Three new blogs from The Lion:
I sat with all of them...argued, sometimes at high volumes, with them. I appreciated their intelligence and most were pretty funny. Pete Wilson, Duane Garrett, Lee Rodgers and now Gene Burns, provided thousands of hours of entertainment, analysis, discussion and a forum for the Bay Area unmatched by any other radio station or area of the nation. I miss them, and the passing of Gene adds to this feeling of loss.
Gene was the living definition of a "gentle-man". He was courtly and courteous as well as funny and acerbic. I should have resented him, or been jealous, since his tenure at KGO involved him getting every plum assignment I desired. He was the morning host while Ronn Owens wasn't around and when Jim Eason left, he was given his slot. He was able to be so successful because he had the perfect radio voice, temperment and an ability to inform while he entertained. He was the consummate professional.
Long before he was a talk show host, Gene was a newsman. He was a reporter and news director at a number of stations in New York and he understood how news was collected and reported. It would give him a perspective on the news he would use for the rest of his talk career. Gene owned Boston. He also loved Boston. He took a risk by syndicating his show and eventually got an offer from KGO he could not refuse. We were the lucky recipients of his opportunity. Oh, he killed here too.
Gene had the best racket in radio. He hosted a weekday talk show just so he could do what he truly loved the most, a weekly food and wine show on Saturdays. Gene was the real deal. He was a good friend of Julia Child. He was a friend with the top chefs and vintners in the world. He was a James Beard award judge. He had forgotten more about cooking and wine than most "experts" knew. The Saturday show was his pride and joy. It was also a great deal for him. KGO paid Gene to eat out. He would go out and try new restaurants and report and review them. He publicized the incredible wineries of Northern California, many small and unheralded at the time, that soon would be household names.
Going out to dinner with Gene was a treat. Unfortunately, I didn't get too many opportunities. He was a raconteur and could wax on about histories and characters of both the food and wine being served. He introduced me to Pecorino cheese and Pinot Grigio wine, and I had my first sip of Grappa because of Gene.
Gene was proud to be a libertarian. He didn't like the Democrats or the Republicans. He ran for president on the Libertarian ticket and his politics were about getting government out of our lives and leaving us free to live as we wished. Social and political issues were all filtered through this perspective. At a time of heightened nationalism and uber-patriotism, after September 11th especially, Gene was not afraid to take a stand in opposition to the Bush administration's actions in Afghanistan and Iraq. He clearly articulated the false logic, failed arguments and tragic consequences these policies caused. He was not a bleeding-heart liberal. He was a thoughtful critic of a government out of control.
One of my favorite memories of Gene was when we all gathered for an All-star remote from the Flint Center in Cupertino. The place held about 1,500 people and it was filled to the gunwales with hundreds still waiting outside. Tensions were running high as the debate would be about the U.S. policy in Iraq. Five people with very strong personalities, big egos and loud voices sat on the stage. As the rhetoric and heat increased, time after time, Gene's comments were trenchant, but always tinged with some humor or a quick line. He was at his best. It was so much fun.
With Gene working 7-10 pm and me working 10p-1am, we saw each other allot. He was always kind and open and funny and we exchanged ideas about topics and the news of the day. It was also clear Gene had health issues nearly his entire time at KGO. I don't know how he maintained the joy for life he had given the various parts of his body which failed him over the years. A fall, in the stateroom of a cruise ship, almost killed him and I don't think he was ever fully recovered. I also think the summary and compassionless way he was let go from KGO hurt him a great deal.
I will always remember a number of disparate things about Gene. I will remember his Christmas cookie drive where listeners sent in their favorite cookie recipes and he picked the best and showcased them on KGO. The cookies were so good. I will remember Gene in heated, intense arguments with a caller only to end the call not with an attack on the caller's ancestry or intellect, but rather with Gene summarizing the encounter by saying, "...that's why God invented chocolate and vanilla ice-cream." When Gene did criticize a public figure or someone in the news, he would mention their lack of "testicular fortitude" which was one of the worst pronouncements he could hurl. It's a phrase I love to this day. It is so elegant and genteel a way to talk about someone lacking the balls to do the right thing.
I had hoped to re-connect with Gene when I came home. I would loved to have discussed this experience...share what I have learned...describe the scandal which this system is and the billions of tax dollars wasted each year on this prison/industrial complex. He would have understood and it would have been a fascinating exchange. I also thought how amazing, after years of food which has no taste, is of the lowest quality with incompetent preparation, it would be to go out with Gene to the restaurant of his choice and luxuriate in the food choices he would have made. Alas, this is not meant to be.
There is no higher compliment, than to refer to someone as a "gentle-man". Gene Burns left this world better than he found it. He fought for his principals, but never lost sight of the humanity of the people he opposed or disagreed with. His class and intellect and heart will be sorely missed.
Eternal rest grant unto him oh Lord and let perpetual light shine upon him. May he rest in peace. May his soul and the souls of the faithful departed rest in peace.