I was probably practicing a guitar lick in my Church stall, on a day the waterbed store was closed, when George called me to come downstairs for some cake. It was his birthday. As I descended the stairs, I heard a note from a pitch pipe followed quickly by the opening lines of the most over-the-top, enthusiasm-on-steroids, opera-style rendition of “Happy Birthday” I had ever heard. Belting it out was a short, sweating gentleman dressed in a blue blazer and red bow tie, his eyes ready to jump out of their sockets, his dark hair slicked back. The performance was post-eccentric. The volume he achieved was astonishing. Could have filled an auditorium. “Ozzie,” said George. “I want you to meet John-John.” John was an opera singing tenor who could hit high “C.” He was a friend of George’s from his Baker University days in Kansas—just the sort of person who would fall into George’s orbit. George had served as John’s protector from the louts who populated the pin ball parlor near Baker. He was the kind of person who had been mocked all of his life for being too boisterous, too different, too unique, too much.
Look around where you are right now, then proceed ten years into the future. How could I have possibly known that a decade hence I would utilize John’s talents to promote a television channel that no one had yet conceived, in an industry that had barely been born. At this moment, I was not conceiving anything beyond the birthday cake that John was devouring. This guy could eat.
Here is a compilation of some of my work with John Andrews, one of the most sincere and indefatigable performers I have ever encountered. The first video is pulled from Not For Chowderheads, the 1982 special produced by KTWU, Topeka. The videos that follow were part of a seasonal campaign for MTV while I was marketing director at Sunflower Cablevision in Lawrence, KS.
Truck Drivin’ Astronaut is one of the first songs I wrote, probably around 1973, though I can’t specifically pin down the date. The moon landing was an obvious inspiration.
My astronaut is an everyman who remains grounded even while in space. He’s the cowboy next door who takes out his own trash and sips beer on the front porch. Commercial endorsement rewards will soon be coming his way as they do to many successful Americans. In the last verse, now that he’s been in space, he’s uncertain that he prefers his earthly existence.
It’s also possible that the protagonist is not even an astronaut but instead is just a dreamer. Or a songwriter.
Many of the photos are from a Sunflower Cablevision video shoot for Randy Mason’s program “Bringin’ It All Back Home.” They were shot in and around Lawrence, Kansas. Probably around 1979 but not certain. Pretty sure the photog was Jim Jewell. The outfit is compliments of my dear friend, Jim Vaughn, who was working for a fire retardant company at the time. I photographed his visit to my wife Linda’s classroom at Wakarusa Valley Elementary. The shot of wife, Linda, and I (me in the cowboy hat) was taken by our friend Steve Burkhart near Lake Powell, Utah in 1973. The astronaut with wine was shot last week by Linda. Space shots compliments of NASA. The suit is still in our attic and one day will be donated to either to the Smithsonian or Good Will.
The Dancing Dairy Products at Sunflower Cablevision
The Dancing Dairy Products stepped their way into the hearts of many Eastern Kansans’ during the early 80s. They performed as part of the Barking Gecko entourage. Full disclosure: I married the cheese. (These photos by Jim Jewel.)
In performance, three dietary perspectives were presented by the Dairy MC. (No footage exists.) Here is the complete “rap” from memory:
The Meat Eater
I like to fry
Big hunks of meat
Pop ‘em in my mouth and chew
If I can’t find a sow I’ll settle for a cow
Or maybe a sheep or two
Such sweet release
I love to eat ribs till I’m blue
Love to eat ribs till I’m blue
I chew grapes
And drink pomegranate juice
I eat sprouts, lentils and mung
I’ll finish my kelp
Without any help
Wheat germ and oats keep me young
Vitamin D, so good for the knee
The heart the eyes and the lung
The soul the snout and the tongue
The Voice of Reason
But wait a minute!
Along with your meat
You just have to eat
Vegetables each day
Zucchini and steak
And bread that you bake
And don’t forget your dairy products
Don’t forget your dairy products…
Please please don’t forget your cheese
Hey that’s what I said
Smooth as silk they call it milk
a little bit of razzamatazz
After the show
The act broke up when the cheese took a teaching job. The DDP may have curdled into the sunset but this should not spoil it for true believers.