Dr. Demento and Me

There was a radio host back in the day (he now streams his program on the internet) who went by the name Dr. Demento (real name Barry Hansen). He played demented music – novelty songs and comedy riffs, the screwier the better. (The photo here references one of the most popular songs, which goes “Fish heads, fish heads. Roly-poly fish heads. Fish heads, fish heads. Eat ’em up, yum” by a group called Barnes & Barnes. But I digress.)

Dr. Demento’s show was where Weird Al Yankovic launched his stellar career. The show got a tremendous boost from the recent “biopic” of Weird Al, which featured the good Dr. as a major character.

What does all this have to do with me? (Aside from the fact that the day I met my husband, he was wearing a t-shirt that said Dr. Demento. It didn’t refer to the radio show, however, but was given to him by coworkers on the psych unit. (He was also wearing a patch over one eye. How could I possibly resist a demented pirate? It was true love, though we didn’t know it at the time.) But I digress again.)

All my life I’ve been attracted to demented music, from Johnny Cash’s “The One on the Right Is on the Left” (a political ditty) to Kinky Friedman’s “Ballad of Charles Whitman” (which couldn’t be played these days because of current events) to John Prine’s “Dear Abby” to campfire classics like “Be Kind to Your Web-Footed Friends.” There’s something that appeals to me about songs that don’t take themselves too seriously.

Then I started going to science fiction conventions, where I heard still more demented songs during what are called filk sings (typo for “folk” that stuck). These included songs like “I Spent My Last Ten Dollars on Birth Control and Beer” and “Have Some Madeira, M’Dear.” Why are these played at science fiction conventions? I don’t really know, except that many SF fans are Dr. D. aficionados.

Lots of the filkers wrote their own songs, and many wrote demented ones. Barry Hansen was even a Guest of Honor at one of the conventions, which is where I met him.

Among the demented singer/songwriters are several who became my friends. They’ve had songs played on the radio show. Tom Smith’s “Return of the King, Uh-huh” is a mash-up of Lord of the Rings and Elvis, and “307 Ale” is about a beer brewed in a tesseract. Michael (Moonwulf) Longcor’s “Silver Bullet Blues” is about a werewolf. More demented still is his “Bob’s Dog Obedience School and Taxidermy Shop.” Leslie Fish’s “Carmen Miranda’s Ghost Is Haunting Space Station Three” is self-explanatory.

There’s a Facebook page for Dr. Demento and his fans, too, where they post the aforementioned “Fish Heads” and other videos. I’m a member and have posted some of my favorites there. Recently I shared a video of “Hand Me Down That Can O’ Beans,” which Dan was walking around singing because he was making nachos. (It’s a song from the musical Paint Your Wagon, possibly the worst musical ever made. Who thought of having a musical with Clint Eastwood and Lee Marvin singing? It’s principally noted for introducing the lovely “They Call the Wind Mariah.” But I digress yet again.) The post occasioned quite a conversation.

Most of the responses castigated me for being so down on the movie. Apparently, it has a lot of fans out there. There were all kinds of reasons cited that Lee Marvin’s voice was perfect for the songs, despite being notably flat. One even accused me of being envious that my “Uncle James” didn’t get the role. (My father’s name actually was James. When we were young, we always applauded when a “Daddy movie” came out. Another digression.) Someone even pointed out that The Simpsons once did a parody of Paint Your Wagon, which I had forgotten about.

I was delighted that over 175 people reacted to my post and nearly 75 commented on it. I feel special. Maybe Mr. Hansen will notice (he does read his own fan site) and feature the beans song on his show. That would really validate my membership in the group.

Without a little blue checkmark, either.

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