Monday, February 15, 2010

Yabba-dabba done

Bill Sweeney (a.k.a. the Moon Man) passed away on Saturday in St. John’s at the age of 72. Few characters were as colourful on Open Line as the Moon Man, although he had been banned from the airwaves in recent years.

The following column appeared in the Jan. 11th, 2008 Independent.

By RYAN CLEARY

It’s not every day I get a call from the Moon Man, but that’s what happens when he has a cosmic collision with Randy Simms, a.k.a. The Tongue (the Moon Man’s nickname, not mine). The only place to land is on the printed page.

The Moon Man’s moon boots are actually planted firmly on the ground here in Town, where he lives with his wife, Mrs. Moon Man, and the bare necessities — an a.m. radio to reel in the Open Lines, and a telephone to cast out.

The Moon Man spends his mornings, afternoons and nights panning the radio waves that flow from the mouth of VOCM valley for nuggets of news and assorted Newfoundland nuttery. The Moon Man was once such a nut himself, but not lately, not on Randy Simms’ morning offering.

“He won’t let me on,” cries the Moon Man, so crowned by George MacLaren, the late host of Night Line, a direct descendent of Ron Pumphrey, whose wacko gene died with his radio career.

The Moon Man’s story begins with an Open Line caller by the name of Bill Sweeney, a Townie by birth and agitator by nature, who called George’s show now and then in the dark of night to argue that man has never actually set boot on the moon.

The Apollo 11 missions, beginning in ’69, were a hoax, Sweeney proclaimed to all of Town and the far outport reaches. The Eagle never did touch lunar dirt and the only giant leap was not made so much for mankind, but for Hollywood, and its achievements in moving pictures.

George played along, like you would. The moon is as interesting to talk about as moratoria or political mopes, especially towards midnight when the sane radio owners are tucked in for the night.

After a few moons of such talk George opened his mouth and birthed the Moon Man. To the world beyond the Open Lines he’s Bill Sweeney, a retired longshoreman who says he spent 27 years on the St. John’s waterfront.

In radioland he’s the Moon Man.

“Randy Simms is going too far; he thinks he’s God himself,” says the Moon Man, who has a talent for off-the-wall remarks. The premier could call in, all sane and serious, only to be followed by the Moon Man taking a poke at Ed Byrne for his baby face and crib at the court.

“Come see me at my house. I’ll tell you a story that will make you famous.”

Tempting, but I passed, not wanting to spoil my image of the Moon Man as an aging but angry radio superhero living in a warm and pleasant neighbourhood near Snook, just up the road from Mr. and Mrs. Budgell, across the street from Marjorie, and, until a few years ago, next door to Sailor White, God bless his wrestled soul.

Here is what you won’t hear the Moon Man say on Randy’s show, because, he charges, he’s not allowed on:

“Talk shows are getting too brave … they’re even running the government … Randy tells people what they think before they speak, see … no freedom of speech … Open Line is the Voice of the Common Man, but it ain’t no more — it’s the Voice of Randy Simms … I call him The Tongue … the producer says he’ll call me back for me to go on the radio, but he never does. I’ll have a beard down to my knees before they do … Bill (Rowe) is the same way … Linda is the Radio Queen, I named her that … Ed Byrne, I call him Baby Face, after Baby Face Nelson. His face is like a baby’s bum, but yet he’s a (alleged) crook … they don’t like hearing stuff like that from a caller like me … they call Andy Wells His Worship, sure there’s no one to worship but God himself … I’m a songwriter, I wrote songs for Dick Nolan … Randy Simms thinks he’s got the power; he’s too big for his britches … like a balloon, keep blowing air into it and it will eventually burst … everyone has rights … everyone has to be from somewhere, even if it’s the moon.”

That doesn’t guarantee him airtime on Open Line, which is too bad. Colour is so sorely lacking in our grey universe.

The call-in shows can’t take themselves too seriously, not when the identities and agendas of so many callers are unknown to Joe and Jane listener. Who knows who’s pushing what when they take to the radio waves? Politicians and their servants are certainly pushing theirs every chance they get.

Randy Simms and his producers are not the sun around which the Newfoundland and Labrador Earth and Moon Man revolve, nor should they be. Neither is Bill or the Radio Queen herself. They are but humble traffic controllers on the Open Line highway of life. Just because you read it in a newspaper doesn’t make it so. The same holds true — but moreso — for nameless, faceless radio. Too many listeners around here believe otherwise.

Open Lines in these rocky, watery parts of the universe have the power to influence and control, a power that, like any other, can be abused. That’s not to say it is, but freedom of speech must be prized above all else.

“Keep your sail up and face to the wind,” the Moon Man says to wrap up our conversation, followed by the words he stole from Fred Flintstone, “Yabba-dabba do.”

What exactly does that mean?

“It means everything is backwards,” says the Moon Man. “Any caller who’s more popular than the host is not allowed on.”

Then he hung up and went back to life as Bill Sweeney, the common Newfoundlander.

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