Dads, Dames, Demons, and A Dwarf: My Trip Down Freedom Road by Mancow Muller with John Calkins

While I fought ideas, my dad fought to sharpen my wits. He forced me to define my ideas, to see that someone who wasn’t stupid could hold a radically different view, to see that I could never convince some people, to see connections I’d never considered.
— Mancow Muller

Mancow Muller, a nationally syndicated radio personality from Chicago, Illinois, spends a considerable amount of time on his late father in his brazen memoir, Dads, Dames, Demons, and A Dwarf: My Trip Down Freedom Road. Following the traumatic death of his father, Mancow takes time off from his popular radio program and travels to Europe, where, along with his sidekick the Dwarf, he relieves his confusion and depression through hedonistic exploits that would make Caligula proud.

While traveling around Germany, he seeks out all the places that his father visited when he made a trip to Berlin late in his life. But with the absence of his dad — who succumbed to cancer a few days prior to Mancow’s trip — Germany isn’t as great as the stories he grew up hearing from the old man.

Though the memoir denigrates from poignant reminiscences of his father to drug-induced stories involving prostitutes and freaks to self-aggrandizing look-how-great-my-achievements-are type monologues, one can undoubtedly sense a genuine lust for life that lacks in most ‘shock jocks’ radio shows and biographies. Unlike Howard Stern’s 1997 bestseller Private Parts (Pocket Books), which detailed Stern’s tenacity in achieving his goal as the “King of all Media,” Dads, Dames, Demons, and A Dwarf enunciates Mancow’s equal ambition to live and succeed.

His hyper kinetic approach to radio has been deemed revolutionary by some, while others contend that the breakneck speed of “Mancow’s Morning Madhouse,” as the show is known, prevents it from having any real substance.

His show, which is syndicated daily, epitomizes the pop culture attention span inherent in the last two generations thanks to MTV and ‘hip’ television and radio programming. Coming off the tail end of the latest fashionable pop song, Mancow will blast through fifteen topics, a song parody and a political discussion in the matter of minutes. His hyperactive, acerbic speech — at times he yells for no apparent reason other than the fact that he’s had one too many cups of cappuccino — injects a feeling of a lust for life in an otherwise shallow radio show.

Although he’s well known among his fans for his political diatribes — his Clinton bashing is legendary — his program ultimately has about as much substance as a Wall Street Journal Op/Ed written by Li’l Bow Wow. His anti-government, anti-big business speeches, although well meaning, come off as pop culture editorializing that no one, save those who place The Matrix trilogy on a philosophical level that rivals Schopenhauer, will find mind-blowing. Sayings such as “I’m not like everybody else! I’m not another brick for your wall!” are so apparent in Mancow’s vernacular that they detract from the relevant and important things that he does have to say.

The prose is similar to his on-air personality: hyper, funny, witty, and ultimately pointless. The shining light of this book is the reminiscence of his father. The times he shares with his dad are touching, sweet, and even poignant. He tells of a time when his dad purchased his old DJ equipment, booked a gig where he’d spin records, and then suckered his son into jockeying Glen Miller records under the guise of being too nervous to do it himself.

Fathers are the unsung heroes of a person’s psychological development. Our fathers help to shape our tastes, personality, opinions, sense of humor, and our ability to relate to other people. Those fortunate enough to have a caring, enthusiastic father on their side can grow up to chase their dreams with a violent tenacity. The more care a father gives you, the more powerful his influence becomes. And when all else fails, he’ll be the first person to help you back to your feet.

By exploring the power of a father’s impact on his son’s life, Mancow states that “we become our fathers. Sometimes that first look in the mirror while half asleep becomes a reunion.” Only those souls who have reluctantly become members of what Cow calls “the dead dads club” can know the confusion and sorrow felt in the wake of a father’s death. For those fortunate enough to still have their fathers with them, this book should be a powerful reminder that dads don’t live forever, and that everyone will face the confusion of living life without the guidance of the man who helped to shape their personalities.

Controversial shock jocks — from the Payola scandal of the ’50s to controversial radio host Alan Berg, who was gunned down in the driveway of his home, to Howard Stern, who constantly battles the Federal Trade Commission — are nothing new. Although he may not always succeed in waking people up politically or philosophically, what sets Mancow Muller apart from the rest of the pack is that he does care about creating a radio show — and a memoir — that is worth more than its mere entertainment value.

It’s interesting to note that the intensity of Mancow’s radio show has steadily declined following the death of his father, who was his number one fan, listening to the program every morning from his home in Missouri. Although Mancow’s popularity continues to rise, the morning show seems to lack the direction it had when his father was alive, which gives credence to Sigmund Freud’s famous quote: “I cannot think of any need in childhood as strong as the need for a father’s protection.”

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