An Evening With Dr. Demento

Reading Time: 10 minutes

Dr. Demento at Reed College. Photo: Jonathan LiuDr. Demento at Reed College. Photo: Jonathan Liu

Dr. Demento speaks at Reed College in Portland, Ore.
Photo: Jonathan Liu/Wired.com

Last weekend I discovered at the last minute that Barret Hansen — aka “Dr. Demento” — was going to be in town. He’s an alum of Reed College in Portland, Ore., and apparently makes frequent appearances there to give talks. This time around he gave three talks: one about the Beatles and their influences, one about protest songs and the last one on his greatest hits. I missed the first two, but was able to attend the last lecture, on the subject Dr. Demento is best known for: the wacky and weird songs that make up The Dr. Demento Show.

While reading about a lecture certainly isn’t the same as being there, I’ll try to give you at least a taste of it. Dr. Demento’s talk was punctuated with audio clips and videos, so through the magic of the internet you can experience some of the same things I did.

I got to the lecture hall a little early, just to be sure I could find it, and found a seat near the front. The crowd was a very mixed group: lots of college students (who could attend for free), a lot of middle-aged adults who might have grown up listening to the show, and even a handful of younger kids.

Dr. Demento entered the lecture hall to great applause, dressed in his trademark top hat and tux, complete with red bow tie and cummerbund. He got right to it, introducing himself (for anyone who didn’t know already) by way of a few video clips: cameos on Bobby’s World and The Simpsons (which unfortunately I wasn’t able to find online), and this little clip of Weird Al talking about his own small way of giving something back to Dr. Demento:

Dr. Demento shared that this little sketch was actually Al’s idea. They’d done it as a prank bit sometime before, and when Al was doing this bit he suggested doing it again. It took nine takes to get the shot just right, but apparently Al had no trouble with it at all. As Dr. Demento put it, that vegan diet seems to do wonders for Al.

Before he shared a bit more about himself, he complimented Reed College for having some of the smartest people on the planet, particularly the subset in this particular room. But, he warned, no matter how smart you are, you should always remember to “Dare to Be Stupid”:

One of the earliest moments that helped define Dr. Demento’s life path came when he was four years old. His father brought home a Spike Jones record and played “Cocktails for Two.” He said he wouldn’t let his parents go to sleep that night until they’d taught him how to operate the record player himself. He was hooked by the cacophony and energy in the song, which was carefully rehearsed and then recorded in a single take. It really made an impression on him.

This isn’t the original recording, but shows Spike Jones and His City Slickers performing the song live:

Spike Jones did a lot of really elaborate music, and was pretty critical of the classical music scene, and liked to spoof the seriousness of the whole thing. Dr. Demento played a video clip of Jones conducting and performing “I’m in the Mood for Love,” including the 3’9″ Billy Barty as Liberace, “the greatest pianist.” It’s absurd and completely over the top.

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