“. . . Wop bop a lula wop bam boom. . .”

sheb in 'high noon'

sheb in ‘high noon’

In 1991 I was teaching a music appreciation course—a general survey of American music—at bunker hill community college in Boston.  Several of my students were older émigrés from the Soviet Union, given entrance to the u.s. because adult children of theirs were already permanent residents here. Their main goal at BHCC was to learn English.

One unit of the course plan was on film scores and TV theme songs. I thought the immigrant students especially could “relate” to music they might have heard on TV.

I began the unit with quintessentially American music, the theme song to “Rawhide,” which all Americans – at least all I knew – watched devotedly every Friday evening, 1959 to 1966. The score was composed by one of Hollywood’s most honored composers, Dimitri Tiomkin, with lyrics by another Hollywood legend, Ned Washington.

Imagine my surprise—no, shock!—when the Russian students began singing along in Russian.

It was, they assured me, a Russian folk song. I had read many secondary sources about Tiomkin which said he was “influenced by” Russian folk music, but I have yet to read anywhere that the “rawhide” tune is a Russian folk song. All I can say is my students were singing some Russian words to a tune they all knew, and it—apparently by coincidence was the same as TV music composed by another émigré from the soviet union—this barely a decade after McCarthy! I could compose a hit theme song, too, if I knew a body of folk music no one else knew

–note: I’m giving up on capital letters right now; I’m typing with one hand because my left arm’s in this sling from shoulder surgery; if Word makes a cap automatically, fine. capital letters are an affectation, anyway. After today I’ll be using dragon and talking to you. We’ll see if that can satisfy my tle writing compulsion. Is talking the same as writing? doubtful–

Clint eastwood (rowdy Yates), the star of the show, sultry, macho, and handsome as he was, did not capture my imagination as did his drover sidekick, sheb wooley (Pete Nolan). Eastwood was too sexy, too perfect a male image for me. I couldn’t go for his stellar qualities. His less flamboyant, more realistic—but equally seductive—friend was just hot enough for me.

We all knew sheb before rawhide. He was a pop singer. Country western, that is. Except for his one great hit, ‘the flying purple people eater,’ from 1958. This song sounds the way popular music should sound! Memorable tune, steady rhythm, not so loud and filled with electronic tracks you can’t hear the main melody. Oh, yes, and sensible words.

sheb wooley typifies much of the understanding of culture—both real and pop—that floats unbidden in my mind, of course, and my grandnephews might not say it, but they would think, ‘eeeeeeeeeeeeeew’ if they knew how much there is—and how much lingers also in their parents’ minds.

sheb with  Sharon Leighton Joyner- watch out for the bees!

sheb with Sharon Leighton Joyner- watch out for the bees!

Hair styles, for example. Need I say a word of explanation about the sensible coif of wooley’s friend, Sharon Leighton Joyner?

And blue jeans. Does anyone really think sagging your pants is sexy? As sexy as sheb with his tight jeans and chaps? Does anyone in the world –anyone with brains or normal sexual urges—really want to see Justin bieber’s bare ass? Certainly not his mother.

So I think I’m an old bore without a lick of pop culture sense. A fuddy-duddy –the smu students I spend so much time with surely have an au courant word for it—who can’t possibly have anything to say to the Millennials or their successors.

Then why are my o-so-up-to-date and technologically ept and sophisticated students unable to handle their assignment to research and write about the French performance artist ORLAN? unable to decide if they think her work is grotesque? Unable when their old professor who is unbearably lonely and immanently terrified of the death he is looking in the face can not only handle it but seeks out to ponder the questions ORLAN wants to raise.

My work is a fight against nature and the idea of God… the inexorability of life, DNA-based representation. And that’s why I went into cosmetic surgery; not looking to enhance or rejuvenate, but to create a total change of image and identity. I claim that I gave my body to art. The idea is to raise the issue of the body, its role in society and in future generations, via genetic engineering, to mentally prepare ourselves for this problem (Orlan, from ‘Synthetic Pleasures’) (1).

ORLAN’s ‘fight against nature and the idea of God… the inexorability of life’ is ‘anti-conformist’ enough to captivate the mind of the old professor.

Carnal Art loves the baroque and parody; the grotesque, and the other such styles that have been left behind, because Art opposes the social pressures that are exerted upon both human body and the corpus of art. Carnal art is anti-formalist and anti-conformist (2).

no se  no sagging here (thank goodness!)

no sagging here (thank goodness!)

The flying purple people eater. Bee-hive hairdos. A Russian folksong as the theme for an American western. My inability to type capital letters. Sagging pants.

One thing seems undeniable: the human desire to fight death wherever possible is too deeply rooted to be eradicated in any way. Body modification, plastic surgery, and the attempt to shape our bodies in the image of our desires to me seems one of the more benign manifestations of the denial of death. . . . (3)

Watch out! you purple people!
(1) ‘Orlan and Body Art.’ Imaging the Body. The Evergreen State College, Olympia Washington. Winter 06. Web.
(2) Akman, Kubilay. ‘Orlan and the Work of Art in the Age of Hyper-mechanical Organic Reproduction.’ International Journal of Baudrillard Studies 3.1 (January 2006). Web.
(3) Strenger, Carlo. “Body Modification and the Enlightenment Project of Struggling Against Death.” Studies in Gender & Sexuality 10.3 (2009): 166-171.

About Harold Knight
Retired English prof, SMU. Old man. Musician. Passionate about justice, equality, freedom. Therefore, I am a fervent supporter of and advocate for the Palestinian People as they struggle to survive genocide. That also means, of course, I have no use for US 45.

One Response to “. . . Wop bop a lula wop bam boom. . .”

  1. Pingback: “. . . an angel who flew in midair with one eternal gospel to proclaim. . . “ | Me, senescent

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