Friday, December 21, 2007

Down Stirner's Street

"Voting is the real opium of the masses in this country. Every four years you deaden the pain."

So said Maureen Stapleton's Emma Goldman in "Reds." I pretty much agree, but oh Emma, what a rush!

Several readers and drive-by lurkers were put-off by my last post about the veal crate liberals. Some think I've rounded the bend. A few are concerned with my mental health. A couple believe I'm simply an arrogant asshole.

All may have a point.

But you know what? I really don't give a fuck. These little screeds of mine are mere lint in the larger arena, so I don't expect to be seen as a rational observer or a balanced critic.

I will say this to those who think I have no right to rain on the Chris Dodd parade: If the big libloggers want to shimmy and shout to the heavens about Dodd's "patriotism," or strain to see the magical possibilities in Saint Obama, nothing I tap out will hinder them. I don't have that power, nor would I want it. In my humble view, the American political system is on an irreversible downward slide. The only real question remaining is: How big will the final crash be? Further, what will come after? Given the general madness of our culture, and the ceaseless fantasy state of our political "discourse," the end result cannot be a positive one, unless you're into chaos, which, despite whispered rumors, I'm decidedly not. Frankly, I'm frightened, not so much for me, but for my kids. And it's this nerve-shattering fear that fuels my political/social opinions.

Maybe I'm hallucinating. Maybe I'm out to lunch. I sincerely hope so. I'd rather be a crazy man in the corner screaming and waving my arms than possess any actual insight on the U.S. corporate behemoth -- assuming that such a thing exists, of course.

For the last couple of months, I've had free access to Sirius Satellite Radio, which means that I've been able to listen to Howard Stern. By the time Stern left terrestrial radio, his show had been chopped down by FCC fines, and Stern himself spent more and more time talking about censorship and broadcasting guidelines than focusing on his craft. This made his show slow and boring, and when he bolted to Sirius, I thought, well, he'll go through the motions for the big money, then retire, wealthy and most likely bitter. Who wanted to listen to that deterioration?

Yao Ming on a pick-and-roll, was I wrong! On Sirius, Stern is reborn; his show better than ever. Now that he's free to do or say whatever he wants, in any style of language he chooses, Stern is broadcasting some of the best radio anywhere. With my free access soon to end, I must decide whether or not to subscribe. Sirius overall has some wonderful channels, Radio Classics being one of my favorites, The Foxxhole, Jamie Foxx's black comedians channel, one of the funniest. (I laugh at the Blue Collar comedy channel, but not along with it -- "Git-R-Done" 24/7. Ever notice when yer eatin' tater tots in yer under-britches. . . ) It'll all depend on our budget and looming expenses, but if I can swing it, I most assuredly will. We all must grab what happiness we can before the flames start blistering our skin.

This week, the Howard 100 channel's been airing the history of Howard Stern, and if you're a fan, it's very entertaining radio. From comedy skits recorded when Stern was a kid in his bedroom, to his slogging through the radio wasteland and subsequent rise to the top of the heap, you get a much fuller sense of how Stern developed his comic voice. I'd never heard his WCCC broadcasts from Hartford, nor his W4 stuff from Detroit, so that was fascinating.

But what I really enjoyed was the long excerpts from DC 101 in Washington, where he, Robin Quivers and Fred Norris first established the Stern radio format, such as it was, given its free-form, anarchic style. It was from there that Stern was hired by WNBC in New York in 1982, where his real broadcasting nightmares began. You hear him and his crew attempting to do what they did in DC, believing that was the reason why NBC wanted Stern to begin with. Turns out that NBC execs saw Stern's huge ratings in DC, but never listened to the actual show, so when Stern tried to perform his act at 30 Rock, he was immediately met with hostility and resistance. He also had to deal with Don Imus, who at the time was the station's Number One personality, and who, according to the many people interviewed for this special, was a drunken, egomaniacal coke-head prick, prone to abusive outbursts in the offices and hallways.

Years ago, a good friend of mine lent me dozens of tapes from this period, so I've heard both Imus' and Stern's WNBC shows, and there's simply no comparison: Stern blew Imus out of the tank. Even with the countless restrictions placed on him, Stern was much more innovative, faster-paced, and funnier than the "fucking redneck who mumbles," as Fred Norris calls Imus. When Randy Baumgarten was hired as WNBC's general manager and removed the restraints from Stern's show, Imus was fully exposed for the lazy, imitative hack he was and remains. Ever the opportunist, Imus began inviting himself on Stern's show, desperate to reach a much larger audience by any means necessary. This special plays some of those moments, one of which anticipates Imus' recent racial problems, as he phoned into Stern's show and called Robin Quivers a "spearchucker," insisting that she got her job through affirmative action. Quivers not only laughed this off, she openly mocked Imus to such a degree that Stern sort of defends him. Quivers also related that earlier that day, Imus called her a "nigger" in the hallway. Clearly, Imus' "nappy-headed hos" crack has long roots.

Stern's no stranger to racial humor, as I've shown at the Son a few times. But unlike Imus, who simply blurts out racist statements as "jokes," Stern plays around with the attitudes that anchor and feed racism, while deriding the ugly impulse itself. Sometimes he cuts quite close to the marrow, but as with everything else, Stern's in another league from Imus when it comes to this type of material.

Here's a very funny, recent example of what I'm talking about -- Stern, Quivers, and George Takei listen to and take apart a racist country music CD. No confirmation as yet that Johnny Rebel is in fact Don Imus. But I wouldn't be surprised.