Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Part 26, Steve Dahl

Yes, I said livestock pavilion.
The high school I went to in Houston was pretty big.  There were about 600 or so of us in the graduating class, and the campus was spread out over maybe five buildings, not counting the football stadium and the livestock pavilion.

Yes, the livestock pavilion.  There are those among my fellow Spring Branch High alumni who will claim that the livestock pavilion was a multi-purpose building, but that's a lot of revisionist history if you ask me.  I think some people just aren't comfortable with the idea of graduating from a high school that had its own livestock pavilion.

Well, Spring Branch High School had a livestock pavilion, and I'm not ashamed to admit it.  Every year the Future Farmers of America would host a... I'm not sure what you would call it, sort of an open house in the livestock pavilion, and there would be sheep and cows and chickens and what not right there on campus in this big building with high ceilings and no permanent interior walls, the sort of place where you would go to see a boat show.

Anyway, the point is high school was big, but college was huge.  Physically, I mean.  It was gigantic.  I spent my first few months in college feeling lost and bewildered a little lonely and homesick living there on the third floor of a big concrete dorm on the edge of campus.

I had a roommate, but he was never around.  He was a sophomore or a junior, I forget, and he had a girlfriend he would shack up with for weeks at a time.  I think he kept up a pretense of living in our dorm room for his parents' benefit.  They must have been Catholic or something.

So I was kind of a lonely guy my first few months in college, and I used to turn on the radio in the morning just to hear another human voice, actually a whole lot of human voices.  I used to listen to this radio show in the morning called "The Steve Dahl Rude Awakening" on WDAI.  It was Steve talking to all these outlandish characters.  I remember a grandma character and grandpa character who performed a duet called "Whenever I Cough up Phlegm," sung to the tune of the Kenny Loggins hit "Whenever I Call You Friend."

There was a flamboyant gay character called Rex Reational, and there was a dumb guy character whose name was Bruno or Bluto something like that.  I remember one time Steve came out of a commercial or a song or something and Bluto was saying "Gee, Steve I don't know about this."

Then Steve tells him "It's OK, Bluto.  It's for comedy."

And then you hear a toilet flushing five or six times and Steve starts blubbering and gasping for air, and you realize that Bluto (or Bruno) is giving Steve what we used to call in college a "swirlie."

I don't know what happened after that because I was laughing too hard.  All that day I kept replaying that gag in my mind, and I'd start laughing. I still laugh when I think about it.  I was laughing when I typed that sentence.

Anyway, when I came back from winter break in January, 1979, Steve Dahl was gone, and all the characters were gone too.  I don't think I realized it until after Steve lost his job, but all those characters were Steve.  I'd always pictured a whole studio of people doing voice characterizations, but it was all just Steve.  The man was a comic genius.

But WDAI didn't need a genius.  In December 1978, they switched to an all-Disco format and pink slipped Steve.

A few months later, Steve moved to another radio station in Chicago, WLUP, where he railed against the whole Disco phenomenon and smashed Disco records on the air.  His anti-Disco efforts gained such a wide following in Chicago that the White Sox asked him to host Disco Demolition Night, the event where my friends Joe and Mohammed narrowly averted a pot bust.

I guess you could say Disco Demolition Night got a little out of control.  I turned on the local news the next morning, and I couldn't believe what I was seeing.  Smoke billowing into the stands, smashed up records all over the outfield, police dragging half naked teenagers by the hair and tossing them into paddy wagons.  Steve Dahl's destruction (by means of dynamite) of thousands of Disco records in center field after the first game of a double header had inspired an anti-Disco riot of such intensity the White Sox had had to forfeit the evening's second game to the visiting Detroit Tigers.

Now I know you're probably thinking what in the heck does all that have to do with Ed Wallerstein's book Circumcision: An American Health Fallacy?

Well, I'm getting there.

Before Ed Wallerstein's book came out in 1980, America had never really had much of a dialog about circumcision.  Circumcision rates went into a gradual decline beginning in the 1960s, and I think that decline happened for all sorts of reasons: immigration, the sexual revolution, the hippies.  (I mean actual hippies who lived on communes and ate granola and got back to nature, not these young people you see these days who buy their tie-dye at the Old Navy.)

But even when the American Academy of Pediatrics came out with those wishy-washy policy statements in 1971 and 1975 about circumcision (Essentially, they adopted a policy of "There's no medical need for routine infant circumcision, but, hey, who needs a medical reason?"), even then there was no real public dialog about circumcision in the media, not that I remember.

As I remember, the dialog began with after Wallerstein's book came out in 1980, and the first public figure who I ever heard questioning America's tradition of circumcision in a really frank, open way was Steve Dahl.

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