This morning the king of radio hosts Casey Kasem passed away at 82 years old, and those who were raised on his distinctive, flawlessly executed voice are bound to feel a sense of loss. Knowing for several months now that he was living from day-to-day and his time was nigh, it didn’t really register in my consciousness that the man who lent his voice to chronicling — and indeed, contributing to — pop culture has some significance in my own life.
But now that he’s gone, there’s a reflection that I’m processing as I write this. Several of us here at SER love to celebrate any artist, any music that became part of the soundtrack of our young lives. Whenever we hear one of these old songs, it instantly transports us back to that time and conjures up the same old feelings and a pining for the days when life was so uncomplicated. I think they have a word for that: nostalgia.
Kasem never made music, of course, but with his weekly American Top 40 shows, he was pop music’s tour guide. Even when his did those schmaltzy “long distance dedications,” he was reminding us that even the fluffiest of pop tunes carried real emotional weight with people, and I can’t argue with this message he championed about the power of music. He often included interesting facts about the artist whose single he was about to play, too. In the age before the Internet, that served as a valuable resource for learning something about the musicians behind the music beyond magazines, even if those stories were packaged into extended intros.
Like hearing a classic Spinners, Carpenters, or Chicago song, it’s damned near impossible to hear his voice even in my mind without thinking of all the things associated with my life when I heard it during his heyday. And that includes watching Saturday morning cartoons in the family den and hearing Shaggy shouting out “zoinks!” during a Scooby-Doo episode, since Casey voiced that character.
That’s why though Casey Kasem was occasionally the target of mockery, much like the Carpenters and Chicago, there’s no denying that for people who grew up in America during the 70s, 80s and 90s, he became part of their cultural upbringing. I’m sure that most of us felt that ultimately it was enriched because of him.
A golden voice is silenced, but only in the here and now. It will forever continue to speak with assuredness and a sense of comfort within our collective memories. We’ll keep our feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars, Casey.