Keep Your Feet On The Ground, But Keep Reaching For The Stars

Since his well-known American Top 40 Show was played in my area on Sabbath mornings, I did not become familiar with Casey Kasem first through that venue. Rather, it was through his smaller American Top 20 devoted to Hot AC that played on Sunday evenings in Tampa, Florida on one of our Clear Channel stations where I listened to his easy and conversational deejaying, which probably influenced my own personal style when I too became a DJ [1] as a college student. Though our politics and religious beliefs differed widely (he was a Lebanese Druze who was an influential figure in the Democratic Party in Michigan) [2], he struck me as a decent enough fellow in the context of being a personable radio host who focused more on the classy side of music as opposed to those deejays who prefer to traffic in sleaze.

Although I did not know him personally, I imagine that Mr. Kasem had a life history that influenced his attitude and practices. He was born in 1932 (around the same time as my maternal grandparents) to immigrant parents who worked as grocers. This is a petit bourgeoisie sort of background, and given Kasem’s work as a radio deejay and even as an occasional actor (most notably his voice acting work for Shaggy on Scooby Doo), one can sense that Kasem was probably somewhat ambitious to rise above the modest but honorable status of his birth and also that he viewed the celebrities of the movie (and music) world as peers, whom he appeared to treat with a great deal of respect. He was also well-known for his sign-off phrase, “Keep your feet on the ground, but keep reaching for the stars,” which as an inspirational quotation values the twin qualities of realism as well as idealism.

Despite the immense success of his life, Kasem had a tragic end that demonstrates the more sordid side of our culture of celebrity. As he slipped away in the grip of Lewy body dementia, a disease which robbed him of the ability to speak, his family was torn apart by public hostility between his second wife (an actress he had married in 1980) and the children from his first wife [3]. Included in this was the prevention of contact between Kasem and his older children, lies by his second wife about where he was located (she said he was “out of the country,” when he was in Washington state, which is not really all that far away. There were disputes about his end-of-life care, ending in his body rejecting artificial sustenance and leading to his death.

Ironically enough, for a man whose approach to radio was dignified and restrained, and also gracious and friendly, his own family life seems anything but that. It is hard to know what people are dealing with behind the friendly radio or on-screen persona that is one’s face to the outside world. Clearly, a family does not break apart under the stress of impending death without a lot of dysfunction going on before then. The fact that for days I would read a fresh story coming from professional radio publications (given my own professional interest in the field) about the sad conflicts of his family and the drama of his final days, clearly a lot of other people were concerned about the lack of dignity this great man suffered because of the lack of honor of his family.

Nevertheless, despite this end, it seems likely that Kasem will be remembered far more for this massive achievements of his life than of the horrible way he died. His decades of classy work in radio and television (along with the occasional bit part in a movie) and the friendship of those with whom he worked for a long time ought to be remembered long after the sordid details of family drama are forgotten. Here was a man who encouraged others to dream big as he did, seeking to use his success to encourage others to do the same. To be sure, his life was used a lot for political causes, not least the cause of seeking to legitimize the presence of Arab-Americans as peaceful and honorable citizens of the United States despite our fierce struggles with terrorists from that same part of the world, as well as the horrible example of “education” in that part of the world that seeks to propagandize children against Israel and the United States.

How are we to take the advice of Mr. Kasem, which he appears to have lived by? As beings we tend to be halfway between the gutter and the stars (sometimes closer to one than the other). It is important to keep our feet on the ground in terms of being rooted in truth, in factual reality, in what can be achieved based on one’s circumstances (which may be less than we hope but often far more than we tend to fear). We need to be rooted in history, in the chain of connections that ties us to our forefathers as well as to the world we wish to leave behind to those who survive after us. Yet if we are to live a life worth living and leave a world worth living in, we cannot be merely concerned with the grubby matters of material existence. We have to reach forward to something beyond ourselves, to seek after the meaning and purpose that our lives possess, to reach towards the heavens, even if they remain far beyond our grasp, and to call upon such help and assistance from God as we are able to obtain, asking in faith. No matter what else may happen to us, we may at least find such a life worth living.

[1] See, for example:


[3] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in History, Music History, Musings and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Keep Your Feet On The Ground, But Keep Reaching For The Stars

  1. Pingback: The World Is Not Enough | Edge Induced Cohesion

  2. Pingback: Book Review: Created For Influence | Edge Induced Cohesion

  3. Pingback: On The Revisionist History Of Classic Rock | Edge Induced Cohesion

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