By James Martinez
The digital 10th anniversary edition of Local DJ is a wild narrative on rock ’n’ roll culture from the late 1950s to the present. A prominently featured DJ in Cleveland’s Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of Fame, Peter C. Cavanaugh was influential on the music over an extended period, pioneering the evolution of FM radio and launching the careers of Bob Seger, Ted Nugent, Alice Cooper and many more. Cavanaugh also unleashed film director Michael Moore upon an unsuspecting public over WWCK-FM in Flint, Mich., in 1980.
While interviewing someone like Cavanaugh, I could not help thinking back to find something I did that was remotely rock ’n’ roll and remembered a lesson that should be applied before reading his book Local DJ.
My first semester, in what some would call a fit of identity crisis or a terrible way to impress the college girls, I grew a beard.
Now I know, the old-timers out there are probably thinking, “He was just 18. How big could that beard be?” Well, it was long, thick and ungroomed. At times in history class, I would place my pen in the beard until it was needed for note taking. When reaching for it, my hand never got within five inches of my chin. I shaved the thing over Christmas break after about 400 Grizzly Adams comments from frat boys who had the originality of oxen. (Note: When you see someone with a big beard, you can rest assured they’ve heard “Hey Grizzly Adams” before.)
The other reason for shaving the beard was I sleep on my stomach and the thing pushed my head so far back my neck hurt. I needed a good neck; as an 18-year-old, there was a lot to see at Michigan State University.
What is the connection between Cavanaugh’s book Local DJ: A Rock ’n’ Roll History and my beard, besides it representing one of my feeble attempts at rebellion? When I had my beard, I drew constant looks from people who judged me before I opened my mouth.
Police officers watched me assuming I was about to dash behind a corner and light something up. People in stores stepped away in quite obvious fashion like I was Pigpen from Peanuts. Teachers, who chose to hand out papers by calling names from lowest grade to highest, looked confused when I walked up to get my paper last.
So the connection here is, if you read Cavanaugh’s book don’t be turned off by some of the content and vulgar language; there’s a lot of commentary there. The book lives up to the sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll attitude that made nuns squirm in the 1960s. If you set down the book, you’re missing insight to a generation in our country where people were divided.
We’re heading in a somewhat similar direction facilitated by different circumstances. I’m not sure the great cultural changes socially will be there, but the mistrust of government, growing discontent among youth and a perceived global threat sure are. (You know the saying by Mark Twain that goes something like this: “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it sure rhymes a lot.”)
The book is probably not a good idea for kids.
I know that’s not a rock ’n’ roll thing to say, but that’s my disclaimer. I don’t think it’s going to warp anyone, but parents should be warned.
I’d apply the Marilyn Manson/Guns N’ Roses test (depending on your age) before deciding to read it. If you thought Guns N’ Roses was taking us to hell in a hand basket, don’t pick up the book. If you thought Marilyn Manson was the final sign of the Apocalypse, then run. You won’t be able to appreciate this book for what it is.
Local DJ discusses the evolution of rock music from a front-row seat and shows Michigan’s role in the whole 1960s scene. Many chapters end with little paragraphs putting things into a historical perspective. The plight of early radio being so influential and coming from Flint is also an interesting sidebar as you consider the medium now and the current state of that city.
James Martinez is director of communications at the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce, having joined the Chamber following several years as a Democratic writer for the Michigan House of Representatives in Lansing. Before that post, Martinez was a staff reporter for the Gaylord Herald Times and the Clarkston News in Michigan, having graduated from Michigan State University in 2003. Contact him at 313-596-0489 or firstname.lastname@example.org.