Dr. Demento, every single Sunday, KMET radio…yeah!
Back in the day, Angelenos heard four hours of the good Doctor, from 6-10 Sunday evenings. I played it while cleaning the kitchen, scraping roly poly fish heads into the garbage under a soundtrack of Weird Al Yankovic, George Carlin’s “Ice Box Man,” Cheech & Chong’s “Sister Mary Elephant,” and others. My mother, passing through, sometimes broke out and sang the Doctor’s theme song, “Pico & Sepulveda.”
Through some strange quirk of fate, whenever Dr. D played Peter Alsop’s “Hopelessly Heterosexual” I was already in my room alone at my desk or lying on the bed, if not already under the covers. Admittedly, the song made me giggle a bit, especially since the singing and guitar playing were so goofy. But at the same time, the lyrics made me feel very self-conscious. I was glad to be alone when it played.
I’m hopelessly, heterosexual
I guess I’m kinda slow
Mom and Dad were all I had
That’s the only way I know, so
I’m hopelessly, heterosexual
I’m stuck with being straight
So man-to-man I’ll ask you
Not to ask me for a date!
This song represented one of the few discussions of homosex I encountered growing up, a subject otherwise unmentioned at home or abroad. Mr. Alsop states on his website that the song was meant to be a farce, an ice-breaker to help lead kids with discussions about homosexuality, and how badly gays and lesbians are oppressed in society. That’s all good, but Dr. D. didn’t spend time doing post song analyses; he just announced the credits and moved on. So context became important, and a lack of context only made the song creepy for a young closeted black dude who hadn’t put two and two together.
Now I’m not scared to try it
But it’s not my cup of tea
I never even thought of it
Til you brought it up to me
And now that I consider it
I’d rather stay repressed
‘Cause I don’t feel excited at
The thought of you undressed!
Years earlier, on a spelunking expedition in the library or some hidden bookshelf in the house — I can’t remember which — I came upon David Reuben’s Everything you wanted to know about sex (but were afraid to ask). In isolation, I wasn’t afraid to, so with the book on my lap, I asked. And he told me: I’m a pervert and a freak. Swell. Dr. Reuben also seemed strangely obsessed with the mechanics of queer sex, since nothing, in his scientific opinion, seemed to “fit.” Interestingly, Peter Alsop’s protagonist had the same issue. He sang with sheepish hesitancy:
But since we’re on the subject
And you know where I stand
What exactly do you do?
I guess, use your hand?
I mean, do you, how does,
What if, where will? From behind!!
Oh well, I just, you know,
It was, (gulp!) NEVERMIND!!
Teenagers have a hard enough time adjusting to their body’s changes, its new wants and desires; queer teens even more so. So I’m afraid the humor was lost on me.
Mike Harrison’s Harrison’s Mic aired right after Dr. Demento signed off, at 10 pm. It was a two hours call-in show aimed at the late teen/early 20 year old crowd. Subjects ranged from sports, to music, to homework, to advice for the lovelorn. I listened to it in bed, lights out with the door closed. Mike possessed a very laid back demeanor and was great at putting people at ease, making for interesting listening.
One night, someone called to discuss, in hushed, hesitant tones, their own questions about sex that they were otherwise afraid to ask. My ears perked up with excitement. Mike listened with a sympathetic ear, his smooth voice giving words of assurance, not judgement. It was a revelation. I felt like Horton that night, hearing his first Who.
I began to wonder, would he give me a sympathetic ear, too? I wanted to talk about the hopelessly heterosexual dude, and find out if I really was as much of a freak as Dr. Reuben seemed to think I was. Wireless phones did not exist at that time, so the phone cord snaked on the floor and coiled into my bedroom, under the closed door. I don’t know how I got away with having the phone in my room and no one noticing, but I don’t remember getting uptight about it. I just wanted to make that call. I tried several times, but every time I got a busy signal and hung up with disappointment. I had won tickets and other goodies from radio shows in the past, but Mike was a tough one to reach. Lots of young folks stayed up until midnight listening, waiting to be listened to.
Then came that fateful time that the phone actually rang. My heart began to pound. Good God, am I going to be on the air? It rang and rang and finally a female voice answered, Mike’s producer. She asked a question, but I don’t know what. I couldn’t hear her for the alarm bells going off in my head. What if someone I know is listening to this show and recognizes my voice? My heart pounded in my dry throat.
And I hung up.
For many months afterwards, I continued to listen to the show every week, but without the phone in the room. I never tried calling again. I listened and waited for someone else to talk about the gay thing. I don’t think anyone ever did again, but I waited.
© 2012, gar. All rights reserved.