Rex Bob Lowenstein by Mark Germino and the Sluggers
Written by Mark Germino and Performed by Mark Germino and The Sluggers. You can listen to the recorded version here. The song appeared on his album Radar Town, which you can find on Amazon. You can find Mark Germino out on my space: http://www.myspace.com/markgermino.
A paean to a mythical disc jockey, Rex Bob Lowenstein represents a rapidly fading or possibly vanished time when radio disc jockeys infused personality in the music they played. Full of gusto and bathed in real love for great radio, Germino performs the song as a fist-pumping rejection of all things corporate infringing on musical freedom. Rex Bob Lowenstein plays John Henry against the steam shovel of programmed radio and the Clear Channels of the world.
What fun Germino has in creating his character. The name alone – a mix of good old boy and New York Jewish intellectual – both avoid cliché and spreads its arms wide to encompass often competing traditions. And what music does he play? Germino is only too happy to tell us:
You can call and request ‘Lay Lady Lay’
He’ll play Stanley Jordan, The ‘Dead and Little Feat
And he’ll even play the band from the college down the street
He’s an ornery sort, taking the music seriously, sticking to a mission. Our man does not suffer fools gladly:
His request line’s open, but he’ll tell you where to go
If you’re dumb enough to ask him why he plays Hank Snow
His request line’s open but he makes no bones
About why he plays Madonna after George Jones
He’s a working stiff (“He puts two or three eggs in him/And he’s in your car by 6 a.m.) who speaks to all willing to listen, no market segmentation here:
He’ll talk to the truckers on the interstate strip
The housewife and the car dealership
And when his second wife left him for a paper millionaire
He cried unashamedly right on the air
Every hero needs a villain and Germino gives us one in the “man in a pinstriped suit” pitching to the owner “you’ll increase your sales/if you only play the song list we send I the mail.” He’s promising bigger numbers and higher points. Of course, that’s bad news for our man Rex, as the pinstriped devil tells the station owner, “Your drive-time jock won’t get to do his thing.”
We know how this story goes. Radio stations are not in the music business, they’re in the business of delivering ears to advertisers. Like John Henry before him, Rex Bob won’t go down without a fight, even if it kills him. In this case, he quits the station that has abandoned him, locks himself in the control both “and played smash or trash till they cuffed him on the floor.” This does not end well for our man
Well they drug him into court and the judge said, “Rex
I’ve got to lock you up, for what I’m not sure yet
But your boss here says he thinks you’re wrapped too tight.
But, by the way thanks for playing ‘Moon River’ last night
And so it goes. We add more and more stations, each drawing fewer people. The disk jockeys try hard, but play form scripts that read the same no matter what city or what station. Connections are lost, shared music and shared texts vanish and where once we could tell where we were by what the local radio station played – New York different form New Orleans different form Austin different from L.A. – now we have satellite radio guaranteed to play the same thing no matter where we are. It’s as if we all lived in Holiday Inns amid amber waves of grain.
Of course, you can still find the cranky, ornery true believer disk jockey who will surprise you, help you see the connection between Muddy Waters, Merle Haggard, JayZand the Avett Brotehrs. People like Vin Scelsa in New York, now down to two hours a week on WFUV or Tom Reney in western Massachusetts. You may have your own favorite who stands like a lost beacon in a dark night.
Long live Rex Bob Lowenstein.
Mark Germino is a poet form North Carolina who dabbled in truck driving to pay the bills and has slung some awfully good music across the years. It can be hard to find his albums, but search if you can. His album Radar Town is an underappreciated great disk (find it on Amazon). In addition to “Rex Bob Lowenstein”, another favorite from that album is “The Exalted Rose”.