Interview: Darrin Carlson

Darrin Carlson, known as DC to his listeners at B97/B93 classic rock radio, is a legend in Hilo on the big island of Hawai‘i. He started out in radio in 1983 in Loveland, Colorado. After working at a few stations there, he moved to work at a station in Hilo, planning to stay “for a year.” That was thirty-one years ago and he’s still there, the all important morning man.

ALSTRAND: Instead of recording this interview, let’s just do it in
Facebook. We both type fast so it works.

CARLSON: I took typing in 9th grade so I could be around more girls. LOL And I can almost type as fast as I think.

ALSTRAND: Me too! Typing class in high school! Hippie nerd.

CARLSON: Plus our typing teacher was stunning.

ALSTRAND: You got me with that. Mine was a box headed guy with a crew cut. Let’s move on. There aren’t many people who know The Beatles’ story and music as much as you. I learned early on I may have met my match. You don’t gain that much knowledge without some sort of interest. What are your early memories of The Beatles? Was it a gob smack moment? Or a slow seeping thing like The Blob from that 1950s movie?

CARLSON: The funny thing is, it seemed like The Beatles permeated my existence growing up. It wasn’t that I was so much a fan but just aware that they existed. Kind of like the elements, you just know they’re there. They’ve always been there. Air, water, The Beatles. I grew up in the 70s and I watched a lot of TV, a lot of variety shows and people were always talking about The Beatles. “Oh, The Beatles this, Beatles that, I was just listening to The Beatles yesterday” . . . so I always knew they were around. Funny thing, I became aware of Paul McCartney because he was all over the radio. And John Lennon was the one with the glasses. And there was some guy Harrison and a Ringo. But Paul was definitely on my radar even before my Beatle discovery really began.

ALSTRAND: It makes sense that their solo careers would permeate their former ones. I’ve often wondered what it would be like to know of John and Paul separately and then come to realize they’d been
together.

CARLSON: Such a testament to their talent. Their solo careers after The Beatles were still stellar.

ALSTRAND: Talk about some songs—or albums—that really hit you. Maybe you remember hearing them for the first time . . . or maybe they grew on you (The Blob!)

CARLSON: Christmas of 1978 my grandma bought me the soundtrack to the movie Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band . . . you know, the one with the Bee Gees and Peter Frampton in it that everyone loves to hate? I freaking loved it. First of all, I was a big Bee Gees fan in 1978 as everyone was. Still am. So my grandma figured “well, since he likes the Bee Gees he’ll probably like this” and bought it. My neighbor Tim Shroeder had the novelization book, there was an actual Sgt Pepper movie book and it had all the lyrics. So I borrowed it and started listening while reading the lyrics.

And pretty soon you get to the point where you go . . . “what does the original sound like?”

I’ll never forget hearing The Beatles version of “Come Together” when I had been used to the Aerosmith version. But that next summer (1979) I got my first job and with my first paycheck bought Abbey Road. I remember so clearly the moment when “Something” played. I had this Eureka moment where “I KNOW THIS SONG!” “Something” was not on the Pepper soundtrack but I remember hearing it when I was really young.

That distinctive guitar at the very beginning. I had heard that when I was like 5 years old when my older cousins played their albums.

I think most Beatle fans that weren’t born before 1964 have their “Come to Jesus” moment with The Beatles. You make this discovery and suddenly you’re obsessed with them. That’s when you find out it was all around you the whole time. You start going “oh, The Beatles did that song?” I thought “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” was an Elton John song. I didn’t know at the time it was a cover.

ALSTRAND: As a disk jockey you play Beatles for us. Are there songs where you think “the listeners are gonna love this one?”

CARLSON: Funny thing: of all Beatles songs I would say “Twist and Shout” gets the most requests. Which is ironic since it’s not even a Beatles original.

But the hardcore fans will request more obscure stuff like “Tomorrow Never Knows” (which I love) and certain picks from the White Album. I’ll know right away that they’re more than just regular listeners. I was surprised the other day when I got a request for “Hey Bulldog” and “Savoy Truffle.” But “Twist and Shout” . . . they made that their own and people love it. Oh, and “Birthday” when someone is having a birthday, of course.

ALSTRAND: Of course . . . on and on with that one. I wish someone would write a new birthday song, you?

CARLSON: I agree! I actually, and I hate to say this, roll my eyes when someone requests “Birthday.” I’m like really??

ALSTRAND: Noooo kidding. It’s interesting to know what a disk jockey thinks behind the scenes of these requests.

CARLSON: I think you get into radio because you’re a fan of the music in the first place. At least that’s how it was for me. And I liked entertaining personalities too. Bit of a radio geek.

ALSTRAND: I know when we were doing “Did You Hear That?” (a short feature we did together on his show), I selected and talked about a lot of Beatles songs . . . and you were right there with me on just about every one of them. Knew what was going on.

CARLSON: Twin Beatle brothers, man!!!

ALSTRAND: Bro! Here’s a question: if you were interviewing Darrin Carlson about The Beatles, what questions would you ask?

CARLSON: I would probably ask “Do you think The Beatles will be remembered 100 years from now?”

I totally do, by the way. New generations keep discovering them. They’ll be seen as 20th century Mozarts. No question.

Another question is “do you think The Beatles are relevant in today’s day and age?”

Again, I would agree because in many ways they’re “evergreen.” Timeless. Sure, songs like “Ballad of John and Yoko” mention specific elements of the late 60’s and it wasn’t necessarily a love song but it will feed into The Beatles myth.

Last “why do you like The Beatles so much?”

Not sure how I’d answer that but my best guess or rationale for being so gaga over these guys since I was 14 years old is that, well, they just resonate with me. They always have, and I’m naturally drawn to songs that have strong melodic elements. So I think The Beatles are somehow inscribed in my DNA.

ALSTRAND: It’s the “somehow” that seems to be elusive to all of us. But do you have any guess why they’re still relevant, generation after generation?

CARLSON: It’s so hard to break down because I think sooo many elements feed into what makes The Beatles great. There was an extraordinary sequence of timing. They had this staggering talent, they worked extremely hard to hone their craft (Hamburg), and they came around to the U.S. right at that sweet spot when our country was in malaise after the JFK assassination.

The planets were in perfect alignment for these guys. And their music was GREAT! But even with that I’m not sure I could answer that question. That’s like trying to nail a poached egg to a tree.

ALSTRAND: You can’t do that?

CARLSON: I’ve tried. It’s a huge mess. And the neighbors think you’re insane.