Dr. Demento title

Have you ever gotten a song from a Reedie?

“Microsoft Word” by Paul Anderson ’92 was abig hit on my show in 1994–95—it was the #8 most requested song of the year in 1995. “Brain Toast” by Slack (supposedly inspired by non-sanctioned chemical experiments at Reed) got several spinsin 1989 and afterward. Slack was a Reed band that made a couple of indie albums that got a bit of national exposure.

Do the submissions and the requests reflect the national psyche at all? For example, did you get a lot of post-9/11 submissions?

Yes . . . since mid-September I’ve gotten three to five songs a week relating to the war. They range from totally serious to totally silly. I’ve found a few that are worth airplay . . . but my most requested war-related song is still “Kick Ass U.S.A.,” which was recorded back in 1987. It was #1 during the Gulf War.

Dr. D with medalWould you say you get happier submissions in good times and angrier ones in bad?

No. If anything it’s the reverse . . . in stressful times, people realize we need to be cheered up. The Clinton years, good times for many Americans, saw more cynical, mean-spirited humor than we’ve ever known before.

Can you tell right away if a song is great or stinks?

Ninety-nine percent of the time, yes.

Do you have any rules or guidelines for what works in a comedy song and what doesn’t? Or is it basically a gut reaction thing?

It’s basically a gut reaction thing. But there are some guidelines: you need a funny idea, you need to build the humor so that the last verse is as entertaining as the first if not more so—that’s one of Weird Al’s secrets—you need to make the words fit the music, clever rhymes are a big plus. And— something a lot of people forget these days—you need to be able to hear the words without a lyric sheet.

How long does it take you to put a show together?

About 30–40 hours, counting all the listening, downloading and collating requests, writing, the production itself, and post-production. Then I send it to Elburn, Illinois, where the commercials are added, and it’s duplicated and mailed to stations.

What’s the one album you’d take to a deserted island? Comedy? Classical? Blues?

If I could only take one record, I’d ask if I could take a keyboard instead. On that desert island, I’d have plenty of time to practice.

End of Article

Mateo (Matthew) Burtch ’82, a freelance writer in San Francisco, says that “My Wash Woman’s Gone” may be the greatest country blues song ever recorded. He wrote about Jordan Simmons ’78 and the East Bay Center for Performing Arts in the February 2001 issue.

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