At the University of Illinois there exists a cow. In the side of this cow, someone has literally carved a window into its flesh. It is round like a porthole on a ship, so you can look inside and see the contents of one of its stomachs. It looks like a laundry hamper full of wet grass.
This is what people in the Midwest must do in order to add a little dazzle to the scenery. You’ve seen one cow, well, you’ve seen ’em all. But have you seen the cow with a hole in its side? Gawwwleee!
In Berkeley there doesn’t exist a cow. At least, not within spittin’ distance. Hence the Berkeley Farms slogan: “Cows? In Berkeley? Mooooooooooooo.” If you really want to get nitpicky, Berkeley Farms ain’t even in Berkeley. It’s in Hayward. And the cow’s milk comes from out yonder by truck. It’s safe to say the only bovine sounds heard ’round the processing plant come from a guy in packaging named Stu.
In Berkeley, however, there does exist the only unsigned/unknown musician getting mainstream radio airplay love. How’d he do it? By impersonating the cow Berkeley doesn’t have.
Meet Michael Baker, winner of the 2003 Moo Master Contest sponsored by Berkeley Farms and Clear Channel Communications. For the competition, Baker showed up in an Andronico’s parking lot on a crisp September day and recorded two versions of the slogan for the company. The winner was to receive $5,000 and a glorious year recording voice-overs and living dangerously as the Moo Master.
The tension was high. Well, not really.
“I wasn’t paying much attention to it,” says Baker, who had to be dragged there by a friend. Once he warmed to the idea, however, he admits to jumping in hooves first: “I was trying to channel the cow,” he says. The resulting “moooo” sounds like a cartoon cow, exactly what the powers that be were looking for. (After all, the original moo-er for Berkeley Farms is reportedly none other than Looney Tunes vox genius Mel Blanc.)
Planet Clair was to meet with the heralded moo-er at a cafe on Telegraph, where we were to imbibe some dairy product. But upon arriving we found it closed. “Aw, shucks,” we groaned. “Guess we have to go to Bigum’s Silver Lion and drink 22-ounce Budweisers, the milk of the gods.”
Bigum’s was its usual blend of raucous hipsters ‘n’ blue-collars, sans the High on Fire dudes (probably hadn’t gotten up yet) who usually haunt its barstools. “Now that guy can moo,” Baker says, referring not to Matt Pike, but to a grizzled patron whose pleadings for more credit on his tab sounded like the croaky edict of a bullfrog in heat on the Mississippi Delta. The blues in the background didn’t hurt, either.
As for Baker, he looks nothing like a cow, being tall, dark, slim, and handsome. He’s also, apparently, in touch with his feminine side. Once he won and it sunk in, visions of the movie Hear My Song began dancing through his head: An Irish film that came out in ’91 and had a character crowned “Miss Dairy Goodness 1953.” “Oh my god,” he thought, “I am Miss Dairy Goodness!”
Berkeley Farms has pulled out all the stops, even going so far as to pick him up at his house in a limo to take him on a tour of the processing plant. “When I found out they were gonna do that,” Baker says, “I said ‘Can I bring a posse?'”
Now that Baker has won, he is taking his position very seriously. (When life hands you udders, what can you do but squeeze ’em?) He is attempting to parlay his fame into more voice-over work and hoping to promote his band, Slim, to boot.
Touting himself as the only unsigned musician ever to appear on a Clear Channel station, his press release reads like a pro’s: “Unsigned Bay Area singer/songwriter Michael Baker has found a novel way to beat the long odds faced by independent musicians looking for exposure in today’s music business. After being voted “moo-st likely to succeed” in an online contest, Baker is in heavy rotation on local affiliates of the nation’s biggest radio network — as a cow.”
One could say he is milking it.
There are a few pitfalls of the position, however. Firstly, the second, third, and fourth prizes that Baker didn’t win were pretty dope. Second was a three-night stay at a Sonoma inn and spa; third was box seats at any Clear Channel concert, plus food; and fourth was a year’s supply of the product.
“My girlfriend is giving me shit for not getting free milk for a year,” he bemoans. But still, five grand could buy all that stuff combined. (Or assist in wooing a more grateful girlfriend.) And on the tour of the plant he got six quarts of eggnog, though that’s about 5.99 quarts too many.
Then there’s the threat of being pelted by PETA for shilling for the dairy industry. So far Baker hasn’t received any death threats, but he’s keeping a lower profile when he’s out and about.
Finally, there’s the danger of developing breasts after ingesting hormones — although he’d have to drink the competition; Berkeley Farms insists it’s free of synthetic bovine growth hormone. After a thorough investigation, this reporter can say with assurance that Baker has none of the symptoms — yet. The jury’s still out on High on Fire.
Dudes with boobs? In Berkeley? Mooooooooooooo.