If you’ve ever fol­lowed the Howard Stern Show, you know a big part of the appeal is the per­son­al touch it applies to a for­mat that usu­al­ly has cut-and-dried rules.  Stern did away with the illu­sion of the seam­less radio show and its anti­sep­tic per­son­al­i­ties, pulling back the cur­tain to show his audi­ence the inner work­ings of his show and push­ing his crew onto cen­ter stage.  There is a soap-opera ele­ment to the show that draws the lis­ten­er in, pulling them into the mid­dle of its cast of play­ers and their some­times tor­tured inter­ac­tions.

As a result, the show has a whole host of per­son­al­i­ties from Stern on down.  If any­one on the show qual­i­fies as its res­i­dent under­dog, the hon­or would have to go pro­duc­er Gary “Baba Booey” Dell’Abate.  Despite his place of promi­nence in the show’s day-to-day busi­ness, he’s always been goofed on by every­one from Stern to the fans them­selves.  However, he nev­er comes off as a sad-sack vic­tim.  He just puts his head down and gets the job done, fight­ing off the slings and arrows of all com­ers to keep the show on the road.  His resilience always car­ries him through and this has earned the respect of just about every­one, includ­ing the boss him­self.  If you’ve ever won­dered how that resilience was forged, the answers can be found in Dell’Abate’s recent auto­bi­og­ra­phy, They Call Me Baba Booey.

In many ways, this is a sur­pris­ing­ly brave book.  It would have been very sim­ple for the author to do a behind-the-sce­nes book about run­ning the show, rehash­ing all the famous inci­dents in the show’s his­to­ry and sprin­kling it with a bit of inside dirt.  Instead, Dell’Abate digs deep into his per­son­al his­to­ry, focus­ing on how his oft-tur­bu­lent home life made him the sur­vivor he is.  He reveals how he was born into a home with two broth­ers — one a rebel, the oth­er secret­ly homo­sex­u­al — and raised by a moth­er who was lov­ing but trou­bled with men­tal ill­ness at a time when doc­tors didn’t know how to han­dle it prop­er­ly.

Dell’Abate could have tak­en this mate­ri­al and made it into a melo­dra­mat­ic weep­er of a book but again, he doesn’t take the easy way.  Instead, he and co-author Chad Millman present his tri­umphs and tribu­la­tions in a like­ably plain-spo­ken, con­ver­sa­tion­al style that makes it feel like the read­er is hav­ing a chat ses­sion with its main sub­ject.  Dell’Abate’s com­plex rela­tion­ship with his moth­er acts as the back­bone of the nar­ra­tive.  As it grows and changes with time, the dra­mat­ic inten­si­ty gen­tly builds until it reach­es an unex­pect­ed, bit­ter­sweet end­ing that is all the more mov­ing because it is free of cheap emo­tion­al manip­u­la­tion.

That said, fans shouldn’t wor­ry that They Call Me Baba Booey is just “movie-of-the-week”-style domes­tic dra­ma mate­ri­al.  Dell’Abate and Millman wise­ly pace the dra­mat­ic auto­bi­og­ra­phy sec­tions by inter­spers­ing them with chap­ters where they explore key inci­dents in the show’s his­to­ry that fea­tured Dell’Abate as the cen­tral focus.  For instance, there are involved chap­ters about an embar­ras­ing moment where an “I want you back” video­tape he made for an ex-girl­friend resur­faces and a blow-by-blow account of an infa­mous moment where he threw a “first pitch” at a base­ball game that went awry.  It’s inter­est­ing to see the­se moments through Dell’Abate’s eyes and his mea­sured but hon­est recount­ing of what went down adds a fresh dimen­sion that will intrigue even vet­er­an Stern fans.  He also includes music-ori­ent­ed lists that reflect his pop cul­tur­al obses­sions.

Show fans will also want to note that the final chap­ters of the book deal with how he worked his way up the lad­der in the world of New York radio, cul­mi­nat­ing in his audi­tion and sub­se­quent appoint­ment for the pro­duc­er gig on the Stern show.  This is the stuff that will inter­est hard­core Stern fans most, func­tion­ing as a grunt’s-eye view of the radio busi­ness cir­ca the ear­ly 1980’s — com­plete with a cameo role by Stern neme­sis Don Imus.

In sum­ma­tion, They Call Me Baba Booey is not the book a lot of Stern fans would expect.  In many ways, it’s like the “orig­in” issue of a comic book, telling the tale of how its pro­tag­o­nist came to be who he is instead of focus­ing on his most famous exploits.  Some will no doubt be dis­ap­point­ed that they don’t get more behind-the-sce­nes mate­ri­al but it could be argued that such mate­ri­al would be a book all its own, one that Dell’Abate will hope­ful­ly get to some­where down the line.  In the mean­time, They Call Me Baba Booey is a good-natured under­dog sto­ry whose gen­tle, per­cep­tive style says as much about its author as the nar­ra­tive itself.