Saturday, May 12, 2007

Celebrity Snippets: Dennis Hopper

Once a week long-time radio producer and author Rick Kaempfer shares his favorite brushes with greatness in a feature he calls “Celebrity Snippets.”

Dennis Hopper is an iconic film actor. He is celebrating his 71st birthday this week.

By Rick Kaempfer

One of the first big movie stars I booked to appear on the Steve & Garry show was Dennis Hopper. This was during his BlueVelvet/Hoosiers era, when he was one of the hottest stars in Hollywood.

It took quite a bit of convincing to get him on the show, because his schedule was booked solid with television and print interviews. The local PR firm handling his media tour finally succumbed to my begging.

“OK,” the PR guy said. “But you’ve only got him for fifteen minutes. Not one second longer, because we have to get him over to the TV stations.”

“Of course,” I agreed.

In my own defense, I honestly had no idea that I was promising something beyond my ability to control.

“We’ve only got him for fifteen minutes,” I told Steve. He laughed.

When Hopper and the PR man arrived, I whisked Hopper directly into the studio so that we could maximize our short amount of time. The PR man came into the studio with me.

“Fifteen minutes, right?” he asked sternly.

“Of course,” I agreed.

At the ten minute mark, Hopper was telling great stories about his eight day marriage to Michelle Phillips. Steve and Garry were spellbound.

At the twelve minute mark, the PR guy started pointing to the clock. “Be sure to tell them to wrap it up.”

“I can’t do that from here,” I said. “It’ll have to wait until the commercial break. I’m sure they’ll wrap it up any second.”

At the fifteen minute mark, Hopper was telling a great story about Natalie Wood. When the story ended, I got up to walk toward the door, thinking it was over. That’s when Steve started asking him about his days hanging out with James Dean. It was obvious that there was no way this conversation would be ending anytime soon.

“Go in there and tell him to end the interview,” the PR guy said.

“It’s out of my hands,” I explained.

“But you promised that we would be out in fifteen minutes. We have to get to the TV stations.”

He was doing his best to scare me, but nothing he could say or do could scare me more than the prospect of Steve’s reaction to my ending the interview. I was mute. At the twenty minute mark, I looked over at the PR guy, and could see the veins sticking out in his neck. He kept looking at his watch over and over again, sighing, pacing, and tapping his foot.

At the thirty minute mark, he blurted. “I’m going in there.”

“No you can’t do that,” I said, blocking his way.

That’s when Steve mentioned to Dennis Hopper on the air that they had gone over their fifteen minute allotment.

“Oh,” Hopper said. “Is that it?”

“No,” Steve said. “I’m not letting you leave. We have more people listening to this show than those TV stations have watching theirs. I’m doing this for you.”

“Whatever you say,” Hopper replied, ever the friendly guest.

I thought the PR guy was going to have an aneurysm. He got on the phone and called the next interviewer up, saying some not-so-nice things about Steve & Garry. After he hung up the phone, he said to me: “You know-- you’re not making a very good impression on me here.”

I shrugged my shoulders. “I’m sorry,” I said. “If there was anything I could do, I would.”

Steve finally ended the interview a few minutes later. The PR guy grabbed Hopper and whisked him to the next interview without even saying goodbye.

Over the next fifteen years or so I saw that same PR guy (who I’m intentionally not naming for his sake) dozens of times, and every time I saw him he mentioned that first time we met. He is still doing publicity in Chicago, in fact he’s one of the most prominent PR men in town, but to his credit, he never held this Dennis Hopper incident against me when it came to booking future guests. In time, he even came to trust me again.

As for the interview itself, I really had no idea how it went until I replayed it during the Best of Steve & Garry a few years later. It’s just the postscript to this story, but I must say, once I could listen to it without an angry face staring at me, I really enjoyed it. I consider it to be one of the best interviews that Steve and Garry ever did.

For hundreds of additional celebrity and radio stories, check out my book "The Radio Producer's Handbook," which is still available at Amazon, and Barnes & Noble.

If you missed any of the previous Celebrity Snippets, click here:

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Half Empty: The American Dream

They say that when you hit your 40s, your life is half over. We prefer to think of it as HALF EMPTY. Our age has finally caught up with our outlook on life. Remember, it is possible to turn that frown upside down...but you might pull a muscle.

By Rick Kaempfer & Dave Stern

What is the American dream? If you work hard, and go the extra mile, your loyalty and diligence will be rewarded.

Sounds great, doesn’t it?

Unfortunately, in this largely unregulated free market era, nearly every industry has become dominated by huge corporations. Once you work for one of these soulless, faceless giants, the American dream doesn’t really apply anymore.

People can reward loyalty, diligence and hard work; corporations cannot. To a corporation, a worker is an expense. When it’s time to cut expenses, (and it will always eventually be time to cut expenses), loyalty, diligence and hard work rarely enter the equation. This is why Wall Street gets a boner when a corporation announces mass layoffs. Bye, bye expenses.

It’s nothing personal. It’s just business.

The person who rises to the top of this sort of business has to be cold, calculating, and detached in order to maximize profits. He must see the worker as a meaningless cog. A number. A part of the financial equation. No more. No less.

The boss’ job is to get maximum output from his overworked employees without raising expenses. The only way this can work is to have a bunch of people playing by the old rules, not realizing they no longer exist. By the time they figure it out, the boss has achieved his goals, and the employee can be replaced by someone else who hasn’t figured it out yet.

So what is a meaningless cog to do?

The way we see it, you really only have 3 options.
1) Keep banging your head into the wall expecting the old rules of the American dream to suddenly re-emerge. (Good luck with that approach)
2) Become one of the cold, calculating people that can rise to the top of the current system.
3) Spend your time making the people that do rise to the top as miserable as humanly possible.

More and more meaningless cogs want to opt for option #3 simply because option #1 doesn’t work, and option #2 is really rolling the dice with a potential afterlife destination.

Unfortunately, Option #3 is quite the high wire act. The level of difficulty has scared off more than a few employees. Everyone makes the same mistake. They look down. Don't look down. It's just a high wire. You can walk across that thing. You've done it a million times without even realizing it.

If you can implement a very sophisticated passive-aggressive arsenal, and you can manage to keep a straight face amidst a simmering red-faced boss—-buckle up for a high unlike any high you’ve (legally) experienced before.

Your good friends at Half Empty are here to help you develop some strategies, and overcome your fears. Come on out on the high wire. There's room for all of us.

Who should you target?

While it sure would be great to target your company’s CEO…he’s beyond your reach. If you go on the high wire outside his ivory tower, he'll just push you off. He does that sort of thing for fun. And when you fall from that kind of a height, you may never recover.

The local boss, however, is fair game. He has chosen Option #2 because he wants to become one of those untouchable guys in the ivory tower. It’s his goal. His weakness is that he isn't there yet...and his high wire is only a few feet off the ground.

How do you target him or her?

Here are a few hints to make your day more fun.

*Praise his rivals

Are there other Vice Presidents at the company on the same level as your boss? Start praising them every chance you get. Here are a few sample options. Feel free to customize them for your use.
1) “Boy that Dick Smith sure knows how to maximize those revenues. They must love him at corporate headquarters.”
2) “Have you seen Dick Smith’s house? Wow! Now, that’s a palace.”
3) “I was just talking to Gladys in Dick Smith’s department. I can’t believe the CEO calls him so often just to say hello.”

See how this works? You can’t possibly be fired for talking up another VP. You’re all on the same team, remember? You aren’t criticizing your boss—you’re complimenting a valued co-worker. How petty can your boss get? I sure hope Dick Smith or his good friend the CEO don’t hear about this firing.

*Call every woman in the office by his ex-wife’s name

And slap your head every time. “Sorry—I don’t know what is wrong with me. I apologize.” What if he doesn’t have an ex-wife? Please. They all have ex-wives. If by some miracle they don’t, then use the name of his secret mistress. (C’mon—that’s common office gossip knowledge, isn’t it?) If you’re worried about offending the other women in the office, simply tell them what you’re doing. You’ll probably find that they'll happily allow you to call them “Myrna,” once they know why. They’ve been looking for a way to enact Option #3 themselves. It’s win-win.

*Live up to the letter of the most ridiculous office policies

If you work in any industry that requires certain safety procedures, you’re golden. You know they don’t really want you to follow those rules—they just created them to legally cover their butts. See what happens when you really do it. If you don’t work in an industry like that, you still have options. Have your employee handbook on your person at all times, and open it to the page in question when the boss violates nitpicky company rules (“Hmmm, now where is that inappropriate office language section? Hmmm, now where did I read that part about personal phone calls? Hmmm, now where is that section about using the postage meter for personal correspondence?”)

*Baked goods

In a corporate environment there is always one or two suck ups that buy baked goods for the office. Somehow they think spending $4.70 on a dozen donuts will get them that big promotion. Use this to your advantage. Find out which donut your boss likes best and grab it before he does. Make sure you tell the suck up how delicious that pastry was within ear shot of the boss. He can't fire you for eating a strawberry bismark, now can he?

*Parking debris

If you work for one of those companies that reward their incompetent middle management with special parking spaces, you're in luck. Simply leave debris in their space before they arrive. Since, most of these schlubs don't get in until 10:00 AM this shouldn't be too difficult. Broken bottles, dead cats and hobos work best.

*Fake voicemails

In most offices there is one guy that can do a spot on impersonation of the CEO. Have him leave your boss a bogus voicemail at 4:40 on Friday afternoon. Somethinglike, "I'll need that Billingley report first thing Monday morning, and it better be complete". Your boss will spend the whole weekend trying to figure out who Billingsley is.

Think about it. How will your boss' boss react when he fires you for following or enforcing company rules?

Those are just a few to get you started.

If you’re a fellow Option #3er, we’d love to hear some of your suggestions, too. Send them via e-mail (anonymously is fine), and we’ll feature some of your ideas in a later column.

Remember, if you’re going to get fired anyway, you might as well get fired for something ridiculous like being too complimentary of coworkers, or being too much of a stickler for enforcing corporate rules.

That's the new American dream.

If you really want to see these techniques taken to their logical extreme, you’ll want to pick up a copy of Rick’s novel at The lead character (Zagorski) is the all-time king of the passive-aggressive irritators.

If you missed any previous Half Empty columns, click here:

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Suburban Man: Mother's Day Rap

When I was still working on the radio, my boys provided a constant stream of material. Every year on Mother's Day, we would go into the studio and produce an audio present for Bridget.

This one was probably my favorite Mother's Day present for Bridget. One long-time fan/listener of the show said it was her favorite bit we did in the ten years of the John Landecker Show on WJMK. It's a rap song starring all three boys. Tommy was seven. Johnny was five. Sean was nine months old. All three can be heard on this hilarious recording. Thank you to Vince Argento for his production magic (and artwork).

A few words of explanation: The words Johnny says in the song ("Allerticott" and "Baga") are Johnny's made up words--inside family jokes. He said them in fits of anger (allerticott) and for comedy purposes (baga).

Click on this link to listen to the song: Mother's Day Rap

It's short, less than a minute long.

This year with no studio, no production director, and no rap music library, we'll probably get her some flowers.

If you missed any previous Suburban Man columns, click here: