I miss Howard.
I hope Mr. Stern is having fun on AGT this week, because it’s doing nothing for his career. Swinging for the fences, playing for an audience that just doesn’t care, he’s abandoned his hard core and we’re going through withdrawal.
This is not about Howard Stern. You don’t have to subscribe to Sirius or listen to his radio program to understand the point I’m making. That to truly triumph you’ve got to be so good that we miss you when you’re gone. Which is rare in today’s overmarketed society. You keep telling us to pay attention when what we really want to do is run away. Then there are performers who we just can’t get enough of, who we consider family members, who have three-dimensional personalities and are so real we believe if we ran into them on the street we’d connect like best buddies.
Last weekend I read “The New York Times” and was stunned how mediocre most of the writing was. And the “Times” eclipses every newspaper but the “Wall Street Journal.” Then I came across an article by Philip Roth and it intrigued me and cut like butter, and I’m not even a big fan of the New Jerseyite, not since the early novels like “Goodbye Columbus” and “Portnoy’s Complaint,” but it’s undeniable that Roth can write.
So I’m pushing the buttons on the Sirius dial and I get a bunch of people laughing on the Cosmo channel. This is entertaining why? This is how television news has been ruined over the past four decades, you’re so busy looking chummy that you’ve forgotten the reason you’re there, which is to inform us. TV news has lost the plot.
And just because they call it the morning zoo, that doesn’t mean we want to listen to the animals. Outrageous is not a sustainable act. Stunts wear thin. You’re telling a story on the radio, it’s theatre of the mind, there has to be continuity and plot, no one can watch, never mind listen to, fireworks all day long.
You start listening to Stern and you wonder who all the extraneous people are. Ronnie Mund? Scott DePace? And then their personalities are revealed, and you realize you know people just like them in real life. Benji said he didn’t know the definition of the word “annoying,” even though he was accurately described as the poster boy for that archetype. The raw frustration of intersecting with so many people is beautifully evidenced on the Stern show.
And instead of being constantly self-deprecating, or only telling us how great he is, like a rapper, Howard veers from side to side, edge to edge. He says how he goes to parties and he gets uptight because he’s got nothing to say, the people scare him. Wow, I feel exactly the same way!
And then there are the interviews. Amy Schumer revealed she made 900k last year and I was astounded. My best friends won’t tell me how much they make. And when I tweeted about it, Amy tracked me down and asked if she’d committed a faux pas. Huh? Suddenly I’m part of a private club, which is bigger than the mainstream clubs we’re constantly being dunned about.
That’s the modern paradigm. Nobody is the king of all media, nobody is everywhere. You’ve just got your niche, how big is it?
And if you’re playing to people outside it, you’re missing the point. They don’t care. Expanding the brand? So Howard goes on “America’s Got Talent” and judges acts not even edgy enough to appear on the “Gong Show”? How can he be so wise and so stupid at the same time? Howard went to Sirius too early, but now the time is right, only those who care pay attention. And more people listen to Howard than watch the late night talk show hosts the mainstream press keeps bloviating about.
Now I’m not saying Stern should do what I want him to, be on the radio five mornings a week. But I am saying he’s wasting his time playing to those who aren’t core fans.
As for Howard’s core fans… Listen to the Superfan Roundtable, where the commentators reference things that happened years ago. There’s even a Celebrity Superfan Roundtable, hosted by Jeff Probst, featuring diehard fans like Natalie Maines. And you’re probably clueless as to all this, but that’s how strong a bond people have to Howard Stern.
And unlike everything but hoity-toity NPR, Howard sells product. Go on his show and watch your album fly up the iTunes chart.
And it’s all because he’s so damn good.
You think it’s just talking into a microphone. You think anybody can play the guitar, anybody can have a hit record, but it takes years to hone your act, and dedication… Howard does lament that AGT interferes with his schedule, he doesn’t have enough time to prepare!
And you can hear his preparation. And he extracts information from his guests no one else does. Since it’s radio the interviews go on forever. They’re not beholden to the Letterman formula, which is it’s all comedy, it’s all leading to punch lines.
Life is not a punch line.
Life is a series of highs and lows, speeding freeways and dead ends. And when you’re on the 405, forced to listen to the drivel on the hundred other radio stations, you yearn for Howard Stern like your best bud from college, you just want to have conversation that’s in the pocket, that makes you feel alive and connected.
I’m stunned how much time I dedicate to Howard.
But after this execrable week, being forced to listen to lame music and a rehash of the news, I’m ready for more.
Howard Stern built Sirius. Without him, it’s toast.
That’s the power of the individual, that’s the power of entertainment, that’s the power of art.
If you’re not so damn good that people clamor for you when you go away, you’re a second-rate player who can be forgotten instantly.
Howard, COME BACK!
P.S. Radio, the most ancient of mass media, is positively modern in the hands of Howard Stern. He knows it’s not about what you did in the past, but what you keep doing. Dedicated fans don’t want reruns, they want new stuff. There’s never enough new stuff for a hard core fan, isn’t that my point? By constantly creating new material, playing to the core, not worrying about the penumbra, Stern is doing what modern musicians should be doing but refuse to. You’re not selling hits, but a career. It’s the opposite of the nineties. Anybody can have a hit record, but can you sustain?