Monday, January 12, 2009

Harlem Serenade

Saturday morning, around 6am I was wakened by a man singing in the street. In a Latin accent thickened by drink my troubadour bellowed -there is no other verb to describe it- the following ditty.

I'm thinkin' I want my water bottle
I'm thinkin' I want my water bottle
Water bottle, water bottle.

Between renditions of this song (there appeared to be only one verse, though he did improvise some changes) he alternated -rapidly- between passionate declarations of love ("I love you, Juanito, man!") and hate ("I hate you, N****!") At some point a woman's voice entered the fray. She was much quieter, most of the time I couldn't make out what she was saying though "go home" did ring out clearly every once in a while. The troubadour took exception to this advice ("Fuck you! Fuck you! Fuck you! Fuck you!") would bellow "La Policia," then return to his song.

Even though this went on for at least an hour, I was uncharacteristically relaxed, even amused by all this. Sure I wondered why Juanito wasn't returning the fellow's water bottle, seemed like that would be an easy solution to the problem, but undoubtedly there were complications I knew nothing about. Even so, I really didn't mind the disturbance too much. Partly this was because The Water Bottle Song triggered thoughts of another song, one my sister reminded me of over the holidays, The Elephant Song.

Two elephants went out to play
All on a spider's web one day
They had such, enormous fun
They called for another elephant to come
Elephant, Elephant,

Three elephants went out to play
etc.

Maybe hearing my sister's voice singing this song (and recalling the context in which it came up) is why I was mostly amused by Water Bottle's antics. I love the surreality of this tune; I mean, elephants playing on a spider's web? "Enormous fun"? This song is genius, and fortunately for me was the one more likely to be played on the continuous loop in my head. I like it. If you're not familiar with this song, let me tell you the tune is also pretty catchy.

It does come with some dangers though. The fact that it counts UP rather than down strikes me as trouble in the making; I mean, when do you stop? Naturally thinking about this triggered thoughts of another song.

99 bottles of beer on the wall
99 bottles of beer
Take one down
Pass it around
98 bottles of beer on the wall.

This song has none of the charm or inventiveness of the Elephant Song, in my opinion, I might even prefer the Water Bottle Song over this one, but at least you know it's going to end sometime. This then reminded me (ah the associations one's brain makes at 6 in the morning) of a story a friend of mine told me. When he was ten or so, this friend was on a car trip with his parents, when he elected to sing every verse of the Bottles of Beer Song, starting from some ludicrously high number. I want to say he started with a million, but it was probably a thousand. In recounting this story, he and I both marveled at the fact that not only did his folks not choose to muzzle him, stuff him in a suitcase and put him in the trunk of the car, they DIDN'T EVEN ASK HIM TO STOP SINGING. Every single verse, he sang every single one. All the way through. Because it amused him. He thought it was funny. Entertaining even. One thousand verses of this song scrupulously rendered.

Dear sweet mother of God.

Either his parents were masters of meditation, and tuned him out, or they deserve sainthood. I suppose it's possible they were so smitten with their youngest child that they were actually entertained by his singing, but come on, how likely is that? Nobody can love their child that much.

So, thanks to the troubadour, I've had all three of these songs popping into my brain at regular intervals over the last two days. And now, probably so will you. Well, the ones you know, anyway.

You're welcome.

10 comments:

NEOMODERNIST said...

HI--Your site has no email link, so I am writing here. I found your blog through the Mary Stewart link. I love her Arthurian novels. I liked this post a lot--that guy must have been really drunk. Anyway, I admire his singing that song. Given your interest in gay rights, you might like to take a look at my poetry blog--serious writing, not porn, in spite of the title-- homoeroticpoems.blogspot.com. I guess it's for the gay man who paid attention in Sophomore Lit class, and maybe for some others, too.

David said...

You forgot "The bear went over the mountain."

Greg said...

Sounds like an improvement on the Ipod Concerts on December, anyway.

I look forward to you sticking the elephant tune in my head sometime.

Anonymous said...

Growing up we did a rendition called “99 Bottles of Coke on the Wall” while traveling. Beer or the mention of beer was strictly forbidden in my South Baptist upbringing. Oh, the memories of childhood songs. Thank you for the happy reminders.

You need to record the Elephant Song and post it so we can hear the tune.

Java said...

Thanks to Stephen Rader I've had "I Can't Believe I'm Not a Millionaire" on my continuous loop.

I read this post amid much laughter to Superman. He says you must die. He offers the alternate lyrics to the 99 bottles song that he learned as a young man when attending medieval reenactment events: 99 flagons of ale on the wall. IMHO that doesn't improve the song much.

Do you know "This is the Song that Never Ends" made popular (or very unpopular) by Shari Lewis and Lamb Chop?

Revenge bites. The joys of childhood frequently become the tortures of adulthood. Somehow The Song That Never Ends was a whole lot more fun before I had children. My mother loves this.

tornwordo said...

It reminds me of the "This is the Song the Never Ends" song. I find the repetetive verses comforting.

Birdie said...

You know, I was doing just fine until I read the comments about "The Song That Never Ends." Nooooooooooooo!

Where's my iPod?!

Birdie said...

And what about "The Ants Go Marching One By One?"

Patrick said...

NEOMODERNIST: thanks for stopping by, I look forward to reading your poetry.

David: I have only the dimmest recollection of that one, which I suspect is a blessing. My brain never lacks for ways to torture me.

Greg: yes, somehow I suspected you would appreciate the Elephant Song. It shares your cheerful attitude towards life.

Anonymous: it hadn't occurred to me there would be a tea-total version of the beer song, but I should have realized. I'm glad the memories triggered for you are mostly pleasant. Seems like some of my other readers had a less salubrious reaction.

Java: As with "bears" I have only a very dim recollection of "This is the Song That Never Ends", though since my Dad is a huge Shari Lewis/Lamb Chop fan, I'm surprised I don't know it better. Once again I seem to be spared additional torture. Ah, so it's true "wait until you have kids" is a legitimate threat. I get little glimpses of this on the subway from time to time, but obviously have never been truly tested.
Please make my apologies to Superman. I'm with you, 'flagons' doesn't improve anything. There's little one could do to improve that song, I fear. I'm too old even to enjoy acting it out.

Torn: Wow, I don't think I know that one at all, not even a glimmer. At least the title lets you know right off the bat what you're in for. I can see how such a thing might be comforting. That seems to have been the salve involved in the Elephant Song last Saturday. Normally people bellowing in the street make me murderous.

Birdie: What kind of monster have I unleashed? The number of songs constructed to be earworms seems to be endless. Once again, I'm spared the Ant song, since I can only remember tune for couple of lines. Thinking about that though is triggering snippets of the "Roll Over" song ('and one fell out' etc). This could be very dangerous, what we're doing here.

Eric said...

Ah yes. New York. Where a man wearing devil horns can stand in the subway muttering "izmo gizmo" ad infinitum, and nobody bats an eye.

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