Friday, December 31, 2010

Mr. Ether and Planaria

The twenty search terms that most frequently led to this site in 2010:
  1. gail simmons breasts
  2. back of the cereal box
  3. brazen bull
  4. "apparently it made sense at the time"
  5. it's a secret to everybody
  6. moesko island
  7. systemic hypoplasia
  8. pacman ghosts
  9. drew mackie
  10. rory finch
  11. le cigare volant frasier
  12. "mrs. leonard panaggio"
  13. shitter island
  14. sue laroche-van der hout
  15. puppy goo goo
  16. cyclone ranger
  17. yip yips
  18. mountbatten pink
  19. guacamole window
  20. hi i tricked the search results_tracking drew
Notes:
  • This list omits a few redundancies and near-repeats, as well as one popular search term that was too foul to publish on my blog.
  • I am proud of both myself and Gail Simmons that her breasts remain so popular.
  • I am not proud that my name (no. nine) is barely more searched-for than an obscure Veronica Mars reference (no. ten). However, it makes me happy that people still care about Veronica Mars. An aside: Rory Finch. Rory B. Bellows. Connection?
  • No. twelve is the name of a fictional hamster.
  • Who knew people cared that much about a throwaway joke from Spaced (no. nineteen)?
  • Whatever parties are responsible for no. twenty: you are clever. How did you do that?

Surprise Armadillo

I’m beginning a new holiday tradition. In honor of the end of the year, I would like to present you with a photo of Clint Eastwood holding an armadillo.


I can’t decide if this image is more of a spiritual sequel to the post of Salvador Dali walking an anteater


Or the sexy lady who is — surprise! — inexplicably lounging next to an armadillo.


Either way, may at least one of these photographs be indicative for your year to come.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Legendary Legendre

The last time I wrote a “Hey, this person is noteworthy!” post, I took quite a few paragraphs to convey the horrifying that wonderment that is Gilles de Rais. (For those keeping score, he’s 90 percent heinousness, five percent jaw-dropping opulence, and another five percent wackadoo nonsense.) Today, I’m telling you about Gertrude Sanford Legendre, someone whose awesomeness can be related with five sentences and one image.

Two sentences are the ones that lead off her Wikipedia entry: “Gertrude Sanford Legendre (1902–2000) was an American socialite who served as a spy during World War II. She was also a noted explorer, big-game hunter, environmentalist, and owner of Medway plantation in South Carolina.”

The remaining sentences are the concluding ones of her Wikipedia entry: “Katharine Hepburn’s character of Linda Seton in the 1938 version of Holiday was loosely based on [Legendre]. She lived to be 97 and wrote two autobiographies, one in 1948 and another in 1987. Regarding the trajectory of her life, she once said, ‘I don’t contemplate life. I live it.’”

And finally the image: a painting of her by William Orpen that makes her look pretty goddamn boss. There’s no other way to put it.


Gerty, if my 2011 is only half as interesting as any given moment in your life must have been, I’ll be doing well.

EDIT: I stand corrected. There is another way to describe the painting: It looks like a Clue suspect card, especially when considered alongside her bio.

Avocado Song

Barring any unusual spike in readership tomorrow, here are the most-read posts that went up on Back of the Cereal Box in 2010:
  1. Drew Meets a Bedlington Terrier
  2. Retrospectacle 2: The Legend of Curly’s Gold
  3. Japan Improves Upon the Common Axolotl
  4. David Lynch Meets Legend of Zelda
  5. Know Your Japanese Subculture Girls!
  6. Not Everyone on Lost Is Named After Philosophers
  7. “W” Gets Its Day
  8. The Problem With Parallel Universes
  9. The Lady Losers, Part Seven: Penny, Eloise, Naomi and Zoe
  10. The Q in Question
  11. The Girl in the Mirror on the Calendar on the Wall
  12. Baby Doll Revisited
  13. The Lady Losers, Part Four: Juliet
  14. That Famous Japanese Love Song, “Sliced, Broiled Beef”
  15. Video Games for Girls! (But Only Sexy Girls)
  16. David Lynch Weirdness — And Not the Typical Kind
  17. A Gruesome Vocabulary Lesson
  18. What’s With All the Masks in Super Mario Bros. 2?
  19. Shitter Island
  20. Fried Enema
I kind of wish the last two on the list didn’t both refer to feces, but you can’t argue with Google Analytics.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Thlurping

Now no one can say that you didn’t see a cartoon of an effeminate boy eating soup.


Eight previous images presented without adequate context:

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Bears, Butts, Bear Butts: A Vocabulary-Builder

Yes, Christmas has come and gone, but I’m no less fixated on crude sex jokes involving bears. Bear bears, I mean. Ursine ones. Damn. Has it ever occurred to anyone else how difficult it can be to distinguish animals from the Urisdae family from the human ones? I’d say the hairy, hungry, pudgy, sometimes cute-in-that-fat-kind-of-way beasts with a proclivity for frolicking in the woods, but that still wouldn’t necessarily rule out the human ones, especially depending on my audience.

And following that line of logic (and doing nothing to strengthen the connections between animal bears and human bears) I’d like to present the word of the week, which refers to something bears put in their bottoms.
tappen (TAP-ən) — noun: an plug that forms in the intestines of bears during hibernation.
Yup. It’s nature’s butt plug, quite literally. Tappens, however, perform the more practical service of protecting a hibernating animal’s digestive tract from being invaded by ants. Admit it: You never thought about the risks ants pose to unconscious animals’ digestive tracts, but now that you consider the situation, you realize such a device would be useful — necessary even.

Exactly how the tappen forms in unclear. Sources such as Wikipedia don’t mention the insect-blocking function at all, only that tappens make it difficult (though not impossible) for bears to defecate during hibernation, only to be painfully forced out in the springtime. And one dictionary (via Wordnik) claims that the tappen forms internally, “probably by feces modified by long retention.” The story I’m more familiar with, however, is the one that simultaneously makes me think more and less of bears: They make it with their little paws and insert it manually. A March 18, 1882, issue of Scientific American describes the joyous, annual tradition of tappen-making as follows: “[It] is formed of pine leaves and other material that the animal takes from ants’ nest and the trunks of trees in its search after honey.” The age of the source material makes me question whether bears actually do make a Martha Stewart-style homemade suppository. In fact, after a bit of looking around online, I was unable to find a conclusive answer about exactly how this wondrous product forms, though this page at least does a good job rounding up the theories.

The important part, however, is that exists, whether as a result of artisan bears or a well-timed, fiber-packed dinner. The word bears a suspicious resemblance to tampon, you may have noted. I don’t see an trustworthy etymology online, but I’d be willing to bet that tappen comes from the same roots that give us words like tap, tampon and tampion, all of which relate to devices that impede the flow of liquid in some way.

Normally, I try to include a photo in my posts, but I’m holding off today on grounds that that seems nasty. (Also pretty nasty: photos of the tragically named Tappen, North Dakota. Population: 210. Chief export: Beleaguered sighs.) Instead, I decided to offer you a seasonally appropriate image that also comes pretty damn close to the subject at hand. Enjoy!


And a holly, jolly, brick-and-you’re-drowning-slowly December 26.

Previous strange and wonderful words:
Word nerd? Subscribe to Back of the Cereal Box’s word-related posts by clicking here.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Is It Possible That Animals Know It’s Christmas?

No, of course not. Don’t be stupid.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Surprise Ending (by Virtue of It Being Illogical, Inexplicable)

That post on Gilles de Rais — who’s a lot of things, a possible inspiration for Bluebeard being among them — sent me down the wikihole like the good, little wikirabbit I am. Now, I’m spending the lead-up to Christmas reading about bad folklore. You know — violent, Old World stories where people tend to meet terrible ends for no apparent reason and in which the morals are only apparent to toothless peasants who think bad air causes disease. They’re great, these stories. They read like outlines to the short films David Lynch decided not to make on grounds that they’d be too infuriatingly nonsensical.

Let me tell you one. In the English ballad “Lady Isabel and the Elf Knight,” the titular lady hears a magic horn and falls under the thrall of a bad man who plans to do to her what he did to all his previous wives: “dishonor” and then kill her. Sucks, right? But the resourceful lass takes the first opportunity to kill the bastard. In some versions, he turns away while she undresses (because rapists do that) and she “tumbles him in a stream.” In others, she makes her move when he accepts her offer to delouse him. In any case, he dies, and Lady Final Girl goes running back home.

Here’s the part that reminds you that storytellers back in the day enjoyed certain freedoms that they don’t now: Certain versions of the Lady Isabel tale end with the heroine returning arriving at her house and speaking to a caged parrot, and promising to buy it a golden cage if it doesn’t tell her father about the rapist elf who nearly had his way and then did away with her. From the Wikipedia summary: "Oh hold your tongue, my favourite bird, and tell no tales on me / Your cage I will make of the beaten gold, and hang in the willow-tree.” Bam! End of story. Personally, I learn that a new character has been introduced — and a talking animal at that — and I think “all right, sequel!” Not the medieval Brits, who just thought that was as good a point to end as any.

Personally, I think the parrot epilogue should fall back into use, narrative awkwardness notwithstanding. In fact, I can’t think of a single movie I’ve seen recently that wouldn’t improve from the addition of more wisetalking parrots immediately before the closing credits.

Bears, Again

I can't decide whether this vintage travel ad for Yellowstone is just merely misleading or misleading specifically with the intention of getting people killed by bears.


And yes, the distance between Yellowstone and Jellystone is apparently one blog post.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Do Bears Come in the Woods?

At the time of its release, it made the rounds online, where it was met with much mockery. However, I was twice reminded of it recently: once while walking past a movie theater with Nate and again on this Pajiba post of the worst movie posters of 2010. And now I feel compelled to post it here, just in case not everyone had already seen it. Because it truly enriches the lives of all who view it.


Yup, it’s a promo poster for the new Yogi Bear movie but it also doubles as a gay sex joke. Honestly, I can’t imagine the people responsible for this wonderful collision of bears, the other kind of bears and implied anal sex could have not known how this would be read, or at least that whoever had final say — perhaps someone’s virginal, Mormon aunt, who does not watch movies but for some reason works in a place that makes advertisements for them — simply didn’t get the joke and everyone else just snickered along until the thing hit the presses. But come on — the grins, the convenient positioning of Yogi right behind Boo-Boo’s boo boo, the slogan “Great things come in bears,” (which is exactly what Yogi would be doing if he repeats this action with other ursine companions). Even the “Coming soon” at the bottom is suspect. And when I say “suspect,” I mean “guilty.” And when I say “coming,” I of course mean “filling with bear semen.”

And based on the reviews Yogi Bear got, I can also tell you that in seeing this image you’ve also seen the best thing about this movie, all without spending any money.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Onion of Evil

Please allow me to introduce you to the most interesting person I’ve read about in a long time: Gilles de Rais.


So why’s he so interesting?

For starters, as his Wikipedia page explains, he was a contemporary of Joan of Arc, fighting alongside her against the English. Interesting, right? It gets better. After de Rais retired from military life, he produced a play titled Le Mistère du Siège d'Orléans, which boasted “20,000 lines of verse, 140 speaking parts, and 500 extras, according to Wikipedia. The production bankrupted de Rais, and with good reason. Costumes for each of the six hundred-plus actors were created per performance, then destroyed, then remade for subsequent stagings, and audiences were given an all-you-can-eat dinner and a bottomless goblet of wine. Interesting, right? Well, then it gets so much worse. In an effort to attain fiscal solvency, de Rais embarked on a third stage of his life: proficient child murderer. Church officials who investigated the matter claimed that de Rais sacrificed between 80 and 600 children to a demon. This financial plan did not put de Rais back in the black, however, as kidnapped a cleric in May of 1440, thus getting the church’s attention and ultimately resulting in his execution the following October.

Despite getting namechecked in all manner of sinister-leaning pop culture — H.G. Wells stories, aggressive rock music, gothic-y video games, anime, and a Winona Ryder character in the 2007 film Sex and Death 101 — and being one of the suspected inspirations for Bluebeard, I’d never heard of him. And if you told me about him, I’d probably assume that you were embellishing the story to keep my attention. However, sometimes the truth is that horribly interesting on its own.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

My Top Words of 2010, as Dictated by My Facebook Statuses

No, I’m not actually posting this. I am, however, pointing out how fun it would be to create a phony version of this meme-in-the-making app that just generates lists of unpleasant words (inflamed, groin-grabbingly, weiner-shrinking, ordured) and foreign words for noises animals make, just to fuck with people. The preceding sentence, however, is more indicative of my 2010 than anything an app could throw at me.

Front of the Cereal Box (and the Characters Who Appear There)

Prove me wrong, internet: There are no famous female cereal mascots.

Okay, well, first let me prove myself wrong a bit. It’s pretty common for female characters to appear on cereal boxes after they’ve become famous in some other medium. (And yes, I’m calling cereal boxes their own medium. It’s defensible, if you mentally squint.) Hello Kitty, Jasmine from Aladdin, Dora the Explorer, Rainbow Brite, the Powerpuff Girls, Strawberry Shortcake and even Shortcake’s friend have scored their own box covers. But I’m talking about female counterparts to Tony the Tiger, Cap’n Crunch, the Lucky Charms leprechaun, the Trix rabbit and other characters who started out on as cereal-promoting characters and are now recognized, familiar entities. There aren’t any, really.

This shouldn’t be surprising, since the kinds of cereals that feature cartoon mascots are marketed to children, and half of this demographic wouldn’t want to eat girly cereal. Girls, on the other hand, are expected to be okay eating cereal endorsed by a male character, but none of the famous cereal mascots act in a particularly masculine way. (Even open-minded girls might object to eating, like, Army Men Cereal or Chuck Liddell’s Breakfast Beat-Downs, however.) But because we live at a time when we’re offered nine different varieties of Frosted Mini-Wheats, it doesn’t seem implausible that at least one cereal brand would have successfully launched a girl-targeted cereal with an original, female mascot by now. It also shouldn’t be surprising that someone has set up a database of cereal mascots. I scrolled through it to see if there was a notable she-mascot that I just hadn’t thought of. Nope. But for the sake of your edification, I’m giving you what comes closest to fitting the bill.



In 1996, Quaker tried to market its Cocoa Blast cereal with a flying cow either named Kamicowzi or Komicowzi. The mascot gallery uses both spellings, and there’s next to nothing about this character online, presumably because like real kamikaze pilots she was short-lived. I say that’s a good thing; sugary cocoa or not, it’s in pretty bad taste to use a kamikaze pilot as a basis for marketing any product, much one that has the word blast in its name.



Between 1907 and the 1920s and again between 1940 and 1946, Kellog’s used The Sweetheart of the Corn on the front of cornflake boxes. She sort of looks like a shopping buddy for the Sun-Maid Raisin Girl — that is, she’s cute (in that “My girl really knows how to churn butter,” turn-of-the-century way) and more realistic-looking than cartoonish. At various points a baby doll version of the character was offered, so it seems like Kellogg’s had little girls (and weird middle-aged men) in mind when marketing Corn Flakes.

Honorable mentions: When I tweeted that there were no female cereal box mascots, Vovat responded that Waffle Crisp’s TV ads featured kindly grannies — the “inventors” of the cereal. So it’s something, at least, that they were the closest the cereal had to mascots and that they did not exist alongside a more central, male counterpart.


And for the sake of sheer WTF-ness, I’m also giving a shout-out to Ruth Buzzi, the Laugh-In star, whose animated likeness once promoted Ralston Chex. (Tastes as good as it sounds? Tastes as good as Ruth Buzzi looks?)



Just bizarre.

In conclusion: As if women don’t struggle enough with the glass ceiling, there’s also apparently a cardboard wall holding them back.

Note: With the posting of this, I have fulfilled my contractual obligation to write something cereal-related for this blog at least once a year.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

A Word for Winter Weather

As I write this, Southern California is experiencing a Pineapple Express, meaning we’re seeing the kind of rain that this part of the world is famous for not ever having. But as evocative and romantic as the term Pineapple Express may be, I’m choosing to write instead about a different weather phenomenon. It’s my word of the week.
pogonip (PAHG-eh-nip) — noun: 1. a dense winter fog containing ice particles. 2. a frozen fog, formed in the coolest weather in the mountain valleys of Idaho, Nevada and Colorado, that often causes severe pulmonary trouble when inhaled.
According to Wikipedia, the word entered the American English lexicon when English-speaking settlers started arriving in what become the western United States. Never having before witnessed these banks of opaque, sparkling fog, they borrowed the Shosone word for “cloud,” payinappih and rendered it as pogonip. Though the combination of conditions that create pogonip would rarely occur — near 100 percent humidity as the temperature drops to −40 degrees Celsius — the phenomenon is apparently not unique to the western U.S. valleys that gave it its name; it also occurs in Alaska and Siberia, where it can be called simply ice fog, which doesn’t sound nearly as fun.


Wikipedia offers this circa-1907 postcard of Virginia City, Nevada, as it’s being beset by pogonip, though the postcard curiously describes it as land fog, which sounds even more boring and which would seem to refer to the fog that occurs unremarkably everywhere.

I’m told that I should not confuse pogonip with an even more enticingly named meteorological happening, diamond dust, which sounds like something cast by an ice elf in She-Ra but which apparently really happens — on clear, cold days when sparse ice crystals simply fall from the sky, princess-magic like.

Previous strange and wonderful words:
Word nerd? Subscribe to Back of the Cereal Box’s word-related posts by clicking here.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Pam Anderson by Way of Pan’s Labyrinth

For work this week, in an effort to make Pamela Anderson seem more family-friendly, I had to digitally these two sewing thimbles that Pamela Anderson was smuggling beneath her bikini top. Ample, ample side cleavage is apparently okay, but put a teat on the tips of those milk glands and you pass on into R-rated territory. This is how I now understand the world. Following this logic, it would to be correct that the fewer the displayed parts, the more appealing the more appealing the body.

Is this, then, an improvement? Did I do good?


Did I make it better?

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Snowfluff Fur, Sinister Abyss Eyes

Meet Serenity.


This is not a good dog. I repeat: This is not a good dog. This is a demon, sent from Hell in a pleasing form in order to accomplish its mission: controlling humans. If you brought Serenity into your house, you would end up doing its bidding, frantically scrambling to straighten its velvet sleeping pillow because SERENITY DEMANDS THAT THE SLEEPING PILLOW NOT BE ASKEW!!! This dog would eat all your fine meats. And then it would eat your soul.

Either that or instead of a brain it just has more white, fluffy fur inside its head, as a result of its mother being snow-white Pomeranian and its father being a Beanie Baby.

(Also, I’m not positive that the “MS” in “MS Puppy Connection” is meant to be “Ms.” but it would make a lot of since, and so would the subsequent conclusion that there’s a Mr. Puppy Connection out there that sells the real dogs.)

The Sexiest Mollusk on the Ocean Floor

When I said last night that etymology trivia and crude sexual humor would resume this morning, you probably thought I was making a joke. Nope. From Boing Boing, deliverer of so much good information, comes the news that there exists a mollusk with an especially unfortunate name. What is it, you ask? (And thanks for asking!)


Volva Volva volva

It sounds like what a Tourette’s-stricken Jan Brady might say, but it’s the actual biological name for a species of sea snail (known less formally and slightly less humorously as the Shuttlecock Egg Cowrie) that looks a lot like what its name implies that it might.


Side by side, laid out with their shame showing, they’re damn near pornographic... if you happen to be a pre-twentieth-century marine biologist who spends all day staring at marine snails. This page, by the way, features a whole list of creatures who at some point in their existence as scientific specimens were known by names that translated to awful things, including but not limited to “misshapen penis,” “stinkiest dung smell,” “modest flasher,” and “pisspot.”

(The original Boing Boing article, by the way, centers around a fish whose scientific name honors Led Zeppelin, which is great and all but I can’t imagine Volva volva volva being mentioned in anything, ever, and not being the center of attention.)

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Bird That Ate Christmas

A temporary break from the usual pointlessness for something seasonally appropriate: a photo of a robin that looks like it ate a Christmas bauble.


It’s red and round and jolly — and far cuter for looking fat.

(Etymology trivia and crude sexual humor resumes tomorrow morning.)

Shopping Malls and the Book of Exodus

I made a strange connection a while back while reading about The Munsters. With good reason, I should point out. The great Bryan Fuller — who I believe made Pushing Daisies specifically or my enjoyment — has announced that he will reboot everyone’s second-favorite creepy family as something fantastic and wonderful, possibly in a way that includes Kristen Bell. Anyway, I couldn’t recall what Yvonne De Carlo, who played Lily in the original series, had done with the rest of her career. Turns out that pre-Munsters, De Carlo played Moses’s wife in the famous, Charles Heston version of The Ten Commandments. Her Wikipedia page even uses a still from The Ten Commandments. So there’s that.

But what surprised me is that her character isn’t noted as being Tzipporah, as I’m used to seeing it, but Sephora, which also happens to be the name of the cosmetics store chain. So what gives?

According to Sephora’s website, the chain’s name comes from a combination of Tzipporah (because ol’ Mo-mo’s wife was quite the looker, apparently) and the Greek word sephos, meaning “pretty.” The Wikipedia for the store, however, says sephos means “beauty.” And finally both this Greek-to-English dictionary and all of Google seem to say that sephos means nothing outside of Sephora-related claims. Even more strangely, Tzipporah (which apparently means “bird” in Hebrew) simply translates into Greek as Sephora, independent of any made-up word that means “beauty” or “pretty” or “clean-pored mallrat princess.”

Weird, then, but it’s not unheard of for a company to fudge its history or etymology to make itself sound better. But there’s one more aspect from the whole Sephora brand that makes me think the name might still be tied to its Old Testament roots. The logo:


That slender, “S”-shaped figure that appears above the text may look a bit like an abstract women’s body, but Wikipedia claims it’s actually an abstracted, “S”-shaped flame. Considering how fire plays into Exodus and particularly how God first speaks to Moses, I wonder if the symbolism may have been intentional, at least at some point.

Monday, December 13, 2010

A Stern Warning Against Trucks

I enjoy how this perfect storm of venereal disease has been drawn with lips, a single breast shadow and no other sex organs.


Personally, I avoid pickups mostly because they tend to be difficult to park.

Things more or less sexual, previously:

A Word That Falls Just Short of Being, Um, Self-Defining

Last week, I asked for a good “U” word, and a commenter came through with one that had escaped my notice so far.
umquhile (UM-kwile) — adverb: some time ago, formerly. adjective: the former.
I say umquhile is almost self-defining because it’s archaic and therefore is itself former. However, it’s also Scottish and I’m not sure it would be accurate to think of it ever being used frequently by non-Scottish English speakers or even necessarily by Scots. (World Wide Words notes that Frances Trollope dubbed umquhile obsolete back in 1832 and that uses in the twentieth century have pretty much all been in “self-consciously archaic context[s].”) However, as far as weird words go, I’m in favor: it has a “Q,” it has a spelling that seems to defy pronunciation and it has a rather ordinary, practical meaning. That’s a triple win in my book. (And in this guy’s, too, seeing as how one of his Wonderful Wordiness blog’s two entries focuses solely on umquhile.)

According to Wiktionary, umquhile has a “Q”-less and therefore less interesting form, umwhile, and both spellings use a descendant of the Old English ymbe, meaning “around, about.” It still exists in basically the same form in Dutch (om, German (um) and a few others, and it’s related to the Latin prefix ambi-, meaning both and present in English words like ambivalent and ambisexual. The second part, meanwhile, comes from the Old English hwile, meaning “a period of time.”

Previous strange and wonderful words:
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Thursday, December 09, 2010

A Whole Lot of Precious Time

Via The Retroist, the original video for George Harrison’s “I’ve Got My Mind Set on You” — that is, the one that doesn’t star George singing in the weird haunted cabin where the furniture inexplicably comes to life.


The hunky guy who stars, by the why, is a young Alexis Denisof, long before he became the Whedonverse’s Wesley Wyndam-Price and slightly even more before he became Mr. Alyson Hannigan.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Invasive Anteater

Because Sanam knows that I love all things anteater, she correctly assumed that I’d be more fascinated than repulsed by the following image. Spoiler: It’s fucked up.


Given that you probably saw the image immediately after if not while you were reading the above sentence, that spoiler warning was not especially effective. I realize that much.

(Image source: I assume Sanam drew it.)

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Sliced Tomatoes, by Way of Countless High School Dances

Okay, so there’s been a lot of music lately. That’s just where I am. I’ve actually been performing the kind of sit-at-the-desk tasks that require casual distraction, so I’ve been listening to music, jumping on to weird YouTube playlists and seeing where they take me. Tonight, I happened across a fun surf rock-sounding track, The Just Brothers’ 1972 release “Sliced Tomatoes.”


I may not surf and I haven’t been to the beach in months, but I still dig instrumental surf rock. And I thought this was that. And I liked it until the realization hit me: It’s “The Rockefeller Skank.” You know — the Fatboy Slim song from She’s All That and just about every trailer for movies aimed at teenagers between 1998 and 2001? This song was unescapable for a period, and it has once again returned, only in older and less offensive form. The chord progressions in “Sliced Tomatoes” are exactly the same.

I double-checked on Who Sampled Who, that site I used to track down the Alison Moyet laugh, and I’m right: The song was indeed sampled by Fatboy Slim. So it’s not news to the music world, but I was still happy to have excavated this music fossil on my own.

One more random fact about a song you’d probably rather forget: Despite considerable commercial success, Fatboy Slim says he didn’t make any money off it. Instead, Fatboy Slim gave away a quarter of the profits to each of the artists he sampled: The Just Brothers (who are apparently considered an R&B group), Bobby Fuller (“I Fought the Law),” John Barry (“Beat Girl”) and Art of Noise (“Peter Gunn”). Random, that.

Okay, one more: According to Who Sampled Who, that other once-inescapable Fatboy Slim song, “Praise You,” contains a sample from a disco remix of “It’s a Small World” that Disney released back in the age when such things were popular.

They Want to Go to There

As a follow-up to this morning’s post, another about the intersection of pop music and Africa. This one — a pro-repatriation hymn by the Jamaican rocksteady trio The Gaylads — is far more successful.


And yes — ha ha, “Gaylads,” but I think the song still holds up.

At Last! A Pop Song About Nairobi!

I believe that pop music has evolved for the better. Take even the most braindead Ke$ha song, and you’ll probably find that it’s less stupid that a lot of the also-rans that got radio play in the 40, 50s and early 60s. Yes, even I can think of many exceptions to the declaration I just made, but the songs we’re both thinking of are more likely not representative of the overall quality of songwriting back then. They’re the good ones, the songs whose fame extends beyond the year they were released in by virtue of not being mere trifles. Let me give you an example of one of the less-than-golden oldies of which I speak: “Roly Poly,” as performed by Muriel Landers in the 1959 movie Pillow Talk.


It’s no slam against Muriel’s music abilities, but the fact that Doris Day and Rock Hudson’s characters are enjoying the song as much as they are makes me think they’re both developmentally disabled. To me, a lot of pop music from back in the day just seems simple. You could make a similar argument about some TV and film, I suppose, but I feel it’s truer of music. Songs that seemed appropriate and fun to audiences back then seem today more like songs for babies.

Also, I’ve long believed that back-up singers from these eras often existed to make the lead vocalist sound better. Think about it. In many songs, they just parrot what comes out of the main singer’s mouth, only in shrill voices. It’s not a bad thing, really, and I’d be lying if I said I never wanted my own trio of doo-wop singers, making me sound smarter and less annoying by comparison. But I’m also glad music have moved away from that technique.

It’s with these thoughts that I present to you Tommy Steele’s “Nairobi.” Despite everything about this 1958 track, Spencer actually heard it just this week, played in a public space as it were the most normal thing in the world.



And here are the lyrics. It’s a call-and-response song, and I’m printing the lyrics with Steele’s unformatted and the back up singers in parentheses. My comments are un-indented.
Nairobi
(Nairobi)
Nairobi
(Nairobi)
Listen to the cockatoo
(Listen to the cockatoo)
Singin' to the monkeys
(Singin' to the monkeys)
I have no clue if any part in Kenya has cockatoos or monkeys, to be honest, but I’m willing to believe that these lines constitute scene-setting.
Nairobi
(Nairobi)
Nairobi
(Nairobi)
Meet me in the moonlight
(Meet me in the moonlight)
Riding on a donkey
(Riding on a donkey)
Again, I’m not sure if people actually ride donkeys in Nairobi, but I’m at least glad the lyrics didn’t have anyone riding on zebra in a attempt to sound Africa-y.
Meet me in the moonlight
(A-ha!)
Just the way you used to
(Hot dog!)
Talk a little love talk
(Hey boy!)
Cook a little rooster
(Cook a little rooster!)
At this point in the song, I believe the back-up singers to have gone insane, for they stop repeated Steele’s lines and just start shouting gibberish… except for the whole part about cooking a little rooster, which seems like a weird departure from the developing romantic mood.
Rolling in the sand dunes
(Flying fishy)
Splashing in the water
(Don't get wet)
I'm-a-gonna kiss you
(You're gonna kiss me)
Only when I oughta
(That's nice)
Where to begin? I don’t know why anyone is seeing flying fish in the sand dunes, nor why they’re moving from sand dunes to the water so quickly, nor how anyone can splash in the water without getting wet. However, it’s heartening to see that both male and female parties have consented to refrain from sexually assaulting each other.
Nairobi
(Nairobi)
Nairobi
(Nairobi)
I'm a-gonna squeeze you
(I'm a-gonna squeeze you)
Pretty little gum drop
(Pretty little gum drop)
Well, they’re squeezing now. But the women seem okay with that.
Nairobi
(Nairobi)
Nairobi
(Nairobi)
Hear the way my heart goes
(Hear the way my heart goes)
Jing-a-ling-a-pop-pop
(Jing-a-ling-a-pop-pop)
If you’re heart is ever going jing-a-ling-a-pop-pop, you should go to the hospital.
Don't tell-a mama
(Oh no)
Don't tell-a papa
(I don't care)
Meet me by the back porch
(Oooh-hooh)
Give a little ha-ha
(Give a little ha-ha)
Based on the “Don’t tell-a papa / I don’t care” lyrics, I now suspect that the women are less inhibited than I might have guessed. I feel that the “back porch” and “Give a little ha-ha” references are more sexually explicit than I’d expect from the era.
I'm a-gonna be there
(Where's that?)
Waiting at the bamboo
(Big bamboo)
Give a little whistle
(Peep peep)
Make a little yoo-hoo
(Yoo-hoo)
Two words: “Big bamboo.” A few more: Do they have bamboo in Nairobi? And why did anyone think that “Where’s that?” would be an appropriate response to the line “I’m a-gonna be there”?
Nairobi
(Nairobi)
Nairobi
(Nairobi)
Bring along a banjo
(Bring along a banjo)
Plink a little sing-song
(Plink a little sing-song)
Nairobi
(Nairobi)
Nairobi
(Nairobi)
Bring along a bongo
(Bring along a bongo)
Pick a little bing-bong
(Pick a little bing-bong)
Just as I suspect that the lyrics-writer has never been to Nairobi and lacked an encyclopedia about the Kenyan capital city, I also suspect that he had never heard a bongo before, for he would have otherwise know that “pick a little bing-bong” isn’t necessarily the best way to describe the sound or action of playing one. Unless “pick a little bing-bong” is perhaps in the same category as “big bamboo,” “back porch” and “ha-ha.”

So that’s the song. Granted, it’s not representative of music in the 60s, exactly, but it does boast some extreme examples of the traits that bother me the most. The song was written by Bob Merrill, best known for penning legit hits “(How Much Is That) Doggie in the Window?” and “Mambo Italiano,” but responsible for other oddities such as “She Wears Red Feathers (And a Huly-Huly Skirt)” and “Feet Up (Pat Him on the Po-Po),” the latter of which, yes, does have a Wikipedia page. Be thankful, because it has allowed us to know that po-po is, in fact, a euphemism for the bottom.

In closing, I’d like to say that I hope the Kenyan Tourism Board was very confused by this song and wrote to the record company a letter that featured some variation of the sentence, “This song could not have less to do with our fair capital city.”

Previously overanalyzed lyrics: