The bizarre soundtrack to my childhood

P_20140429_090738My childhood was strange. One of the reasons, in a way which made things interesting at least, was having a mess-o-older-siblings. This meant I had access to pop culture and other artifacts of their time I might not have otherwise had, or not quite so soon or as young. It was a trickle-down thing.

Music came to me early because of them. My parents listened to music and owned records, but from what I saw, I wouldn’t say that they loved it or that it was the “soundtrack to their lives.” I can think of no piece of music my mother loved, but I do remember my father going nuts for Linda Rondstadt’s “Blue Bayou” (which frankly threw me, and seemed to be a one-time thing).

My brothers & sisters, though, listened to music a lot and a variety at that. And one of the things that happened as they moved out of the house, was that they tended to leave things behind (they later came and took things back but that’s another story). The leavings included a bunch of cast-off 45rpms (they’d moved on to albums and lost interest in the 45s I guess). I am now the happy owner of a couple Beatles 45s, a Simon and Garfunkel, a Turtles, and one of my favorites, which actually was abandoned by an older cousin, Tommy James’ “Dragging the Line” (did you know REM redid it? It does not disappoint. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0qpD75bN-n4) I don’t get to hear them often, unless I happen upon a holdout clinging to his record player (it’s usually a guy).

But that’s not all. I hold in my little paw a 45 of Spike Jones and the City Slickers “Rhapsody from Hungary”. This was the soundtrack to my childhood. And let me tell you, it is freaky stuff. We – my sister closest in age, and my little brother – loved it. It’s not a song. Not by any normal measuring standard. A man and a woman are talking, in a peculiarly seductive way to one another, clinking their wine glasses, when suddenly that gives way to a lot of noise. Glass breaking, a cowbell clanking, banjo playing, a chicken bawking, gunshots, horn sections, and traffic sounds. [Lookee what I found! I’m so excited I can share it with you! www.youtube.com/watch?v=45zZbn_3deU]

We had a ritual. We listened to the record in our basement, on a monstrous old combination b&w TV/radio/record player housed in a wood console (now there’s a word you don’t hear much anymore), the kind that has doors on the front. The record player unit squeakily and sometimes reluctantly, pulled forward out of the unit so the little record could be popped on and needle set. As soon as the noisiest part of the “song” kicked in, that was our cue to run wildly around the basement in circles (or ovals really). We could make a complete circuit around the basement stairs. Sometimes we just ran, other times we tricycled madly in succession for the duration. We had no idea what the song meant (still can’t say I do) but thought it, and our routine, were hysterically funny.

Was this strange? If I could go back in time and watch 2 or 3 three kids running or biking around and around in wide circles, laughing maniacally as they did so to the rather twisted “Rhapsody from Hungary”, till they collapsed out of breath, I’d be thinking this is very ODD.

Odder still, the flip side of the 45 is Peter Cottontail. You know: “Here comes Peter Cottontail, hopping down the bunny trail, hippity-hopping on my merry way….” C’mon, everybody, jump in anywhere! Well, maybe you don’t know that one. Perhaps sadly, I just wrote that line from memory. There’s another line in it that I imagine at least one or two of my siblings could also still sing, in the appropriate rabbit falsetto (I’m sorry there’s no audio to WordPress, or not that I’ve discovered how to do, or I would sing it for you): “Whooped weeeeeee. Whooped weeeeeee. Di-ditty-di-di, dum-dum!

What’s a merry children’s song like Peter Cottontail doing on the flip side of Rhapsody from Hungary? Maybe that’s the strangest part of all. Or maybe that the YouTube link shows a record cover (that I never saw before) referring to these songs as “kids the classics”. If you want or have warped kids, I guess they are…

Ah, Petrouschka… Whooped weeeeeee. Whooped weeeeeee.

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