Sunday, October 17, 2010

Readings: Talk Radio, Back in the Day

I am currently deep into reading a remarkable novel by Stanley Elkin: The Dick Gibson Show. I don’t like to look ahead while I’m reading, but I can report at this point that the novel is comprised of at least two parts. The first gives us a bit of the boyhood and familial background of ‘Dick Gibson,’ as well as depicting his self-designed apprenticeship in the world of radio, pre-WWII. Part I ends with ‘Dick Gibson’s’ stint, during WWII, as a d.j. on Armed Forces Radio, and a mind-bending hunt for a magical dodo bird on the island of Mauritius.

As Part II opens, ‘Dick Gibson’ (a nom de mic, btw) has established a radio talk show at an AM station in Hartford, CT. Now, this novel is copyrighted in 1970, so it had to have been written by Elkin largely in the sixties. The long excerpt which I’m going to share below is an index of the kind of Special Guests that Dick Gibson has had on his show. What is remarkable about this list is that although it was imagined by Elkin in the 1960s, it could have been imagined by anyone creating a similar character in 2010. Here is Dick Gibson, contemplating the nature of his guests, after having contemplated his audience:

No, he knew little about his listeners. They were not even mysterious; they were there, but distant as the Sioux. He knew more about the passionate extremists who used his microphones…-- the wild visionaries, opponents of fluoride, palmists, astrologers, the far right and far left and far center, the dianeticians, scientologists, beatniks, homosexuals from the Mattachine Society, the handwriting analysts, addicts, nudists, psychic phenomenologists, all those who believed in the Loch Ness Monster, the Abominable Snowman and the Communist Conspiracy; men beyond the beyond, black separatists who would take over Idaho and thrive by cornering the potato, pretenders to a half-dozen thrones, Krebiozonists, people from MENSA, health-food people, eaters of weed and soups of bark, cholesterolists, poly-unsaturationalists, treasure hunters, a woman who believed she held a valid Spanish land grant to all of downtown San Francisco, the Cassandras warning of poison in the white bread and cola and barbecued potato chip, conservationists jittery about the disappearing forests and the diminishing water table (and one man who claimed that the tides were a strain on the moon), would-be reformers of a dozen industries and institutions and a woman so fastidious about the separation of church and state that she would take the vote away from nuns and clergymen, capital punishers, atheists, people who wanted the abortion laws changed and a man who thought all surgery with a knife was a sin and ought to carry the same sentence as any other assault with a knife, housewives spooked by lax Food and Drug regulations, Maoists, Esperantoists, American Nazis, neo-Jaegerists, Reichians, juvenile delinquents, crionics buffs, anti-vivisectionists, witches, wizards, chief rabbis of no less than three of the twelve lost tribes of Israel, and a fellow who claimed that he died the same year Columbus discovered America.

And to imagine that this list is not even close to exhaustive!

The best laugh I got from Part I, btw, was this passage relating the point in the post-adolescence of ‘Dick Gibson’ when he is leaving home to begin his career:

His mother…called Dick aside and before his eyes transformed herself into a sacrificing mother in a sentimental fable who covertly slips all her life’s savings and most trusted talismans into her boy’s pockets to tide him on his way. She managed to make him feel like someone off to medical school in Edinburgh, say, fleeing the coal mines in which his father and his father’s father before him had worked for years, ruining their healths and blunting their spirits. When he looked in the envelope later he saw that she had given him her recipe for meat loaf.

This book is one hell of a good read.