My Old Kentucky Homesite

Earworm Saturday #4

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 04/17/2010

Whenever anybody asks me which movie I’d pick as best animated film ever, as someone did the other day, I always say without hesitation “Walt Disney’s Pinocchio.” Visually, it’s stunning. I’d say it’s probably the only really successful cartoon that incorporated actual film noir techniques in the service of a classic children’s story.

Another thing I love about Pinocchio is its score. “I’ve Got No Strings” could easily be my intellectual theme song. I also love “Hi-Diddle-Dee-Dee (an Actor’s Life for Me)” and “Give a Little Whistle.” (Always let your consciousness be your guide.)

But I’ve gotta tell you: there’s one song in that flick that has always sickened me. Ever since I was a little boy, I’ve been creeped out by its pseudo-religious claptrap. Even without the words, the tune itself smacks of churchiness. I’d venture to guess that this number has been largely responsible for spreading the faith meme to American children ever since 1940. And, of course, that very song is the one that’s crawling through my brain as an earworm today.

I’ll first remind you of the original version, sort of. You’ll recognize it as soon as you hear it, even if you have trouble understanding all the words. (If you care to sing along, the lyrics are thoughtfully provided for yøu.)

If you go to YouTube, you’ll find dozens and dozens of pious performances of this ditty. But sometimes, no matter how lush and uplifting the orchestral background tries to be, the singer is just sooooo wrong. Man, I love when that happens.

Here’s an ultra-pretentious rendition in which the singer, obviously, wished for a hat. I can’t explain why, but the longer you focus on that thing, the funnier it becomes.

Well, maybe a Bronx accent helps the song sound somewhat less sanctimonious.

Close your eyes and listen to the melody as an excerpt from Satan’s Cricket, a 50s horror movie.

It stands to reason that deluded theists would find this song attractive. I don’t know whether this “America’s Got Talent” hopeful is a theist, but, wow!, is she deluded. If you’ve got the time, you might enjoy listening to her personal biography before she sings (starting at around 2:30). Apparently, her fifth grade teacher wrote a positive comment on her report card. If you stick around long enough, you’ll even see a hula. Then, believe it or not, this overaged Latin bombshell changes costume and performs the thing again!

I must admit, I sympathize with this YouTuber’s poor cat. (Try picturing it in the hat from a few videos above.)

What is this? (I kinda like it, even though I don’t have a clue what the guy is saying. Hey, maybe that’s a good thing.)

Doesn’t anybody know that the only thing to wish for is an Entenmann’s Chocolate Donut? Accept no substitutes!

This video is too distasteful even for me. But I share it here as a public service.

Not to leave my readers with the impression that I have no heart whatsoever, and to remind all atheists that even we can occasionally be suckers for shmaltz, I’ll include this rendition, which — sappiness and all — does manage to move me because it’s sung so simply and beautifully by one of the greatest Kentucky native “girl” singers ever. Seriously. Ahhh.

And so I wish you good day, dear readers. Makes no difference who you are. Happy whistling.

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26 Responses to “Earworm Saturday #4”

  1. John Evo said

    Hmmm…. links aren’t working for me.

  2. They’re working for me Ok, Evo.

    Larry, you forgot Linda Ronstadt’s version, recorded with the Nelson Riddle Orchestra. I actually like it. Reminds me a little of the Clooney version, though I actually prefer Ronstadt’s voice, but that’s probably my g-g-g-generation.

  3. Evo:
    On Firefox, the links work fine. On Internet Explorer, I was prompted to download the latest version of Adobe Flash Player.

    SI:
    I know Ronstadt’s version of WYWUAS, as well as the Ronstadt-Riddle recordings of all those other standards. I don’t like them much; they sound canned to me. In any case, as far as this particular tune is concerned, Ronstadt’s singing doesn’t do anything to transcend its gaggy message. It just sounds to me like another instance of insincere sanctimoniousness.

  4. srsny said

    I don’t know about you, Larry, but I learned about wishing on a star not from Jiminy Cricket, but from my parents – or perhaps my older siblings. You know: Star light star bright, etc. My theory, developed some time later, was that this way parents did not have to attempt to – or even apologize for their inability to – get you everything you asked for. Of course this concept is now incomprehensible to the current younger generation.

    In the Pinocchio movie, Jiminy Cricket taught me to always let my conscience be my guide. But more importantly, through the magic of television, he taught me – and you as well, I’d guess – how to spell “encyclopedia,” and for that, I’d be willing to give ol’ Jiminy a pass on WYWUAS.

    The song that always gave me the religiosity creeps is one that, coincidentally, was cinematically sung to your favorite Kentucky native.

  5. Srsny:
    I agree with your theory, but I’d expand it even further. Back in the 50s, when ethnics still wanted to be “assimilated,” lower middle class New Yawk Jewish parents were real big on having their kids become Disneyfied. There was something profoundly Anglo-American about the concept of wishing on a star, as long as it wasn’t a Star of David.

    You can always identify those people who grew up as part of the first TV generation. Just ask them to spell “encyclopedia.” Most of us rhythmicize it the same way Jiminy Cricket did: enC-yC-lO-pediA. See how American we are? One nation under God and Eisenhower, right? Nowadays, Jiminy might sing: “Go see wI-kI-pediA.”

    That last song is a real gagger. When I was a kid, I could never figure out how counting sheep ever helped anybody fall asleep. Of course, we didn’t have many sheep — either literal or figurative — in the neighborhood where I grew up.

  6. I had no idea that Dion and the Belmonts looked just like the cast of Inglorious Basterds. Even as a child, the one thing that bothered me with Pinocchio was the “prodigal son” theme. No matter how bad you screw up, all is forgiven with a single act of redemption.

    I saw it first in 70s release, maybe the context was different when you saw the original release.

  7. Des:
    Dion and the Belmonts were considered attractive in the Bronx. Only when we visited Manhattan did we Bronx boys realize how funny-looking we were.

    No, I didn’t see the original release, because I hadn’t been born yet. I saw a re-release in the mid-50s. I’m not sure the context was different because of the era, but I can assure you that my Jewish parents didn’t relate to any “prodigal son” theme. However, looking at your nifty one-sentence summary — “No matter how bad you screw up, all is forgiven with a single act of redemption” — I can see that Pinocchio is relevant to every corrupt politician, fallen-hero sports figure, and wayward entertainer in America today.

    Of course, the lying part is probably even more relevant.

  8. srsny said

    I never took away the idea of redemption from having experienced Pinocchio in the 50s (in the Bronx, with Jewish parents). The major message to me was the lying part. I recall many admonitions that “your nose is going to grow” when my family detected I might not be entirely truthful. I also made up my mind I would never smoke cigars.

    In addition to having seen the movie (at the RKO Chester, as I recall), I owned a “Little Golden Book” version of the Disney story. This was the pre-videotape/DVD/Bluray era, when the best we children could do was read books and, if we were real lucky, listen to phonograph records of the music to recreate (with the addition of our imaginations) a singlar cinematic experience. I read that book over and over as a kid.

    But back to the redemption idea. I don’t think it was that simple for poor Pinnoke. First he had to search the ocean floor for his missing father, then he had to help free him from the belly of the beast, and then survive a near death experience. This is standard hero’s journey fare that, thanks to the Joseph Campbell and George Lucas is now the most commonly employed template for Hollywood movies – especially those hoping to make a lot of money.

    And remember – this is a movie by Disney – who chose to end Fantasia not with “Night on Bald Mountain” but with “Ave Maria.”

  9. srsny said

    Oh yes, and having a supernatural guide though your journey (good ol’ Jiminy) is an integral part of the hero’s journey master narrative.

  10. Srsny:
    So many ideas in that one comment + addendum!

    Joseph Campbell:
    You’re definitely right about Campbell and the Cartoon Character’s Journey. Among other episodes, look for the Refusal of the Call, the Meeting with the Mentor, being Led Astray by the Tempters (usually “Temptress,” but not in Pinocchio, since he already had sufficient woodies), and — as Des pointed out — the Final Redemption.

    Little Golden Books and Little Golden Records:
    I, too, had the Disney Pinocchio Little Golden Book and a couple of different Little Golden Records of songs from the movie. But my favorite record was an el-cheapo retelling of the whole story, much of which was sung by a chorus to original simple music with the stupidest words. For instance, when Geppetto discovers that his “son” is missing, the chorus sang:

    Puh-NOKE,
    Puh-NOKE,
    Puh-NO-KEY-OHHHH,
    We’ll find you if we have to go to
    TokyOHHHH.
    Come out,
    Come out,
    Wherever you AHHHre,
    Puh-NOKE,
    Puh-NOKE,
    Puh-NO-KEY-OHHHH!

    It always pissed me off that AHHHre didn’t rhyme with Puh-NO-KEY-OHHHH.

    Fantasia’s Ending
    Yeah, after all the demonic excitement, that final march of the Catholics, although beautifully animated, was such a letdown. But I will say this for Disney: there was no sudden appearance of Christ shining through the clouds. Sharp kids could tell that there was something vaguely religious about the whole thing, but there was nothing overtly Christian in the images.

    However, I knew that the music was “Ave Maria” because my father sang it all the time. He had a terrific operatic tenor, but he could never remember the words to anything, not even the simplist kids’ rhymes. (“The itsy-bitsy goes up the yeidel-dee. What does he go up, again?”) But he must have learned the Schubert “Ave Maria” when he was taking voice lessons. So that’s what he always performed when someone at a Bar Mitzvah or a Jewish wedding yelled out, “Sing something, Murray!”

  11. srnsy:

    I actually had is in LP in addition to the Little Golden Book. Our Disney LP collection may have even delayed my younger sister’s reading, as we spent hours and hours listening to Hansel and Gretl, 101 Dalmatians, Pinocchio, etc.

    on Fantasia:

    Fantasia is still one of my all time favorite pieces of art. I love all of it, even the somewhat out-of-place Ave Maria. I really wished old Walt had followed through on his vision of releasing a new Fantasia every few years. I have been waiting with bated breath for it to come out in Blu-ray. When I went back to school, a bootleg VCD from China of Fantasia was on loop in the background as I wrestled with quantum mechanics and electromagnetic fields. More than once, I awoke drooling on my homework to the Rites of Spring or Night on Bald Mountain. According to the rumor mill, it should be out late this year.

  12. Des:
    Fantasia is one of my favorite Disney flicks, even though I never saw it under the influence of acid. “The Rite of Spring” is my second favorite segment. I don’t remember where I read this, and I’m not even sure it’s true, but the story goes that Disney’s original intention was to present the entire story of evolution, up to and including the appearance of man. But fear of fundy backlash stifled that.

    My favorite segment is “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.” That’s why I’m afraid of sweeping, even to this day. At least, that’s what I tell my wife.

    The devil on Bald Mountain is pretty goddamned cool, too.

  13. MacNutz said

    I guess I was so surrounded by religious stuff I never noticed the churchiness of that song. I remember learning the wishing on a star ritual before hearing Jiminy Cricket sing it but I loved every song in that movie and could sing them all in the original key. Wish Upon a Star was most frequently requested by adults.

    I had huge vocal pipes for a kid and got so much positive feed back for it that I always belted the songs that impressed the grownups. They always liked the sappy stuff that took a lot of range. Or funny stuff in which the singer makes fun of himself.

    There was a time when Disney Land looked like the spiritual heart of the great “American Dream”. I tried to go there a few years later but they wouldn’t let me in because I was a long haired hippie. So much for dreaming American. :)

  14. Well, I am glad I misread. For at first I seemed to see “Einstein’s Chocolate Donut” and I was already having trouble enough with the whole saddle-shaped universe thing.

    Don’t forget, Einstein believed in God. If it’s good enough for Einstein, why not Larry? Huh? Huh? Huh?

  15. srsny said

    Mac-
    I knew Disney had a dress code for employees – but for visitors? That probably was back in the day – like when I traveled with friends in the early 70s through New England and stopped at a smalltown diner in Vermont. We could not get the waitress to take our order, and someone repeatedly played “Okie from Muskogee” on the juke box until we left.

    I wonder how Disney feels about all those pierced, spiked, tattooed visitors who go there now.

    Larry-
    You had a great column about “Did’ney” some years back. If it holds up, why not reprint it (or some excerpts) here?

  16. Postman said

    Like an idiot, I followed the first few links until I realized that my YouTube suggestions would now be polluted for all time. Very subtly done, Larry… or should I say “LUCIFER”?!

  17. Mac:
    If you’re one of those long-haired hippies, I may have to ban you from commenting here, where only balding hippies are allowed.

    Percy:
    If it’s good enough for Einstein, why not Larry?
    Who’s this Einstein? I never heard of his donuts. I’ll tell you whose donuts are really good: Felix Klein’s. You can’t tell if the icing is on the inside or the outside.

    Srnsy:
    Disney is happy to welcome any visitors. Makes no difference who you are.

    Although I’m always happy to quote myself, I have no idea what happened to that Didney column. Perhaps it succumbed to mouse droppings many years ago.

  18. Postie:
    If you’re actually taking suggestions about which videos to watch, you’ve already been affected by TUBECIFER.

  19. As I understand it, Felix would have gotten nowhere if not for Calvin. Nowadays it’s all nepotism, but Einstein had to walk ten miles a day to school in the snow.

  20. Percy:
    … Einstein had to walk ten miles a day to school in the snow.
    Yes, carrying a newly chopped cherry tree all the way from his family’s log cabin to the county cyclotron, at which location he would kiss the sleeping princess and awaken her from her dreams of Wonderland. See? Everything in the world always comes back to Lewis Carroll, doesn’t it?

  21. MacNutz said

    Damn Mr. Larry. That’s harsh. First Disney won’t let me in, (1969) now Larry Wallberg won’t let me post comments because of my lovely long tresses. I’m sixty one years old and you’re just jealous that my hair still grows to my belt. And that my bald spots are still small enough to hide, for now.

    But I do have a carefully disguised widow’s peak, does that count?

  22. Mac:
    … you’re just jealous that my hair still grows to my belt …
    I’d be much more jealous if your hair still grew to your head.

    I’ve heard of hair shirts, but never a hair belt. I shudder to ask what that thing is penance for. Which reminds me:
    Q: Why did the fireman wear hair suspenders?
    A: To keep his parts up.

  23. MacNutz said

    Ha, check out MacNutz on youtube. Many hairs are still attached to the pate. Look and weep. :)

    A hair belt is penance for gluttony, or so I would think.

  24. Mac:
    You’ll have to take off your hat to show me the evidence. Alternatively, you could always change hats to the one in the third linked video.

  25. MacNutz said

    Oh, yeah the hats. OK, so I didn’t think of the obvious. Once again. I’m old, I can’t remember these things.

  26. Mac:
    Well, I’m old, too. So I’ll probably forget this entire interchange in about three minutes.

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