Saturday, October 09, 2021

Whatever happened to my (demented) brain?

The other morning a song popped into my mind, seemingly out of nowhere. I've written about this phenomenon before, so this is not new, but the song in question was not a radio staple... unless you listened to a particular radio show back in the day. What was it? 

Eddie and the Monsters' 1983 novelty track, "Whatever Happened to Eddie?" (sung by Butch Patrick, who played Eddie Munster on The Munsters TV show back in the mid-'60s).

(There's also a full music video they apparently made, if you dare.)

Where would I have heard that? Why, the Dr. Demento Show, of course. For the uninitiated, Dr. Demento was a DJ who spun comedy and novelty records on his weekly program, and each Halloween he'd have themed episodes where "Whatever Happened to Eddie?" would be a mainstay (at least during the period where I was an avid listener; more on that in a moment). I suppose with Halloween coming and us putting up decorations, that may have triggered something there in the recesses of my grey matter, even though I had not heard the song in many decades. 


Back in 1980, at the end of my adolescence, I was turned on to Dr. Demento (the live version he did here in L.A., Sunday nights on radio station KMET; he also had a syndicated version played on stations across the country) by my friend Gary, and for several years that became my near-exclusive listening. 

I would record each full show on cassettes (having to find the best moment to stop and flip over the tape as to not have it run out in the middle of a song), then with the then-impressive technology of dual tape decks I would spend time during the week copying the songs and standup and sketches I liked to another cassette for longer-term listening. I more or less gave up listening to the radio the other six days and just amassed a collection of tapes to play over and over. And I'd type (with a typewriter) lists of the tracks on each cassette on pieces of paper so I knew what was on what. A ridiculous amount of my free time went into this endeavor. 

This process lasted a few years before "regular" radio crept back into my listening, and then KMET dropped the live show in 1983. By the middle of that decade I was not listening much to even the syndicated show. By the end of the decade I was not partaking of novelty music anymore. Adulthood had come and I had moved on.

Despite that period only really lasting around four years of my life, and despite listening to thousands and thousands of "serious" songs over the intervening decades, there are many times now when a song from that time just pops to mind, for no discernible reason. And despite having not listened to any of those old recorded-from-the-radio cassettes in decades or heard the songs elsewhere, I can remember an alarming amount of lyrics. By contrast, I struggle to recall the names of other parents at my son's school, but a 37-year-old comedy track? Sure, that's forever in my brain. (Admittedly, I spent far more hours playing those tapes and gave those songs far more repeated listens than I have spent trying to memorize other parents' names, so it actually would be amazing if my brain did recall the latter better.)

Really, this points to the power of what your brain can consume during those formative adolescent to teen years, and how consuming it with sufficient repetition is what forms lasting memories. And, if you're lucky, how those can become... demented.


Nowadays it's easy to find novelty content all over the internet, or to just Google any such song and find it (as evidenced above), but back then we had only a few hours a week of what the good doctor spun to fill that. (Back then I didn't have much money to go buy albums, but even when I did, the novelty tracks he'd play weren't always easy to find in record stores.) 

Yes, I do still have all those cassettes in a bin somewhere out in the garage. Perhaps someday when I get around to cleaning that I'll pull them out and compose another post... although I don't still have a tape deck on which to play them (assuming they still could be played).

And yes, I am still friends with Gary. Like these demented songs, our friendship has persisted.

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