Cartoon Musicology

It happens with amazing regularity. At some point, my impressively large music collection works its way down to about seventeen songs that seem to loop in an endless… well… loop, I guess. I’m stuck like a needle in a record scratch and the same tunes go drifting through the house in a predictable pattern until, like the wall paper, we don’t even notice it anymore.

Wait.. Do I have wallpaper?

I hit this point again last night and decided, with minutes to spare before dinner, that we desperately needed to have something new to listen to as we ate the wonderful pork meal that Action Girl had been toiling over for the last hour or so. Looking thought what I already had on file was not the right place to start when making a new playlist. Those waters have already been plundered pretty heavily and in an effort to make a fresh approach, I wanted something new, and the best “something new” in my book, is something old. I needed a tune I hadn’t heard for a long, long time.

“Is You Is, Or Is You Aint’ My Baby,” by Louis Jordan.
Perfect!

To old jazz aficionados, this is no doubt a timeless classic and I’m sure that it brings back any number of wonderful memories to them as they reminisce about smoke filled jazz clubs deep in the dark of a sleeping city. To me, it brings back memories of a cat and mouse trying to kill each other to the highest comic effect.

Ah, Tom and Jerry.
Good times.

My introduction to this musical masterpiece came as I sat on the sky blue, deep pile rug of the living room floor in my parent’s house. I’m willing to be that a bowl of something soggy and sugar coated was in my hands and feety pajamas might have been part of the bargain as well. I won’t bore you with the plot, but I’ll just mention that Tom was using a double bass and the syrupy lyrics to good effect in his attempt to woo an improbably curvatious female cat. Jerry objected to his disturbed slumber and alerted Tom to this with a lemon meringue pie wrapped around an iron. Subtlety was not Jerry’s strong suit.

The point is, the likelihood of me encountering this song at home was next to nil. My Dad’s idea of enjoyable, “rowdy” music was confined to some of the more lively Beatles singles with the complete and utter exclusion to anything released post “Rubber Soul.” Classical could be lively as well providing it didn’t get too full of its self, but that’s about it. My Mom always had a more accepting ear toward music. After all, it was her “Best of the Doors” LP which I nicked and transported off to college. Still, since my dear, sweet, happy-go-lucky Father becomes downright insufferable if the music gets too uppity, my exposure to the musical world was pretty much limited to ABBA, Mozart, Cat Stevens, Beethoven, Simon and Garfunkel, Vivaldi, and a little Jerry Rafferty when Dad wasn’t home. Jazz? Not a chance.

As I think back, I actually learned a heck of lot in the way of music from a variety of Saturday morning cartoons. I clearly recall singing along with, “Yes, We Have No Bananas” as I followed along with the bouncing ball at the bottom of the screen. Another Tom and Jerry episode that took place on a waterfront taught me most of the lyrics to, “Moonlight Bay.” Dad wasn’t a Verdi kind of guy, but that was all right because Bugs and Elmer opened my mind up to, “The Barber of Seville” and later a little Wagner and a taste of the Ring Cycle, even if highly… altered in a “Spear and Magic Helmet,” kind of way.

KILL THE WABBIT! KILL THE WABBIT!

The classical hits are great, of course. I’ll always equate various cartoon characters with what ever classical piece that Warner Brothers decided to ascribe them to, but it’s the “modern” music that I learned of that I am most thankful for. Most of these cartoons were made in the 40’s and 50’s and the topical music of the day, the really big radio hits of the era, largely disappear into the mist of the social fabric that is our world. The fact that in 1975, a little kid, jigged up in high octane cane sugar and corn syrup (part of this balanced breakfast) could happily chirp out the song, “Boogie-Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B” with the TV, quite frankly, makes me smile.

Grabbing a bit of couch that would keep me momentarily out of view, lest I be seen as slacking, I hopped on my computer and took advantage of the miracle of modern living. With a quick look through iTunes, I found it.

“Is You Is…”

I had never even heard of Louis Jordan before that moment. To my astonishment, there were about twelve recordings of his to choose from for this one cut alone. After sampling a few, I heard the one that had been used by Tom all those years ago. Action Girl heard me fiddling around from the kitchen.

“Hey! What was that? I like those brassy horns. That sounds really fun!”

In about five minutes, I had put together a new playlist for us all to enjoy over our meal. I don’t know if Short Stack and Lulu Belle appreciated it, but we did. It was new but old and Action Girl knows me well enough not to ask why I already knew all the lyrics or where I learned them from. Smart Girl.

To Tom, Jerry, Bugs, Foghorn Leghorn, Daffy and all the others, thank you, guys.

“Oooh!!! There ain’t-a-nothing finiah than to be in Carolina in the moooooorning!”
Thanks Daffy!

Advertisements

Miffy, To The Rescue

We are a TV-less family. I have to admit that I do rather wear it as a badge at times but to be completely honest, it didn’t start out as a noble experiment to better our lives and save my quickly softening brain.

When Action Girl and I got our first apartment together, we were… shall we say, on a highly restrictive budget. Back in those days, we were both working as substitute teachers for the Vermont School System and to say that the pay was spotty and meager, would be charitable indeed. It was also a little slice of hell, but that’s another story.

Our apartment was simple, a third floor walk up on a winding road, tucked in a valley. Most of Vermont, as a matter of fact, is on a winding road, tucked in a valley. What this meant was that though we did not have enough money to purchase a TV, it hardly mattered. With the best rabbit ears on the planet, all we could possibly hope for was possibly two channels, only watchable if I made a tinfoil hat and hung on to the end of one of the antennas like a deranged stick bug.

Cable? Ha! Not only was that not in the cards, but I’m pretty sure it had been removed from the playing deck before we got the pack out of the cellophane. No. No cable.

So, for the first time in my life, I was TV-less. Let the D.T.’s begin. It didn’t take long actually. As soon as you’re a month or so out from the shows that you follow, you realize that as far as the stories go, there is no way to get back on the crest of that wave and you might as well let it slip along with out you and paddle home.

Then, a discovery was made. Suddenly, I had time. LOTS of time! I really got into reading for fun, again. Hobbies that had been set aside years ago were once again picked up and enjoyed. Once the hallucinations and the shakes had subsided, I really got into doing fun things rather than watching other people do them on the tube.

The other side to this component is that I’m a TV whore. I’ll sit there and watch a 2 hour documentary on felt making, no problem. After an evening with a TV at my dispasal, I tend to look up and wonder what just happened to that six hours that I had. I’ve really come to dislike that feeling. If we go anywhere with a TV playing in the background, I have to sit with my back to it or I won’t hear a word my friends or relatives say. I’m that hopeless.

So, it’s been about fourteen years now with out a TV and I’ve never been happier. Now, there’s YouTube and the like to keep up on the things that are culturally important, but for the most part, I’m pretty disconnected with what’s playing on the black boxes all over the country. Then, we had kids.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I still don’t own a TV and I really don’t intend to. My problem is that I also don’t want to cut my kids off from what is really the strongest social bond we have in this country. It’s what kids (and adults) tend to lead off conversations with and so many little TV sayings are sprinkled throughout our everyday chatter, that it doesn’t seem right to make the awkwardness of youth any harder by missing out on such a huge part of the culture. Here again, I call on YouTube.

It’s a wonderful bastion of new and old. On YouTube, we watch a lot of good ole’ “School House Rock”, coming straight out of my childhood memories. Short Stack likes them, especially “Conjunction Junction” but his all time favorite request, is Miffy. He adores Miffy!

For the uninitiated, Miffy is a little white bunny who lives in a small house with Mother Bunny and Father Bunny. She has a red scooter, a proclivity for exclaiming things like “Oh dear!” or “Thank you, Mother.” and plays with various other woodland friends including Poppy and Grunty Pig, Boris Bear and Melody Bunny. I don’t mind him watching this on the computer. Miffy’s been around since 1955, is very easy going, teaches nice, simple lessons such as, ‘butterflies come from caterpillars’ and is pretty slow paced. That and because it’s not on TV, there were no commercials to tempt him and thus, the evils of merchandising were held at bay.

Wrong!

I miscalculated… and I really should have seen this coming. My two year old doesn’t have any money. I have it. The other things I have are access to the internet and the burning desire for my children to have things that make them happy. So, one trip to EBay and bingo, I’m ordering Miffy merch. It started off with a DVD. All the episodes I found on YouTube are pirated, naturally, and thus, being constantly taken down by the powers that be. With the happiness of a two year old at stake, reliability is more than a little important, so, I bought one Miffy DVD. That’s fine. No biggie. It’s not like I’m hooked.

Then, I noticed that Amazon was offering a new Miffy DVD. By now we had watched the other DVD until images from it were burned into my computer’s screen. Short Stack was now capable of quoting long passages and started narrating everything he was doing to an invisible audience. The new DVD wasn’t out yet, but you could pre-order! I didn’t even have to think about it. Out came the plastic. Hey, I can quit any time I want.

Then, one night as Action Girl and I were relaxing in the half hour we get after the kids go to sleep and before we fall apart, I found the motherload. It was the Miffy equivalent of heroin. It was a fifteen inch tall, plush Miffy WITH an accompanying DVD. Needless to say, it was quickly ordered. Ok… We’re hooked.

I was starting to feel a bit ashamed now. After all my high falootin’ talk about no TV and it’s endless barrage of “buy, buy, buy!”, here I was taking up the challenge of finding this stuff on my own and getting it for my kids. What had I become!? AAGH! I’m a consumer of kid’s merch!

Then, a couple of nights ago, as related in my last story, Short Stack had a life changing moment. He learned to be afraid of the dark. It’s the most basic human instinct and an inevitable stage for the vast majority of us. As a parent, it made me feel powerless to help. After all, I can’t stop night from coming.

The day after his first frightening night, a package arrived on our porch. I honestly forgot all about what was inside. It was Miffy. All fifteen inches of happy, white bunny. Short Stack was beside himself with glee. It was the bunny whom he had come to love and quote at length, right here! In his house! In the fur! That night, Miffy went to bed tucked tight in Short Stack’s embrace. The happy little bunny had a place of honor on his pillow and kept the night safe. Nothing could go wrong with Miffy at your side.

So, consumerism isn’t all bad. With the DVD’s. we still get to avoid the annoying ads for various plastic items that your child didn’t even know they needed. We can watch them when ever he wants and more importantly, can pause them to watch later, or over and over and over again.

Now, if I can just cut back on my Miffy habit, I should be all set.

Yah. Right. I’m doomed.

%d bloggers like this: