We knew this was coming, based on recent, terrible, news reports. But it still hurts.
Casey Kasem, 1932-2014.
It is not hyperbole to say no pop culture figure influenced my life more than Casey. I began listening to “American Top 40” way back in its earliest days. My parents listened to “AT40”. Their friends listened to “AT40”. My uncles listened to “AT40”.1 My grandmother listened to “AT40.” Some of my earliest radio memories are of Casey’s voice in the background during car trips or just lazy weekend days when I was playing outside and my parents were lounging or doing yard work with the radio on.
To a kid that did not grow up belonging to a church, “American Top 40” was the closest thing to Sunday service for me. It was a weekly opportunity to take stock, be part of a community, sing, and receive knowledge from a man with a pulpit. In the name of the DJ, the microphone, and the turntable, Amen…
When I got older, had my own radio, and was able to choose my own music, Casey remained an integral part of my life. While there were still plenty of 1970s stalwarts on the charts, slowly the New Wave and New Romantics and synth-pop and hair metal and classic 80s pop artists began to take over the charts. Especially in the cold Midwestern winter months, he got me through Sunday mornings. And, often, I would listen to the replay again that evening.
A favorite “AT40” memory came one Sunday night when I decided to cruise through the AM band2 trying to see how many stations I could pick up that were playing “AT40”. I chose roughly the time they were playing the numbers two and one songs in Kansas City, so I could quickly tune through the entire band and assume each time I heard “Easy Lover” by Philip Bailey and Phil Collins, or “I Want To Know What Love Is” by Foreigner, I was listening to “AT40.” I don’t remember how many stations I caught, but I know it was in double figures.
Fast forward to 2007. We were at a local appliance store, pricing some new items for our kitchen. Our salesman was named Philip Bailey. The entire time he was explaining the differences in dishwashers and refrigerators, I kept thinking of the other Philip Bailey and the night I heard his falsetto voice blanketing the AM band.
Eventually I grew up, as we all do. AT40 began to sound a little square as I was discovering hip-hop, Casey’s act a little tired. When Shadoe Stevens took over in 1988, it was kind of the end of AT40 for me. Soon I was listening to “alternative” rock, the music world began to drift from the center, digital music became the norm, and a national countdown show made little sense in the age of 1000 sub-genres.
Every now-and-then, while traveling, I would come across a station that played old AT40’s on the weekends. I would listen happily, trying to guess the next song or who mystery artist Casey was teasing in the lead-in to the commercial break. The weekend L. was born, I found a station here in Indy that played the old AT40s. Again, 20-some years later, Casey and the music of the 1980s became a part of my Sunday routine.3
As I said, given the details about Casey’s health that have become public in the last month or so, the news of his death was not a surprise. But I was surprised at how emotional I got last night. I read many retrospectives of his life.4 I searched on YouTube and found several audio clips of entire countdowns, albeit with the actual music stripped out to avoid copyright issues. I loaded one up from 1984 and began working my way through it, stopping to find the appropriate song on Rdio and then listening to it in full before starting Casey’s commentary again.
Perhaps it was the long weekend of sun and water and travel, but I’m not ashamed to admit I shed a tear or two thinking of Casey, who always seemed like the most decent guy in the world, full of Hollywood cheese but free of airs about himself, and how his life ended. We all deserve better, but a man like Casey, who brought so much so to so many people, certainly deserved more dignity at his end.
Casey was the father figure of my musical youth. He taught me to love bits of trivia about my favorite songs and artists. When I’m putting together my year-end lists of favorite songs and albums, it’s because of Casey. When I’m excited to share the music I love with others, it’s because of Casey. When I fantasize about winning the lottery and buying a radio station to play whatever I want, it’s because of Casey.
It seems appropriate to play my all time favorite song to honor Casey’s passing. So, from 1987, here’s a song by a band formed by New Zealander Neil Finn and Australians Nick Seymour and the late Paul Hester. Originally named the Mullanes, for Finn’s middle name and his mother’s maiden name, the band changed their name to reflect the lack of space in their rehearsal apartment in West Hollywood. Reaching as high as #2 on the Hot 100 and finishing #13 in the year-end countdown, here is Crowded House’s “Don’t Dream It’s Over.”
- One of my uncles desperately wanted to be a radio DJ. It never worked out as his full-time career, but he did spend a few years as a late night and weekend DJ. One of his prized possessions, and one I wanted to steal from my grandparents’ house many times, was the pack of LPs from the week he was in charge of playing “AT40” in the early 80s. That’s right, back then they pressed the entire show to vinyl and couriered it out to stations. I forget how many albums it took to get the whole show on, but it was a hefty box. ↩
- That, perhaps more than listening to Casey, dates this story. Music on AM Radio? Seriously? ↩
- A few of my brothers and sisters in music are familiar with my Monday emails detailing the highlights of the countdown from the previous weekend. ↩
- I don’t know if I knew his big break came from working on a show with Dick Clark. Holy star power! ↩