As we headed off on the first evening leg of last week's ten-hour trip to Wisconsin, we anticipated a ride eased by the dulcet tones of a British narrator reading about mayhem and bloodshed in rabbit warrens. Yes, Watership Down was on the menu: eleven cassettes promising enough listening hours to keep the back seat pacified for most of the drive.
And then I put in the first tape. The player whirred, clicked, and spit it out. I tried again. Same routine. I tried a different tape. I tried several different tapes. It was of no avail -- the tape player had gone on strike, perhaps permanently. I rummaged around, but I'd cleaned the van so thoroughly before my brother's wedding that there were no random CDs on the floor or shoved into various compartments. The back seat was getting restive, waiting for their promised book. Faced with the onrushing prospect of the long haul with no trusty audio to soothe the riotous masses, I almost went tharn.
So we tracked radio stations all across the midwest. The oldies station has become very popular with the ladies, so we followed the Columbus station as long as we could follow the signal. Then we said the rosary, and no one went to sleep. Then we threatened. Then we got to Toledo and people were quiet, but we had to drive the beltway around the whole city because we missed our exit because I was reading to Darwin. We knew we were going the wrong way when we saw that the highway was headed to Detroit.
Day two was harder. We listened to The Globe across Northern Indiana, which was the sort of awesome eclectic station I wish I could find at home. My listening pleasure was impeded, however, by a certain someone attempting to hold the car hostage by throwing a huge screaming tantrum in which she repeatedly demanded that she be allowed to sit in the middle seat on the second half of the trip. You think someone would get bored yelling, "I want to sit in the middle seat of the car on the second half of the trip!" for an hour at a time, but the young have an intensity and staying power that eludes their elders.
Digression: I tell you what, my dad is a mild-mannered guy, but if he had ever had occasion to pull this car over and tell me that if I didn't stop it, there would be serious consequences, I would have listened and piped the heck down. All I can say is that it really is better to be feared than loved sometimes, and on this trip it felt like we the adults were neither.
It was time to take measures on the trip back. We stopped at Barnes and Noble in Madison, WI and fortified ourselves for the journey with 4.5 hours of dramatized Sherlock Holmes stories (Sir John Gielgud as Holmes and Sir Ralph Richardson as Watson), 2 hours of Aesop's Fables, and the two-disc collection of Dr. Demento's Greatest Hits.
Dr. Demento, host of the novelty hit radio show! You all know his signature song: They're Coming To Take Me Away, by Napoleon XIV.
This very same Dr. Demento collection, which I listened to (on tape) fifteen years ago, features a song I first heard on a carefully preserved 45 lp of my dad's: Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah, by Allan Sherman. The tantrummer listened, laughed, and pronounced it good.
One song which amused my children but was fairly inexplicable to them was Star Trekking (Across the Universe) by The Firm. I saw a lot of Star Trek in my time, but since we don't have broadcast TV, they've never had occasion to see old episodes while flipping through channels. Star Trek is rather a dying cultural phenomenon anyway, mostly remembered through parody.
One of the most weirdly catchy tunes on the album was Fish Heads by Barnes and Barnes, featured here in their own music video as seen on the Dr. Demento show on MTV. It's pretty delightfully demented.
Eat them up, yum!
And we rode peacefully all the way home. Thank you, Dr. Demento.
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