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Dr Demento

Readersvoice.com aims to give people a few good reading tips. You might want to check out some previous issues, too, for more reading suggestions and interviews.For the July issue of readersvoice.com I sent some questions off to Dr Demento, a legendary dj who is probably best known for playing zany novelty songs on his syndicated radio show. The Dr Demento Show has been listened to by millions since the early 1970s. It's a lot of fun, underpinned by Dr Demento's vast knowledge of the history of music and comedy...

Born in 1941 in Minneapolis, Barret Hansen (Dr Demento) has been a dj since his high school sock hops in 1957.

He was student manager of the campus FM station at Reed College in Portland, Oregon, from which he graduated as a (classical) music major.

Then he made his L.A. radio debut with a program of pre-WWII blues and country on non-commercial station KPFK-FM while studying at UCLA.

In 1970 he started using the name Dr Demento when he was playing wacky comedy records like The Purple People Eater and The Monster Mash on KPPC-FM. The Dr Demento Show has been in syndication since 1974, and there have been numerous Dr Demento compilation albums since 1976, mainly on Rhino Records.

He also writes on topics like the blues and the history of music, and has helped many noted musicians in their musical research.

READERSVOICE.COM: Can you list your five favorite books of all time and a tell a bit about why you liked them?

DR DEMENTO: Here are five books I’ve enjoyed very much and can recommend… My “Top Five” might well be different tomorrow.

Bix, Man and Legend by Richard M. Sudhalter & Philip R. Evans. A biography of the 1920s jazz cornetist Bix Beiderbecke. While excellently researched (mostly by Evans), the final manuscript (mostly by Sudhalter) fills in dialogue and other little details to make the story livelier. Whatever, this book turned me into a major fan of Bix Beiderbecke. I’ve re-read it in toto several times, and spent considerable $$ buying original copies of records by Beiderbecke.

I understand the authors had a falling out after the book was finished, and due to that the book went out of print prematurely. Too bad; it really brings the reader a great feeling for that era and its music.

Escaping The Delta by Elijah Wald. Perhaps I shouldn’t put something just off the press in this category, but I’m enormously impressed by this history of the blues.

It strips away the starry-eyed romanticism that has afflicted most writing about blues (including some of mine, in the past) and traces the genre’s history as a living breathing popular art form.

Woody Guthrie: A Life, by Joe Klein. For the past 20 years or so, musical biographies have always been my favorite airplane reading, and this was the one that got me hooked. (Haven’t yet tackled the new life of Guthrie by Ed Cray).

Seriously Funny: The Rebel Comedians of the 1950s and 1960s, by Gerald Nachman. There aren’t many books about the kind of things I play on the radio, but this one is a winner, lively and full of revealing insights on the personalities of the great comedians and how they related to the world around them.

On The Road, by Jack Kerouac. I read this when I was in college, about three years after it came out. I’d had a fairly sheltered boyhood and this opened my eyes a lot about other ways of life, as it did for countless others of my generation and later generations.

It was part of what led me to spend the entire summer of 1962 rambling around the USA on a motor scooter. My experiences turned out to be far different from Kerouac’s, and I never really did buy into that lifestyle…but I was very moved when I saw the famous scroll manuscript recently at a museum exhibit.

That led me to re-read the book, which I enjoyed more than I did the first time…perhaps because I wasn’t as consumed with “who am I, where am I going” thoughts as I was at age 19.

Not included here: the many reference books that are essential to what I do.

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