So that story of the Smiths fan who held a station here hostage in the '80s? It's true...well, sort of

Categories: Untold Stories

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Update, 2/25/13: The Smiths '80s radio station takeover: Here's what really happened according to the original offense report filed by the Lakewood Police Department, plus letters written by the suspect to his parents prior to the incident.

By Dave Herrera and Josiah Hesse

Well, so, we finally got to the bottom of this whole alleged Smiths radio ambush we told you about earlier this week that supposedly took place over two decades ago. We set out on a mission to once and for all debunk this long held myth involving a deranged gunman who apparently forced a local radio station to play four hours of continuous music by the Smiths. Turns out, the story is actually true -- well, sort of. It happened, alright, just not the way everybody thinks it did. And from everybody we've spoken with, nobody quite seems to agree on what exactly happened that day or how it went down.

See also:
- The Smiths '80s radio station takeover: What happened according to the police report
- SmithsBusters: Did a Smiths fan really hold a Denver radio station hostage in 1987?
- Morrissey's quiet desparation and romantic worldview continues to connect and inspire fans

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To Air is human...to research is divine:

As you might recall, the incident first came to our attention through Mark Simpson's biography, Saint Morrissey: A Portrait of This Charming Man by an Alarming Fan. In his book, Simpson -- presumably based on a 1994 Details interview with Morrissey by William Shaw -- details an incident in which a fan supposedly stages a hostile takeover of a radio station and demands the station air songs by the Smiths. The story, which is long rumored to have inspired the plot line for Airheads, the 1994 movie starring Brendan Fraser, Steve Buscemi and Adam Sandler, in which they embark on a similar scheme, reportedly forms the basis for a forthcoming film titled Shoplifters of the World.

Problem is, we couldn't find anybody, locally or otherwise, to either confirm or deny the validity of the story, which, frankly, to us, seemed a bit too fantastical to be true -- mostly because we lived here at the time (well, one of us anyway), and we have absolutely zero recollection of something like this happening. I mean, surely we would've heard something about this, right? You'd think. Considering how dramatically the news media coverage has changed since then, though, it's easy to see how something like this would have escaped our notice now, what with the steady stream of information disseminated via social media, coupled the non-stop churn of the 24/7 news cycle. If something like this were to happen today, it would make headlines, but only for a short period of time before ultimately being pushed out of prominence by another barrage of stories.

But back then, this had to be major news, right? You'd think. Not so much, it seems. The whole thing had us mystified. So we decided to summon our vast investigative powers. I mean, who doesn't love a little myth busting -- or Smiths busting, in this case. So in our first attempts to begin debunking the myth, we reached out to both Simpson and a source working on the film, and while, separately, they each expressed that they firmly believe the tale to be true, neither could cite a credible source. In due diligence, we also spoke with Gil Asakawa, Westword's music editor at the time, and he didn't recall anything like this ever happening (although we were later able to dig up his write-up in our archives -- more on that in a minute).

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A few days later, thanks to a tip from our pal and fellow Morrissey aficionado, Tyler Jacobson of Lipgloss and Mile High Soul Club fame -- who swore he remembered seeing a news clipping that had been tucked into a "Everyday is Like Sunday" cassette single a friend had loaned him in the late '80s -- we finally tracked down the original write-up in the Denver Post, confirming that the is incident indeed took place. The Post's account, however, differs from how it was later referenced, first by Details in 1994 and later in Mark's Simpson's 2005 biography.


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9 comments
Will_
Will_

It doesn't surprise me that the media coverage from the time was spotty, the mainstream media was getting burned from reporting on anything with an alternative bent, of which they knew nothing about.

Case in point: Around the same time as the events in this story, one of the TV stations did a report proclaiming that there was a religious war brewing in Denver, and all of it based upon the fact that Christian Death was being sprayed on walls all over town. They quickly buried the story once someone alerted them that Christian Death was a band's name.

myvillainy
myvillainy

Nice piece of reporting.  Still, it would be nice to acknowledge that you researched a "myth" that was clearly and accurately reported on by Simon Goddard.  The color you've added is nice, but there is nothing here that adds to the basic facts as reported in "Mozipedia".  It's slightly annoying this story was brought up as an urban legend when in reality it was already adequately documented in an accessible, easy to find, mainstream resource. 

myvillainy
myvillainy

@Will_

Looked at from another perspective, the anecdote about Christian Death and the story about the (non-)siege at KRXY both illustrate the state of the underground in the late 80s. Fans of "alternative music" were convinced the media ignored anything that wasn't part of the mainstream and adopted various approaches to publicizing their favorite artists. The Internet today is much fairer to artists of all stripes, whether they're popular or obscure. Yesterday's would-be criminal would, today, simply start a Tumblr. And yet only lightning-in-a-bottle web memes generate any significant publicity. Everything else vanishes into the cybersoup. The irony is that Christian Death and The Smiths have a higher profile than ever before-- no spray-paint or rifles necessary-- but it's nearly impossible for them to capture anyone's sustained attention. The guy in '87 wanted to hold up a radio station because radio stations were bottlenecks, so to speak. Now the bottlenecks are gone. Everything is networked, open, free, and accessible. Leaving the criminality out of it, which situation is really better for musicians and fans? In a small but interesting way, revisiting these stories presents a revealing contrast between old and new media. As a case in point, the plot of "Airheads" is totally anachronistic now-- it's like watching a movie about a Civil War stagecoach robbery.

dave.herrera
dave.herrera moderator editor

@myvillainyFirst of all, thanks for reading and for taking the time out of your day to offer feedback. I do appreciate it. So, yeah, thanks.

Okay, regarding Mozipedia: We honestly weren't aware of the passage in the book -- or even the book itself -- until you mentioned it in your previous comment, which inspired us to seek out a copy at our local bookstore, to no avail. We couldn't actually find a copy in stock. 

Nonetheless, while props are clearly due to you for being an astute Morrissey/Smiths fan and more so to Mr Goddard, who, from the sounds of it, indeed accurately reported the incident, seemingly adding even more insight it seems than the initial coverage did. It may be "an accessible, easy to find, mainstream resource," as you put it, again, we didn't even know to look for it until you pointed it out.

All that said, for what it's worth, though, I should note that had we had known about this section in Goddard's book, we probably wouldn't have been as driven to do as much reporting as we have, since it would ultimately seemed like a closed file.

As for the urban myth and your pronounced annoyance: You have to know that as far as we were concerned, this was very much an urban myth. As, we initially noted, we couldn't get anybody we spoke with -- until after we found the original article and tracked down the former station employees -- to verify that A), this event actually happened, or B) to cite a credible source. So we were merely operating on the premise that it was an urban myth until proven otherwise. Heck, we lived here at the and the time and have no recollection of this happening.

Besides that, your assessment of both pieces is pretty spot on, actually. We knew it we didn't have the definitive story. As we've been researching and gathering information, we were simply sharing what we've found, and as you've rightfully observed: the additional quotes from the station employees really does just add color.

But the story doesn't end here. Rest assured, even since we posted this this morning, in the course of our reporting, we have come across some new information that's hasn't been reported that will definitely advance the story. This is a fascinating story, and there's more to it. All of what we've found since is forthcoming, so stay tuned.

In the meantime, thanks again for weighing in. Hope you return for the rest of the story.

-- dh

dave.herrera
dave.herrera moderator editor

@myvillainy @Will_ "...watching a movie about a Civil War stagecoach robbery" -- what an absolutely great parallel to draw. Totally true.

myvillainy
myvillainy

@dave.herrera @myvillainy 

Fair enough, thanks for the reply.  I'm just trying to uphold Smiths' fans well-earned reputation as cranky, easily-provoked sourpusses.  I'm sure I succeeded.  Carry on.

dave.herrera
dave.herrera moderator editor

@myvillainy  Not at all. I really do appreciate the feedback and the dialogue. Cheers!

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