Tuesday, July 20, 2010

My Personal Super Hero, Andyman

America lost one of its best radio personalities, rock'n'roll lost one of its best champions, and most heartbreakingly, I lost one of my closest friends this past Saturday evening: DJ and music director for CD101-FM John Andrew Davis, known to close friends and music lovers alike as simply "Andyman," died from drowning during a family vacation. It's an exceptional hurt for me, because July 17 is my birthday, and this is the second time that I have lost a close friend on the heels of that date: previously, New Beverly Cinema operator Sherman Torgan died of a sudden heart attack on July 18th, 2007.

Andyman was large in almost every sense of the adjective. First off and unavoidably, he was so in the physical sense, standing 6 foot 3, and at his heaviest, weighing nearly 400 lbs; bariatric surgery in 2005 brought him down to a comparably healthier 200. But what loomed larger than that was his personality - his smile, his voice, his gregarious manner, and his enthusiasm for great music. It is so difficult to avoid sounding like I'm making a stereotypical fat joke, but it is absolute truth to say that he was the gravitational force when he entered a room, because everyone wanted to be around him, he was a commanding presence. From his unassuming debut at the station's inception in 1991, he quickly rose to become the prominent rock'n'roll tastemaker in Columbus, not only through his promotion to music director in 1998, but through his outreach to local artists, his support of local entrepreneurs and fledgeling hockey and soccer teams, and his annual 48-hour Christmas charity event, the "Andymanathon." The latter institution, where song requests would be "bought" for donations, and numerous bands and occasional touring celebrities like Rob Schneider and Drew Carey would perform live on air as Andy staved off sleep, would raise tens of thousands of dollars for local children's charities. Later on, he even opened up his own watering hole, Andyman's Treehouse, where local musicians would play and drink, and one of the best - Quinn Fallon of the X-Rated Cowboys - even tended bar.

CD101, Andy's radio station, had a heavy burden when they started in 1991 as Columbus' first "alternative" station. Without any major conglomerate behind them, a signal that could prove troublesome in certain neighborhoods, and legions of record store cynics ready to engage in preemptive schadenfreude, it was a struggle to grab and keep an audience in a market dominated by tired familiar formatting. But they did it. While never scoring huge numbers, CD101 became a trusted brand not just locally, but nationally, both for its playlist and its continued independence; a recent TV ad campaign gleefully reminded viewers they were not affiliated with Clear Channel. And Andyman, in his position as music director, deserves the lion's share of that accomplishment. Canny but never cynical in setting the station's playlist, his musical integrity was flawless - he may not have liked every single band that the station helped break, but you instinctively knew he never had to hold his nose while spinning tracks or make a false compliment to an artist. He loved the music as much as you did, and everyone from performer to listener respected that optimism and hope. Living in what is sadly one of the single worst radio markets in America, I can say with full honesty (barring my admitted personal interest) that CD101 is the single best radio station I've listened to in my life.

Andyman began his career at roughly the same time that I graduated from Ohio State, stepped into a longtime position at the venerable Drexel Theatres, and pursued my fortune in stand-up and improv comedy. So our paths crossed early and very frequently, both professionally, such as when the Drexel would promote films at the station, and personally, since we had many of the same friends. And I cannot remember any sort of sniffing-each-other-out preamble to our friendship; it's as if we started out bear-hugging each other and kept that affection going for years thereafter. I listened to his on-air shifts, he came to my performances and my workplace. For a couple years, we even lived walking distance from each other, both of us sharing homes with other comics. Visits to the studio during his Christmas marathon. A surreptitious screening of a print of PULP FICTION a month before the movie opened. Dozens of late-night poker games and last-call bar visits. The cold spring months of 1996, when I found myself among other local comics and musicians toiling on a low-budget exploitation film called BOTTOM FEEDERS, and Andy volunteered to do a short scene where he wound up on the wrong end of a petty robbery. My life was not always a laugh-filled romp during my Columbus years, but Andy was one of the fellas who stood by me and gave me support to go forward. And much like that song that he played very often (yet somehow never became the monster hit that it should have been), I could stand there in that time and say with certainty, "Despite my fighting bitter tears / These are the very best years."

Once I left Cowtown for L.A., our contact had been somewhat more sporadic. But Andy never stopped supporting me. During my 13 minutes of fame with "BEAT THE GEEKS," he eagerly offered me the chance to tape promo bumpers for the station, a dream come true for me. In turn, I would listen to the internet feed of the station on multiple occasions, and would make long distance calls to the station during the Christmas Andymanathon to pledge money and make obscure song requests, and I would admonish everyone else in my social networking radius to do the same. We'd had a lapse in conversation for some time that had just recently been rectified thanks to Facebook, and I was looking foward to visiting with him and his family later this summer when the news came on Sunday night.

And in my departure from Columbus, many things have changed. Andy sold the Treehouse to other owners in 2008. This year, CD101 agreed to sell their frequency to Ohio State and will become CD102.5 instead. With the loss of Andy and his magic manner, it effectively means the end of an era. I'm hardly suggesting that it's all over for alternative music lovers in the city - I have full confidence that CD102.5 will proudly carry on the tradition that started almost two decades ago in a little building on the south side of town. I'm only observing that with a new dial position and a new public face in the music library, and the absence of another major signpost of his influence, it will be a different environment for the new generation that embraces the station and their music.

As such, in the tradition of the sports teams we loved to watch on poker nights, out of respect to Andy's legacy, I am retiring these T-shirts from wear, the better to have an intact artifact of that mixtape Camelot we enjoyed for so long.

It's a challenge to find the right song to send out in dedication to a voracious music lover like Andyman. After all, he exposed me and many to so many great songs and performers, there are too many to choose from to suggest who he was and what he meant to me and how I feel about his sudden departure. But as I spin the '45's in my head, I think this song is the most appropriate. Brad, and their lead singer Shawn Smith, were particular favorites of Andy's, and they performed a beautifully spare rendition of their one major single in the station's "Big Room" that was played very often instead of the album version. That recording is unfortunately not available to me, but this recent live rendition by Smith is a reasonable approximation...

Who knows where the storm will take us
Who knows when the pain will break us
When will all the G's be given
Another chance to live in freedom

So gather around
And see what the day brings
And see what makes you laugh
And see what makes you sing
And never, nevermind
The thing that people say
You'll never go away
You'll never go away

John Andrew Davis – RIP AndyMan – We’ll Miss You

First photo courtesy of Eric Broz; second photo courtesy of Gator Dave West. These photos are the property of their respective photographers and are used in the hope of forgiveness in lieu of permission.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for writing & sharing that, Marc. We'll be at the Andyman Public Remembrance tomorrow at the LC to help celebrate his life. This was so unfairly sudden & I've had Molly & the boys in my prayers all week. I had just seen him the weekend before (he was emcee at a church festival) & am really glad I took some time to hang out & chat with him.

    So, thanks...

    - Julie Kurzenberger