.. genealogy is the most fascinating hobby in the world, something you can just get deeper and deeper into, and everybody in this room would agree with me, and so would a lot of other people in this country. I recently read that genealogy has passed coin collecting and stamp collecting as the most popular non-sports hobby in America.
Kenny R. Burck, semi-retired, a large man with the looks of a hazel-eyed, towheaded boy, took his seat on the dais at the Golden Anniversary Banquet of the Ohio Genealogical Society at a resort hotel in Huron, Ohio, and, turning to the keynote speaker, who was on his right, asked, “How many other people do you know named Ian, besides yourself? Is that getting to be a more common name these days? It’s Scottish for John, right? Now, my last name, Burck, people sometimes think is the English Burke, with an ‘e,’ but it’s not, it’s German, and there should be an umlaut over the ‘u,’ but of course we don’t use umlauts in America. I’ve traced the Burcks back to 1560 in northern Baden, in Germany. My Burck ancestors in America came to Cincinnati in 1866 – everybody I’m descended from since then was a Cincinnati German -and from that one pioneer couple there are over thirty-two hundred descendants today. Now, my mother’s family, the Listermanns, happened to be Roman Catholics, and the first Listermann couple came to near Cincinnati in 1841, and that one couple has over ten thousand descendants today. Well, the Listermanns were good, obedient Catholics, while the Burcks were Protestants, you see.
“Here is something I brought to show you. It’s a copy of the New York Post from last winter, and you see the headline, ‘SNOW JOKE,’ which refers to a big snowstorm they had in the city. Now, I believe I read in your speaker’s bio that you live in New Jersey, not far from New York? Well, maybe you’ve seen this fellow the Post put on the cover—the Naked Cowboy. He’s the fellow who stands in his underwear and cowboy hat and boots playing the guitar in the middle of Times Square. You’ve seen him? Of course you have. At one time or another, anybody who passes through Times Square sees the Naked Cowboy. Well, speaking of family, the Naked Cowboy is my son. That’s right, people sometimes don’t believe me, but the Naked Cowboy is Robert Burck, my son, born December 23, 1970. Recently, a New York tourism bureau announced that the Naked Cowboy is the third leading tourist attraction in New York City, after the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building. Not a lot of fathers can say that about their son, can they?”
The salad course arrived. “How did your son get to be the Naked Cowboy?” the keynote speaker asked.
“Well, it wasn’t easy, and it didn’t happen overnight,” Kenny Burck replied. “My wife and I did not set out to raise a Naked Cowboy. Growing up in the small town of Greenhills, Ohio, Bobbie always wanted to be famous and he always wanted to have a lot of money. When he was in high school, he got interested in bodybuilding, and right away he decided he was going to be Mr. America. I remember driving him all over to bodybuilding competitions, buying him tanning creams, and so on. He worked so hard—he always works hard, the word ‘can’t’ does not exist in the vocabulary of the Naked Cowboy—but eventually he decided there wasn’t enough money in bodybuilding. Well, then he was going to be a model; then he was going to be a movie star. After high school, he went to the University of Cincinnati and got a degree in political science, and for a while there I thought he was going to join the State Department, but instead he kept on with the acting, travelling all over for auditions, sometimes living out of dumpsters, the way your struggling artists do. He got some small parts, a non-speaking part on ‘Baywatch,’ for example, but he’s a perfectionist in everything he does and he wasn’t satisfied with how the acting was coming along. So then he decided to become a country-and-Western singing star. Well, in just a few weeks he’d gotten pretty good at the guitar, and he started writing his own songs. He adopted the country-and-Western look—the cowboy hat and the boots, along with clothes, too, at that time.
“He was travelling around the country for a few years, playing mostly on the street—places like Key West, Florida, and Venice Beach, California—and one afternoon he was playing and singing on Venice Beach, also known as Muscle Beach, and he wasn’t getting much of a crowd, and a photographer friend of his suggested he take off his clothes and sing, and since it was a hot day, what the heck, he did take off his clothes, and, sure enough, he drew a big crowd and made a lot of money. This photographer said, ‘Hey, you’re the Naked Cowboy,’ and that’s how it all started. Then ten years ago he came to New York and began playing in Times Square, and he was an immediate hit with the tourists, and now he’s so rich he could retire—he made a thousand dollars a day in 2008 from licensing his image and appearing in commercials and so forth—but he’s always moving on to new challenges. Recently, he became an ordained minister. His business cards now say ‘The Rev. Naked Cowboy,’ and he’s married four couples so far. He says his new ambition is to become the best-known entertainer in the history of the world, and I have no doubt he will achieve his ambition.
“The Naked Cowboy is not at all interested in genealogy, though. In that, he is a typical child of a genealogist. Now, I think genealogy is the most fascinating hobby in the world, something you can just get deeper and deeper into, and everybody in this room would agree with me, and so would a lot of other people in this country. I recently read that genealogy has passed coin collecting and stamp collecting as the most popular non-sports hobby in America. But genealogists’ kids generally don’t care anything about it, and they sometimes throw out all their parents’ hard work before an interested grandkid or cousin or somebody can come along and make use of it. When Bobbie was a boy, I sure did drag him around to a lot of libraries and cemeteries and so on in my own researches, and maybe that contributed to his mental illness so he wanted to stand in his jockey shorts playing the guitar in front of strangers on the street. I’m kidding—the Naked Cowboy isn’t mentally ill, he’s as sane as you or me. He says he used to travel the country to meet a million people, but now millions come to New York City every year to meet him. People sometimes tell him they know him from somewhere or they’re a friend of his dad. The way he’ll know you’re really a friend of mine is if you tell him you met me and then say the one word: ‘genealogy.’ That way the Naked Cowboy will know you are for real.” ♦