Thursday, November 15, 2007


Bee Gees' 'Tragedy' calls to mind Casey Kasem and American Top 40. That radio show epitomizes his relationship with pop music throughout his childhood up until high school. He remembers rushing his family home from church each Sunday in order to catch AT40 from the opening recap of the previous week's top three all the way through to the revelation of that week's number one. In later years he taped the show (admittedly clipping out much of the talk) and listened to the ranked songs again throughout the week.

At that time the Billboard Top 40 (and, transitively, United States' taste) was enthusiastically inclusive, regularly accepting all kinds of rock, R&B, country, power pop, new wave and singer/songwriter acts into its fold. He learned about a lot of different music, and also learned that keeping his tastes broad only meant having more music to enjoy. Casey was incredibly helpful, too, dispensing information about songs and acts that wasn't as readily available in those days.

But 'Tragedy' is not about the noble side of AT40; it's about the banal side. In its desire to connect with listeners on a human interest level, AT40 indulged in the maudlin Long Distance Dedications, during which listeners' letters were read, then their corresponding requests played. On rare occasions they were touching; more often they were cringe-inducing, particularly being read by a voice eerily similar to Shaggy from Scooby Doo...

So there was a woman who had always been afraid of thunder. She just hated it. Dreaded the moment storm clouds rolled in. Couldn't shake the phobia. Plagued by her irrational fear. But one day she heard 'Tragedy' with its crashing sound effects that really do not sound like thunder in the least. And she realized that if she could enjoy this song, with a perceived cameo appearance by her mortal enemy, thunder must not be that bad. Casey's voice trembled with empathy, and then the second rate Bee Gees song took its bow.

Even as a child, he remembers thinking, 'Are you kidding?' But that's the whole truth about pop: for every 'Billie Jean' there's a 'Pac-Man fever'. For every 'Hit me with your best shot' there's a 'Mr. Roboto'. Someone out there probably had an epiphany to 'I've never been to me', too...