a different perspective. Gradually, I began to hear that same passion in other, more conventional arrangements. The velvet-smoothness of Nat King Cole’s “Christmas Song,” Bing Crosby’s heartbreaking wistfulness in “White Christmas.” Even Whitney Houston, then a pop icon, now a self-parody, returned to her gospel roots in a soaring “Do You Hear What I Hear” that still stands up well today.
When I got to Jazz 88.3, I didn’t know what to expect when Gordon Paulsen pulled out the boxes with the Christmas CDs (aluminum instead of cardboard, it was the Nineties, after all). Would Christmas jazz meet my new “it’s OK if they’re serious about the quality” test or be the jazz equivalent of the Beach Boys “Little Saint Nick?”
I was pleasantly surprised. Instead of changing KCCK’s sound, our Christmas music enhanced it, as every tune was good jazz, just jazz that happened to feature holiday melodies. Now, Christmas on 88.3 is one of my favorite times to listen, as I get to hear all-time jazz greats from Miles Davis to Oscar Peterson to Harry Connick Jr. make the music of the holidays their own.
So what makes good Christmas music? I suggest that a great Christmas song needs to embody the same qualities of an artist’s entire body of work. The song needs to stand on its own, regardless of whether it’s a Christmas song or not.
Springsteen’s “Santa Claus” works because it’s a good Springsteen tune. Nat King Cole, Bing Crosby, and of course Chip Davis bring the same artistry to their Christmas music they sought to achieve with their “regular” recordings.
Good Christmas music? Yes. But good music first.
My friend Chad Canfield, host and producer of the excellent podcast, The Canman Show, recently asked fans of the show on Facebook to tell him about their most memorable concert experience. Read those postings here.
Took me a few days to get to it, but I finally pulled “Flash Forward” off the DVR last night. I was pretty impressed. I haven’t read the Robert Sawyer novel it’s loosely based on, but was skeptical. I’m generally nuts for Sci Fi shows (or is it SyFy now?), but have been unimpressed with ABC’s efforts in that direction.