Glenn Beck: A “Real” American Life

I’m not sure which is more controversial – to dub Glenn Beck “evil,” or to claim he’s a “genius,” but few other tag lines seem to fit him as well as this. To many, Beck has become symbolic of all the worst elements of this country: our polarized political spectrum, our corrupt, opinionated media, not to mention the latent racism and fanaticism that still lingers in parts of America. Most of all, Beck epitomizes the glory-seeking American who will do and say anything to see his name in lights and his bank account grow.

Yet, long before he became an ultra conservative mouth piece on Fox News and public enemy #1 for Democrats, Beck lived a liberal life in a hippie town, with dreams of becoming a radio DJ… or a magician.

Beck grew up in Mount Vernon, Washington, the son of a baker. When he was just 8 years old, Beck’s mother bought him a collection of radio programs from the 1930’s called The Golden Years of Radio, which included War of the Worlds by Orson Welles. (It’s fitting that this should be a touch stone for his career, since Welles’ original broadcast inspired the kind of widespread panic in America that Beck has been building up for the last year.) According to a profile of Beck in Salon, this gift single-handedly inspired him to work in radio. “[I was] mesmerized by the magic radio was, how it could create pictures in my head,” he wrote of this epiphany in his life.

For the next few years, Beck rehearsed his DJ routine in his bedroom after school, carefully absorbing and copying the professional radio hosts on air at the time. “My voice hadn’t even changed,” he said, according to Slate. “I was sounding out words.” Still, his early devotion paid off and when he was only 13, he won a contest to be a guest DJ on KBRC, a local radio station.

In his younger years, Beck demonstrated a love for theatrics that arguably has stuck with him throughout his career. In middle school, he began putting on magic shows. According to Salon, he performed in a tux next to a simple sign that read, “Now Showing the Magician Glenn Beck.” Later, he signed up for a drama class in high school. But the young Beck had plenty of real drama in his life as well. His parents divorced and when he was just 15, his mother, who had suffered from depression, committed suicide by drowning herself. Soon, Beck was immersing himself in rock music and drugs, smoking pot and binging on alcohol for the next 15 years. Still, Beck’s star was on the rise.

He scored a job hosting shows at odd-hours for a small radio station. He was only 18 and still in high school, but he was so good at his craft that his employers just assumed he was older. By the next year, he was hosting a morning show in Texas, making him the youngest morning show host in the nation at the time. According to the Daily Beast, Beck “was a one-man Morning Zoo, with on-air skits and imaginary guests like a clueless Muppet-voiced foil Beck named ‘Clydie Clyde,’ which still appears in his act.” Salon adds that Beck’s “formula” for these early shows “consisted of an ensemble cast employing fake voices, loosely scripted skits, adolescent pranks, short topical rants, and spoof songs.” It may seem a far cry from the man who cries on air today, but even then, Beck’s public and private personas were borderline psychotic.

The Daily Beast notes one terrible story from early on in his career:

His competitive edge could certainly contain a cruel streak. When he faced off against a former friend in the Phoenix market, Beck called up the man’s wife on air after she had a miscarriage and mocked his friend-turned-rival, saying it was evidence that he couldn’t do anything right—he couldn’t even have a baby.”

But one could argue that it was precisely this no holds barred attitude, with complete disregard for repercussions, that allowed him to eventually achieve his incredible level of fame and influence. Beck will say anything to get ahead, whether it’s lying about his age to get a job or calling the president a communist to get better ratings. His specialty has never been politics or commentary. Rather, as his early radio spots demonstrate, his specialty is showmanship.

The danger though, as evidenced by an interview he did with the New York Times, is that Beck “believes every word he says.” Perhaps someone should ask him if it’s wise for a magician to believe his own tricks?

Watch this interview with Beck discussing his “motives” for being in media and clarifying whether or not he’s the Antichrist.


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