Sunday, June 15, 2014

Casey Kasem Passes Away

"Keep your feet on the ground, and keep reaching for the stars."

Casey Kasem

As I have followed the developments in the end–of–life story of Casey Kasem, it has been impossible to avoid concluding that the drama would soon reach its finish — and it has.

Kasem died early today at the age of 82 — and a part, a very big part, of my youth died, too.

Yes, he was a D.J. — but he was much more than just a D.J.

I remember listening to his American Top 40 radio countdown on weekends when I was a teenager. Back in those days, I was familiar with just about every song on the list. I probably couldn't identify a single song on such a list today — which, I suppose, is the natural order of things.

Most of my students probably could identify all the songs on such a list, but I couldn't — any more than my professors could have identified the songs on such a list when I was in school. In a way, I guess that is reassuring. It would be wrong to try to deny any generation the experiences it should have.

But most of my students probably didn't listen to the radio much when Kasem retired at the age of 77. He probably wasn't part of their lives.

I never speculated about Kasem's age when I was a teenager. He always sounded young. Maybe that was a byproduct of constantly reviewing the recordings that were the most popular.

Or maybe it had something to do with the long–distance dedications. If they weren't the most popular segments on his show, they were close to it.

The premise was simple: In addition to the songs in the countdown, Kasem would play at least one (usually more) long–distance dedication from one listener to another. It's been quite awhile since I've heard one, but I don't recall any being mean–spirited. Nothing like "Joe wants to welcome his ex back to town with Elton John's 'The Bitch is Back'" or anything like that. Usually, it was the kind of thing that would pull at your heartstrings — young lovers having to be apart for one reason or another or an older (perhaps much older) person seeking a long–lost love.

Hey, sure the long–distance dedications were corny. Just about everything about Casey Kasem's countdown was corny. Maybe that was the secret of its success — not unlike TV's Hee Haw. As director Frank Capra knew, corn sells. Especially if it is good corn.

And Kasem's was good corn. I've heard that some radio stations actually rerun American Top 40 programs from the '70s and '80s today.

Kasem was more talented than I realized. He did some voice acting, a lot of it for Hanna–Barbera cartoons. Apparently, he was best known for doing the voice of Scooby–Doo. I wasn't a Scooby–Doo fan so I have no memory of that.

He was also the original narrator for the TV show Soap. Again, I wasn't a fan of that show. My brother and my mother were; they used to watch it together and entertained each other endlessly by repeating lines from the latest episode.

Mom is deceased now, so I can't ask her, but I'm sure my brother doesn't remember Kasem's rather brief tenure as the show's narrator. Kasem didn't care for the adult themes on the show and pulled out of the project after the pilot episode.

He had certain standards.

Part Lebanese, Kasem objected to the depiction of Arab–Americans on a cartoon show (Transformers) and quit the project. He wrote a letter to the president/CEO of the production company and received a reply in which she sympathized with his position and assured him that she had shared his letter with her writers.

He also did voice–overs for commercials. I have no specific memory of that, either, although I'm sure I must have heard at least some of his voice–overs, and I probably knew it was Kasem. His was such a distinctive voice.

Every generation should have a Casey Kasem.