When I was growing up in the 1970s, there were two people who I didn’t mind spending time with, at least from afar through the radio: Bob Uecker, the voice of the Milwaukee Brewers baseball team before his jokes and anecdotes became stale, and Casey Kasem counting down the hits on American Top Forty. People who never heard a tight, melodic song with natural singing in their life may call such music “boring,” but what else are they going to say when they are forced to explain the unmusical, often vulgar and narcissistic noise of today?
Casey presided over a time when the top-40 playlist changed every week. While I certainly didn’t like every song I heard, I liked enough of them that I was always fascinated by the up and down chart movement. Every genre was represented, and the musical eclecticism was such that the three-to-four hour extravaganza was never without a surprise or two to keep things lively. Although Casey supposedly decided in 1988 to end his participation in the show he founded in 1970 over disagreements with its sponsors, it was probably time to do so since by then the quality of the top-40 playlist was in decline.
Casey would reboot new versions of his show in subsequent years, but it is telling that his last broadcast which ended in 2009 was reduced to the “top-10” and did not even feature any rap or hip-hop “songs,” which maddeningly dominates contemporary “pop” music stations; the songs for this version of the show were culled from adult contemporary playlists. Who could blame him? Even the Wolfman has suddenly become a fan of country music, because he claims it has morphed into the kind of music he was playing as a DJ many decades ago.
“Music” isn’t even a function of today’s noise, or even basic song structure that has been a constant since ancient Greek times. Worse yet is the decline of lyrical content, which may not have been always intelligible or intelligent in the old days, but as music critic Robert Christgau pointed out, great music could always save a song with less than inspired lyrics, and vice-versa. Today, with the almost total lack of musical production, dull or self-obsessed lyrics become even more obviously banal and bathetic.
Why am I talking about this (again)? Because of recent bizarre news concerning Casey. His current wife, Jean Kasem, who towers over him like a giant and is best known for her sometimes appearances on the TV sitcom Cheers and frequent landings on worst-dressed lists, has been sued by Casey’s children from his first marriage for preventing contact with their father. The 82-year-old Casey has been suffering Lewy body dementia, which has rendered him incapable of speech. Why Jean Kasem has prevented his children from seeing him—none of whom are financially dependent on him—is a matter of speculation, but in may be that she is taking advantage of his limited functions to convince him that only she cares about him, and perhaps he will leave her most of his estate. Her taste in expensive, garish costumes is a clear indication of her taste for money as well.
Last month Casey’s daughter Kerri Kasem was granted temporary conservatorship over his person by court order, but by then his whereabouts were unknown. He was recently located here in Washington state in Kitsap County (come on Seattle Times and Weekly, why are you not onto this story?), in a failed attempt at de facto kidnapping by his wife. It appears that Casey is under a false impression about his detention, or so Sheriff’s deputies who found him “alert” and “not in distress” thought, so they left without carrying out any action against Jean Kasem.
It shouldn’t be a surprise that there has been considerable disconnect between the stories told by the stepmother and stepchildren about the details of this situation. Jean Kasem has been treating Casey’s daughters as if they were an ex-husband she is forced to share custody with, and like a vindictive ex-spouse she has sought to deny them any rights. Jean Kasem claims that her behavior was brought about by the daughters “slandering” her in the media, but they claim that they only began a public campaign against her because of her denial of access to their father.
Kerri Kasem’s attempt to gain permanent responsibility over Casey’s care will be heard on June 20, obviously very much opposed by Jean Kasem. The latest news is that a Kitsap County judge allowed Kerri Kasem to take her father to see a doctor, the “exchange” supervised by deputies. Jean Kasem was seen throwing hamburger at her, telling the daughter that here was some “meat for the dogs.”