FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Doin’ the Time Warp Again

“One two and three jolly coachmen sat in an English tavern…”

My two sons are singing along at the top of their lungs with the music pouring out of the car speakers. We are tooling along a gravel road in the Bolivian Andes. A herd of llamas shuffles like low-flying clouds under the jagged, snow-grazed peaks. “For tonight we’ll merr-eye be, tomorrow we’ll be sober. WHAT?”

The kids love shouting out that last word, along with the Kingston Trio.

“Three Jolly Coachmen” was on their first album, released in 1958. I was a big fan. Their first half-dozen albums were part of the soundtrack of my high school life, along with rock and roll. “Hang down your head, Tom Dooley…”

For me, the Kingston Trio brings back dim Pennsylvania dorm rooms where I labored over term papers, sun-licked breezes on the Indiana lake where I sailed in the summers, and the pangs of adolescent romance. “When I was seventeen, it was a very good year…”

Now those earlier associations are accompanied by others, singing with my children nearly half a century later, in another world. “We come on the sloop John B…”

Technology transfer triggers strange and wonderful juxtapositions of past and present. I long ago recorded my LPs on cassettes, for greater portability. More recently, we transferred our copious, disintegrating tape collection to the digital I-pod, a true miracle of compression. For road music, we burn discs from the I-pod for the car’s CD player.

Suddenly, the past is not just prologue, it’s right here right now.

Musical themes of my previous incarnations – from ten, twenty and fifty years ago – recycle, free of my karmic baggage, for my single-digit-aged children to impose their own spin, their own emotions. “Yellow Submarine,” the Beatles’ 1966 stoned anthem to alternative childlike realities, connects perfectly to my own children’s sensibilities. “We all live in a yellow submarine…” Yes, we all still do. And now we can sing about it together.

Of course, not all ancient tunes find favor with my off-spring. But some oldies are surprise hits. Jonathan Richman’s “Abominable Snowman in the Supermarket” (1977) proved oddly winning. “Hear the housewives complaining to the manager, get that snow thing out of here…”

Some of Richman’s “Berserkley years” coincided with my own. I imagine he sometimes felt like the Abominable Snowman himself, a freak scandalizing the upright citizens. I know I did. But my kids know zip about metaphor and never heard of the counter-culture. They simply, instinctively, favor anarchy.

Strangest of all is my sons’ hilarity at the 1950s parody records of Stan Freberg. Freberg satirized TV shows like “Dragnet” and goofy pop tunes, like those of “Crying” Johnny Ray. He punctured the era’s cultural pomposity, rendering it ridiculous. Freberg – along with Mad Magazine – provided fresh air for those of us feeling stifled, growing up in the suburban 1950s USA. But then, I knew the music, the shows and the values he was satirizing. My kids never heard of Jack Webb or Mitch Miller.

But when the snare drummer overpowers the singer on “Yellow Rose of Texas,” or the singer annoys the hip bongo-drummer on “Day-O” and must leave the building to finish his part, my kids enjoy order being overturned for the sake of a laugh. “Wunnerful-uh, wunnerful… Thank you so very much, um uh,” says Freberg, catching the kitschy manner and music of the inexplicably super-popular Lawrence Welk.

In seventh grade, my friends and I cracked up listening to this record over and over. Freberg’s silliness exposed the formulaic foolishness of Welk’s program and the banality of popular taste. My sons know nothing of Welk, but they love it when the bubble machine runs amok, floating the Aragon Ballroom out to sea. Like those bubbles, Freberg’s satire has floated free of its target, still getting laughs half a century on, proving that the recycled pleasures of technology transfer are indeed wunnerful, wunnerful…”

JAMES McENTEER is the author of Shooting the Truth: the Rise of American Political Documentaries (Praeger 2006). He lives in Cochabamba, Bolivia.

 

 

 

More articles by:

James McEnteer’s most recent book is Acting Like It Matters: John Malpede and the Los Angeles Poverty DepartmentHe lives in Quito, Ecuador.

Weekend Edition
August 17, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Stewart
Blackkklansman: Spike Lee Delivers a Masterpiece
Elizabeth Lennard
Alan Chadwick in the Budding Grove: Story Summary for a Documentary Film
August 16, 2018
Bruce E. Levine
“Don’t Be Stupid, Be a Smarty”: Why Anti-Authoritarian Doctors Are So Rare
W. T. Whitney
New Facebook Alliance Endangers Access to News about Latin America
Sam Husseini
The Trump-Media Logrolling
Ramzy Baroud
Mission Accomplished: Why Solidarity Boats to Gaza Succeed Despite Failing to Break the Siege
Larry Atkins
Why Parkland Students, Not Trump, Deserve the Nobel Peace Prize
William Hartung
Donald Trump, Gunrunner for Hire
Barbara Nimri Aziz
Morality Tales in US Public Life?
Yves Engler
Will Trudeau Stand Up to Mohammad bin Salman?
Vijay Prashad
Samir Amin: Death of a Marxist
Binoy Kampmark
Boris Johnson and the Exploding Burka
Eric Toussaint
Nicaragua: The Evolution of the Government of President Daniel Ortega Since 2007 
Adolf Alzuphar
Days of Sagebrush, Nights of Jasmine in LA
Robert J. Burrowes
A Last Ditch Strategy to Fight for Human Survival
August 15, 2018
Jason Hirthler
Russiagate and the Men with Glass Eyes
Paul Street
Omarosa’s Book Tour vs. Forty More Murdered Yemeni Children
Charles Pierson
Is Bankruptcy in Your Future?
George Ochenski
The Absolute Futility of ‘Global Dominance’ in the 21st Century
Gary Olson
Are We Governed by Secondary Psychopaths
Fred Guerin
On News, Fake News and Donald Trump
Arshad Khan
A Rip Van Winkle President Sleeps as Proof of Man’s Hand in Climate Change Multiplies and Disasters Strike
P. Sainath
The Unsung Heroism of Hausabai
Georgina Downs
Landmark Glyphosate Cancer Ruling Sets a Precedent for All Those Affected by Crop Poisons
Rev. William Alberts
United We Kneel, Divided We Stand
Chris Gilbert
How to Reactivate Chavismo
Kim C. Domenico
A Coffeehouse Hallucination: The Anti-American Dream Dream
August 14, 2018
Daniel Falcone
On Taking on the Mobilized Capitalist Class in Elections: an Interview With Noam Chomsky
Karl Grossman
Turning Space Into a War Zone
Jonah Raskin
“Fuck Wine Grapes, Fuck Wines”: the Coming Napafication of the World
Manuel García, Jr.
Climate Change Bites Big Business
Alberto Zuppi - Cesar Chelala
Argentina at a Crossroads
Chris Wright
On “Bullshit Jobs”
Rosita A. Sweetman
Dear Jorge: On the Pope’s Visit to Ireland
Binoy Kampmark
Authoritarian Revocations: Australia, Terrorism and Citizenship
Sara Johnson
The Incredible Benefits of Sagebrush and Juniper in the West
Martin Billheimer
White & Red Aunts, Capital Gains and Anarchy
Walter Clemens
Enough Already! Donald J. Trump Resignation Speech
August 13, 2018
Michael Colby
Migrant Injustice: Ben & Jerry’s Farmworker Exploitation
John Davis
California: Waging War on Wildfire
Alex Strauss
Chasing Shadows: Socialism Won’t Go Away Because It is Capitalism’s Antithesis 
Kathy Kelly
U.S. is Complicit in Child Slaughter in Yemen
Fran Shor
The Distemper of White Spite
Chad Hanson
We Know How to Protect Homes From Wildfires. Logging Isn’t the Way to Do It
Faisal Khan
Nawaz Sharif: Has Pakistan’s Houdini Finally Met his End?
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail