February 18, 2006

Who Threw the Overalls in Mrs. Murphy's Chowder?

ls_.jpg It will take awhile, but bear with me: eventually this post will explain how I came to record two songs for Lane Smith's terrific new picture book, the Beatles-y, Founding Father-y John, Paul, George, and Ben.

Herewith, the post:

Sometimes I have nightmares worth describing. Sometimes they will even verge on the Lovecraftian. But most often my dreams are embarrassingly mundane. I tend not to discuss them, because relating them in public would only reveal, or rather, would only remove all doubt from the general suspicion, that I am a shallow sort of person with not a whole lot going on upstairs.

I'll show you what I mean.

Dreamscape: I am out of staples, and no matter how hard I look, none of the staples in my store of office supplies will fit in my stapler; they are either too small or too big, never just right; I search everywhere and purchase them by the armful, but nothing ever fits. I make a face like that oft-stolen painting called "The Scream."

Dreamscape: I am baking a cake, and I can't read the part of the recipe where it specifies the ounces or tablespoons of this or that ingredient. The more I look at it, the fuzzier it becomes. I guess, and the resulting cake tastes terrible. The dinner party is ruined. I make a face like that oft-stolen painting called "The Scream."

Dreamscape: I am walking down the street and my shoelaces keep coming undone. No matter how tightly I re-tie them, they keep coming untied. I make a face like that oft-stolen painting called "Dude with Perpetually Untied Shoelaces." *Shudder*.

That's my usual sort of nightmare. The hell of it is (and I say that because it's not colloquial to say "the hells of them are") that the difference between these nightmares and actual real life is so difficult to spot that there might as well be no difference. Life is hell, it is true, but hell can be, and usually is at least in my case, quite lame.

I only bring this up because just the other night I had one of these non-Lovecraftian, irritatingly normal nightmares. I was at a bar party, and for some reason I stood up on the bar and started singing "Who Threw the Overalls in Mrs. Murphy's Chowder?" As one does. (If you're not Irish, or if you have not grown up in an Irish Catholic parish, you may not know this song; but if you are or have, chances are you know it. There's a recording of it here. And here are some annoyingly bowdlerized lyrics: changing "it's an Irish trick" to "it's a rotten trick," and changing "I can lick the mick that threw" to "I can lick the drip that threw" not only screws up the rhyme, but attempts to cleanse, ethnically, the Irishness out of it. Which is wrong. As a society, we should be sending the message: Dogs and Irish, Apply! Or so I claim, according to my beliefs...)

Anyhow, in this dream, my rendition of "Who Threw the Overalls in Mrs. Murphy's Chowder?" brought down the house. They worshipped my rendition of "Who Threw The Overalls in Mrs. Murphy's Chowder?" They rode me around on their shoulders. The bought me gallons of free drinks. They made me an honorary Irishman. Robust, red-headed, arrestingly-freckled women winked at me and made suggestive gestures. Ah, it was a kind of heaven, this "Mrs. Murphy's Chowder" nightmare.

In my dream, someone made a recording of this performance of "Who Threw the Overalls in Mrs. Murphy's Chowder?" and it was pressed into a single and played on the radio. My rendition of "Who Threw The Overalls in Mrs. Murphy's Chowder?" was a huge hit. I became famous and wealthy. The video was on Total Request Live. I was able to afford a beach house in Malibu, a stately pile in Cambridge, a Brooklyn brownstone, a San Francisco flat, a yacht, a Maserati, a wife, and four exotic mistresses. Even though I had written many swell, intense, amusing and occasionally even powerful original songs, all anyone wanted to hear from me was "Who Threw the Overalls in Mrs. Murphy's Chowder?" I was the "Who Threw the Overalls in Mrs. Murphy's Chowder?" guy. But my sudden rise to fame and wealth was brought up short just as quickly.

See, I guess I managed to leave the impression, without ever saying it directly, that I had written "Who Threw the Overalls in Mrs. Murphy's Chowder?" I guess there's a little James Frey in all of us, even my dream self. But of course, soon enough some troublemaker discovered that "Who Threw the Overalls in Mrs. Murphy's Chowder?" was written not by me, but rather by George L. Giefer, c. 1898.

So I had to give back the beach house, the stately pile, the brownstone, the flat, the yacht, the Maserati, and most of the mistresses. The suggestive gestures of winking, robust, red-headed, arrestingly-freckled women were but a distant and painful memory. I was reduced to inquiring whether or not the "change" of passers-by happened to be "spare." And such is how you might find me today. The dream, in other words, is over.

The "meaning" of this dream isn't hard to decipher. I recently recorded a version of "Yankee Doodle Dandy" (with alternate lyrics written by someone I don't know) to be used by Disney as promotional material for the forthcoming book John, Paul, George, and Ben, by the talented artist and author and all-around great guy Lane Smith. It's for what they call in the book business a "sizzle," which is a kind of book commercial. This one is to be shown on those TV screens at Disney stores throughout the country, as a trailer on Disney DVDs, and Lord only knows what else. The original plan called for a voice-over artist to sing the lyrics to a traditional fife-and-drum backing track, but Lane recruited me because he thought it might be fun to hear my distinctive, rather muppet-y voice accosting all the Disney store shoppers and DVD watchers. So I gave it a shot, and played it straight as a sort of punk rock folk song, accompanying myself with my old acoustic guitar instead of a fife and drum.

In the meantime, though, I was writing my own "John, Paul, George, and Ben" song, which I flattered myself to think was as good or better than the "Yankee Doodle" one. I even recorded it, just in case, and it came out pretty good. In the end, though, "The Mouse" (as those in the loop refer to the Disney Empire) decided to go with "Yankee Doodle" rather than my own "John, Paul, George, and Ben," and maybe that's for the best. Yet it will probably be the biggest audience ever to hear a song sung by my distinctive, rather muppet-y voice. My biggest and closest brush with fame to date. It may be what I am remembered for, if I am remembered for anything. "Yankee Doodle." Not "Population: Us" or something. Of course, I'm happy to help out. "Yankee Doodle", like "Who Threw the Overalls in Mrs. Murphy's Chowder?", is a fine song.

But if I've learned anything from the "Who Threw the Overalls in Mrs. Murphy's Chowder?" debacle, it's to be straight with everyone from the beginning, so here I go: I did not write "Yankee Doodle Dandy."

Posted by Dr. Frank at February 18, 2006 03:41 PM | TrackBack

Is that Lane Smith from "The Mighty Ducks" and "My Cousin Vinny" or a different guy?

Posted by: josh at February 18, 2006 04:43 PM

*Way* different guy:


Posted by: Dr. Frank at February 18, 2006 04:59 PM

"Who Threw the Overalls in Mrs. Murphy's Chowder?" is a fun song. We sang it in school, except we sang:

It's a dirty trick that's true,
And I'll lick the guy that threw

etc. You can see how they wouldn't want us to sing the original lyrics.

I've been to that site before. Those colors'll put your eye out if you're not careful.

Posted by: Angie Schultz at February 18, 2006 06:06 PM

Hey. I WAS in "My Cousin Vinny."

And I'm dead.

Posted by: Lane Smith at February 18, 2006 09:22 PM

Speaking of fanatical Muslims, Ary U., if you are reading this: This paper www.buffalobeast.com just reprinted the Mohammed-bomb cartoon and I wanted to prganize a boycott or demonstration outside of their offices. Do you know of any Muslim groups in the Buffalo area that might help me with this?

Posted by: chris riordan at February 19, 2006 03:30 AM

Now I really want to hear your "John, Paul, George and Ben" song. Are you ever going to make it available anywhere?

Posted by: Kate at February 19, 2006 07:26 PM

It would be funny to see 8 years old massively attending the next Mr. T Experience reunion. And you starting the concert with the copyright disclaimer.

Posted by: Javier at February 19, 2006 10:44 PM

Kate, I'm sure it'll all come out in the end...

Posted by: Dr. Frank at February 20, 2006 01:01 AM

ooh that's creepy frank, you planning a "with the lights out" type of postmortem anthology? please, put it out before that.

Posted by: chris riordan at February 22, 2006 05:30 PM