In the absence of a portable transistor radio, staying at home and listening to Casey count backwards until he reached the Number 1 song of the week on my father’s rather huge Sansui vacuum tube stereo system was my idea of good, clean fun.
By then, I was no longer a TV addict. Instead, radio and music had become my constant companions, as I shifted between two radio stations: 99.5 RT and 97.1 wLS.
Speaking in Tagalog on FM radio was unheard of back then, as English-speaking Filipino DJs aped with varying degrees of “success” the way their American colleagues across the Pacific talked and engaged their listeners.
Height of new wave
It was the height of punk rock, new wave and bubblegum pop as dished out by such acts as The Police, Eurythmics, Culture Club, Duran Duran, Thompson Twins, Tears for Fears, Men at Work, Modern English, Aztec Camera, Spandau Ballet, The Go-Go’s, Wham, Michael Jackson, Prince, Cyndi Lauper and Madonna.
We took everything dished out in the weekly countdown as a mix of science and gospel truth. By Monday, my friends and I would discuss the latest movements in the charts, from the biggest “movers” to “droppers,” with such conviction and animation.
In our young, carefree minds, it was as if we were discussing the fate of the world when “We are the World” refused to budge from the top spot after three consecutive weeks. It did drop to Number 2 on Week 4 after being kicked out by the equally tenacious “Crazy for You” by Madonna.
The world, that is the American music establishment, seemed to have looked down on Madonna, a newbie and perceived lightweight, by excluding her from “USA for Africa,” the all-star group they formed to record “We are the World.”
Well, how the world had turned upside down when, all by her lonesome, Madonna managed to dethrone almost everyone except Prince—who declined to join the benefit shindig—with her second Number 1 single. Talk about hotness!
Other groundbreaking moments include such monster albums as The Police’s “Synchronicity,” which produced the Number 1 song “Every Breath You Take,” and, of course, Michael Jackson’s then unprecedented smash “Thriller.”
At the center of it all was Casey, whose iconic voice soothed and assured many of us, as we tried to find our respective places under the sun and over the moon.
Unlike the run-of-the-mill DJ who blabbered nonsense from start to finish, Casey was blessed with both heart and depth. Rather than talk down to you, he had this wonderful ability to talk to you and make you feel special.
His backstories and dedications, products, no doubt, of his close collaborations with the show’s scriptwriters, were equally engaging, thought-provoking and at times heart-tugging.
Casey made such a mundane act of counting down the hits sublime by humanizing both artists and listeners. It was telling trivia in a good way, as he mined what was good and/or amusing about the artist and the work and inspiration that went behind the hit.
Call to dream
He would always end his show with the now immortal line that’s both a lesson in humility and a call to dream big: “Keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars.”
He retired from the public eye for good in 2007, but I’ve stopped following his show long before that. Again, work, real life and my somewhat arrested taste in music (stuck mostly in the ’80s, with a bit of the hits from ’70s and the ’90s thrown in) have gotten in the way.
Well, Casey, the man behind “American Top 40” and the voice behind countless US TV commercials and animation series, including “Scooby-Doo’s” Shaggy, passed away yesterday, Father’s Day, after battling Parkinson’s disease and dementia. He was 82.
To quote travel writer and audiophile Lester Hallig, a friend of mine: “Non-stop tears for the man who shaped all I know about music today. It’s because of Casey Kasem that I listened to music and learned about the stories behind the music. I would never be the music geek that I am, (had it not been for you) Casey.”
I share the same sentiments, my friend. Lester, of course, is much younger than I. But with Casey’s passing, it’s as if a part of our youth has died along with him. But the melodies and that advice live on, Casey. You’ll always be part of my growing-up years.