Our Town downtown
April 16, 2007
It’s maybe 1972. It’s morning and I’m sitting in my Volkswagen bug listening to the radio. I’m in St. Brendan’s grade school parking lot in a suburb of Cleveland where I moved after college because I was already married with a week-old child at graduation and I needed to beat the draft by teaching and I found a Catholic grade school in Cleveland that needed an English teacher.
I should be in the classroom already because it’s 7:55 and the kids will be coming soon and I have to be ready for them. But a disc jockey named Imus is on the radio and he’s being so funny and smart and bold and his voice is so good, that I don’t want to get out of the car until his bit is done.
Imus was in Cleveland for a few years. Maybe twice actually. When he moved here, I could get him there still. I didn’t listen to him every day that he was on. There was some music usually going in the car. But I listened to him enough that people thought of me as an Imus guy.
Am I still an Imus guy? Probably. Do I think he was wrong as could be with the Rutgers comments? No doubt. Do I think he should lose his show over it? Yes, when I think of the young women who play for Rutgers in front of hugely white crowds a half an hour from a mammoth city where a guy who they’ve never heard of is calling them names for no reason except to get a rush from saying something forbidden; and even though he doesn’t for a second think they are what he and Bernie called them, he couldn’t keep his tongue away from saying what it wanted to say because it had been trained for a lifetime to want to risk it all for a laugh.
I’ll learn to live without him. Actually I’ve been living without him since Christmas when somebody got me a Sirius radio. I’m hooked on all the talk stuff on there including Howard Stern, who I had never listened to before. Never, even though I’m a life-long talk radio listener. Now I listen to him sometimes, and I think he’s a genius.
Imus was a genius too. Look at that face and those eyes. He has a great voice. He’s smarter by nature than any guest he’s ever had on the show. If fools who couldn’t have been listeners want to still keep writing that he was a shock jock and write him off as that, well they’re just stupid. If they think Jon Stewart is smarter and funnier than Imus was for four hours every day, they didn’t listen to him. They probably wrote him off because of the cowboy hat, which I think he wore to keep himself and everyone else from taking him too seriously. He was so smart he could have been a scold or a wonkish diatribe guy. His hat kept him where he wanted to stay. He wanted to make fun of himself and his co-workers, his wife, his Jewish producer, Archbishop Egan, black people, rednecks, homosexuals, pols, the Hamptons crowd.
He knew music, he’d been a Marine, he collected first editions, he played chess with his young son, he loved his brother Fred, he was a recovering alcoholic and drug user, he chewed Nicorette gum like jelly beans. He’s helped sick kids for years. And he helped me through more than one bad morning. He was a very big deal to me. It’s Friday morning and it’s the first day Imus is not on the radio. The whole thing is sad.
In the messy-with-books-and-papers back seat of that VW I sat in and listened to Imus in in 1972, there could easily have been a beat up paperback of “Cat’s Cradle” or “Slaughterhouse-Five” or, my favorite, “God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater,” by Kurt Vonnegut.
-- Bill Gunlocke