If you lived in the DC area during the 1980s, I don’t need to tell you who Doug Tracht was, better known as The Greaseman. He was a hugely popular morning DJ on DC-101 (WWDC-FM), a Washington rock station. He took over Howard Stern’s morning slot in 1982. Our middle school bus driver in 1983 and ’84 played the age-inappropriate Greaseman show every morning, to our delight. That he didn’t run off the road laughing is testament to his professionalism.
Here is one of Greaseman’s classics, Daughter’s First Date:
The right stuff
The Greaseman wasn’t a liberal. Though his show was mostly apolitical, he made asides about Bill Clinton during the early 1990s, calling him Adolf Clinton in one of his segments. He was popular with the police and military. Finding out that a local Marine Corps base banned his show over sexism, he made a serious monologue, written here from memory: “I am ruefully looking at the USMC. Not the Marines themselves, they love me and I love them. I’m shaking my head ruefully [that phrase is almost verbatim right, my memory is good] at the leadership of the Marine Corps and I ask them to let these fine military men listen to my show.”
The Greaseman’s fall
You can read about his “controversies” under the Infogalactic link above. In 1986 on Martin Luther King Day he said on air: “Why don’t we plug four more and get the whole week off?” Then in 1999 when James Byrd killers’ trial was in the news, he played a Lauryn Hill rap song and said, “No wonder people drag them behind trucks.” The proper bounds of on-air humor is a subject for another time. Unfortunately — echoing the previous post about Megyn Kelly’s abject apology over nothing — The Greaseman went on an apology tour like no other. You can read about it on Infogalactic. Very sad.
Greaseman faded into obscurity after he left DC-101 for syndication in 1993. According to a friend of mine who heard the interview, Greaseman reflected on his rise and fall, paraphrased here second-hand: “Things changed in the ’90s. It got more personal, more mean. My style of humor fell out of favor.”
Howard Stern had this to say, also paraphrasing from memory: “Look, I said much worse things. The reason Greaseman was canned is because his ratings sucked.” Unrelated: as far as I can tell, Doug Tracht isn’t Jewish, and neither is Anthony Cumia.
Selections from The Greaseman Show
There are Greaseman clips on YouTube if you are interested. One I listened to for the first time is The Deliverance — his Asian version. Back when you could goof on foreign accents because all things Asian were still foreign:
Take off your kimono. Untie? No words please just action. Untie kimono! I beg pardon but I’m not sure what to make of all this. You know, you look just like a panda. Can you bellow like panda?
He was a master of melodramatic sound effects accompanying his monologues. As one example, his Estelle bit is about an on-the-rocks couple that tries partner-swapping to reignite the passion. (The video is fan-made).
And then there were the recurring characters or running gags:
- West Virginia (all in good fun, such were the ’80s.) Only he could make banjo sounds with his mouth that sounded more real than a banjo.
- SGT Fury, the ‘Nam vet with flashbacks
- Ladies man Nino Greasemanelli
- The Lawman, cracking skulls and much, much more
- His regular guest John Riggins, the great White running back. If you were a fanatical Redskins fan during the (first) Joe Gibbs era, you’d understand.
Coda and my high school memory
Thank you for the laughs, Greaseman. This short post does your genius no justice.
I’ll leave things with Greaseman’s rendition of Against Her Chin, which he sings to Bob Seger’s Against the Wind. Alas, that piece is not on YouTube. I have it as an MP3, transcribed below. Play the Seger original I helpfully linked and sing along:
It seems like yesterday, but it was long ago
Velma was lovely, she was the queen of my nights
Snarlin’ in the car, with the radio playing low
And the doo-dads that she squeezed
The nodules that she noshed
Gobblin’ like a wildfire out of control
Till there was nothing left to splat
And nothing left to gag…
And I remember what she said to me
How she swore that it would never end
I remember how she held me, oh so tight
I wish I didn’t know now
What I didn’t know then
Against her chin
They were slappin’ against her chin
We were young and strong
And I had doo-dads against her chin
My head lolled side to side
And the courtesy light was on
A cop pulled up and he glanced inside
His eyes bug-wide
When he saw what’s going on
So he got out and dropped-trou
Grinnin’ all the while
That part always reminds me of back in high school. She (a beauty) and I parked late in the evening in my car by the closed gate of a state park. I picked that spot to assure privacy and soon we were undressed. The windows were heavily fogged up. That’s not a metaphor, they really do that when you make out in a car.
A middle-aged cop startles us with a knock on my window. How long he was staring at her breasts before knocking, I have no idea. We cover ourselves and I roll down the window. Cop voice: “Did you see all those No Parking sings? You’re trespassing on state property.” “No sorry officer, I didn’t see them but we’ll leave right now.” He gives me a stern speech of which I remember not one word.
And then just before turning to go he asks my date: “Ma’am, are you here because you want to?” Those were late 1980s. Date rape hysteria was just coming into its own. She earnestly nodded her head, clutching some fabric up to her neck: “Yes!”
We found a different parking spot, behind an elementary school. As the temperatures rose again, she said with a devilish gleam in her eye, “What if I had said ‘No’ to that policeman?”
He said “Son, when you get done
You can just leave her here
The midnight watch can be lonely and cold”
I said “Officer, you’ll find it so sublime
There ain’t no chrome on my trailer hitch”
And soon I felt that bubblin’ tide
There in the front seat I began to twitch
Spoken during the instrumental: “One of my more tender songs. And now my left hand, and left hand only, I play the piano. Yeah, you probably think back a long time ago to the drive-in that’s no longer there. To the lovers lane that’s been paved over for condos.” Sotto voce: “And you remember.”
“Happy as you are, you wonder what happended to the pffftfffh-receptacles of yesteryear. You hope that they found the joy that you found. You shake your head and you wonder, God, how did we get away with that stuff!”