Revisiting Dr. Demento at Reed College

Back in the 70s, when I was a little kid maybe 8 or 10 years old, my older brother and sister discovered a wonderful phenomenon. Granted the coveted privilege of Staying Up Late, they stumbled across a radio program that featured crazy songs.  I was shut out of this treat, left to eavesdrop on the fringes as they described the show the next day. Then one night they taped it, and that’s how I was introduced to The Dr. Demento Show.

What child could resist Mr. Spock himself bemoaning the Highly Illogical behavior of humans? What kid wouldn’t thrill to the insinuations of the Shaving Cream song? It was at this point that I realized a Great Truth—grown-ups had a sense of humor.

Fast forward a dozen years to the late 80’s. I’d graduated from high school and moved to Eugene. One Sunday night as I was plowing through the radio dial I discovered a distinctive voice from the past. Yes, indeed, O’l Dr. D was still on the air. I began taping the show and collecting a variety of new hits as well as old classics like I’m My Own Grandpa, They’re Coming to Take me Away, and Dead Skunk in the Middle of the Road.

When I left Eugene I lost track of the good Doctor. Fewer and fewer radio stations broadcast  his brand of fun these days, in spite of a true need for  levity in this country. Then, a few weeks ago a friend informed me that Dr. Demento would be giving a series of lectures on the Reed College campus.

Now the thing you need to know about Dr. D is that he’s a graduate of Reed. That’s right, a local boy made good. The sad part is that as wacky and wild as Portland tends to be, not a single local radio station carries his program anymore. This is a disgrace of epic proportions, and on behalf of all the Dr. Demento fans in this town I would like to offer him a heartfelt apology. When I win the lottery and buy out a radio station, I will be sure to remedy this situation.

But I digress. Last night I spent the evening listening to old favorites and watching video clips of Spike Jones, Monty Python, and Weird Al. You all remember Weird Al Yankovic, that singing satirist of the 80s & 90s? Well, Dr. Demento is the one who gave him his start.

It was a great presentation, and I even learned a new bit of trivia. Bill Mumy, famous for his role as Will Robinson in the 60s classic Lost in Space, is half of the duo Barnes and Barnes who created the iconic Fish Heads song.

It seems a bit strange to say that a conglomeration of comedy songs could be moving, and yet it was. There’s something about the power of laughter and the connection between music and memory that gives an experience like this a special flavor. Afterward, the audience was invited to pose for pictures with the good Doctor. My friend Sean snapped this one with his cell phone.


Thanks for the good times, Dr. D, and don’t be misled. Just because the local radio bigwigs don’t have the sense of a Pencil Neck Geek doesn’t mean you aren’t loved and respected here in Stumptown.

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9 Responses to Revisiting Dr. Demento at Reed College

  1. Roxie says:

    Kyle bought a collection of Dr. Demento DVDs. What a delightful bizzarity! Now when I get “Fish heads, fish heads! Roly poly fish heads!” stuck in my mind, I know someone else who will sympathize. I never heard Dr. D. live, but my older brothers were fans of Tom Leher. “Poisoning Pigeons in the Park!”


  2. Katy Skinner says:

    LOL! Great article. Yeah, there is definitely room for a humorous-songs radio program! Weird Al never stops putting stuff out, and even Adam Sandler comes out with humorous songs. Lots of comedians do. There should even be a whole radio station for humor songs.


  3. Casey says:

    I’ve never heard of Dr. Demento, but he sounds like a ton of fun. I did enjoy Weird Al in my childhood though. Loved him.


  4. lisanowak says:

    Hey all, I sent a link to Dr. Demento and he emailed this back:

    Lisa – thanks so much. That was beautifully written. It was so nice
    to meet you – glad you enjoyed the show!


    -Dr Demento


  5. Katy Skinner says:

    Yay! I love getting replies like that. Way to go, Lisa!


  6. susanls says:

    I grew up on Allan Sherman and when I was teaching I bribed the kids to behave by promising to sing Harvey and Sheila at the end of the day. Weird songs are, as I’m sure you suspected, my milieu. During the gay pride parade one time I organized a marching routine of Tom Lehrer’s Vatican Rag. It brought down the house. I have lots of Lehrer’s music…..

    Does Dr. Demento have a song with the lines “Keep your mind on the road, keep your hands on the wheel, keep your snoopy eyes on the road ahead. We’re having fun, sitting in the back seat, kissing and a’hugging with Fred.” Ex-husband got custody.


  7. Bridget Zinn says:

    I don’t know Dr. Demento. I’ll have to check him out!


  8. I somehow missed Dr. Demento growing up…I heard about him, but I was just clueless. Glad you got to see him, and that he sent that lovely reply to you! What a classy guy.


  9. Barb says:

    I missed out on Dr. Demento too. I’ve heard of him, and I’ve heard of most of the comedy bits that you listed and songs.
    Maybe I saw him and just don’t remember. Wierd. I didn’t do drugs. You’d think I’d remember. Maybe it was all thos $1 pitchers of beer and wild frat parties that wiped out the memory.
    Sounds like fun.
    Thanks for the post.


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