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One’s for the Chicken Poo

October 1, 2009

Childhood is a magical time, and one of its most magical components is playground poetry. Parents try to protect their kids, but as we all keep hearing on talk shows, you can’t be with them 24/7. There are huge stretches of unsupervised time during which children’s peers or slightly older schoolmates introduce them to all manner of profanities and filthy sexual gesticulations. It is truly delightful. Some of my earliest memories are of learning inappropriate poems and songs at school/day care and singing them with my brother until one or both parents threatened to beat us with rebar. And the fun never really stops. Even in your mid-20s it’s practically guaranteed that at some point, you and a friend will accidentally discover over drinks that after the first three canonical verses of “Diarrhea,” your respective versions of the song veer off in different but equally hilarious directions. Education is a lifelong journey. I have had actual arguments with people about the “real” or “correct” version of a certain childhood song. It can get every bit as intense as an academic dispute about which of two manuscripts is more reliable or which of two poets was more talented. If Oxford were to publish the text of “Diarrhea,” the apparatus criticus would be insane.

And don’t even get me started on the overwhelming amount of shoutouts to Indo-European poetics in these kiddie kompositions, because holy shit. We don’t have bards wearing themselves out performing day-long recitations of the Iliad anymore, but oral poetry is alive and well. One only has to approach a schoolyard at lunch to be treated to an enthusiastic chorus of eight-year-olds performing a piece like “Supersonic Fart” (composed ca. 1983, I think):

We were driving down the highway –
About 104 –
When someone took a fart
And it blew us out the door.
The tires couldn’t take it.
The car fell apart.
And all we could remember
Was the supersonic fart.

From beginning to end this is the work of a hilarious young genius. It is vocalically, consonantally, and metrically flawless – everything a piece of oral poetry should be. Calvert Watkins himself would tip his hat to the composer. In terms of subject matter, it is beyond inspired. Imagine a fart so rank that it would set off a calamity of these proportions. A car is travelling slightly above the speed limit. I always imagine it as a long boring stretch of flat Saskatchewan highway. Suddenly, one of the vehicle’s occupants passes gas. The windows burst. Everyone is thrown from the vehicle, which then collapses: first the tires pop and then the body of the vehicle simply disintegrates as it careers down the road. The passengers survive the explosion, but are stricken with long-term memory loss. All they can remember is the supersonic fart. Yes. A thousand times yes.

Much of our poetry was less complex, more epigrammatic. Martial would surely give a thumbs-up to the following:

What you say is what you are.
You’re a naked movie star.

I was always a little perplexed by this couplet. The first sentence makes sense, it’s one of those gnomic things that day care staff love to toss out, not realizing that when they use it they sound more like four-year-olds than the four-year-olds they’re trying to contribute to the social maturity of. What you say is what you are. I can see that utterance getting some respect for a while before degenerating into the singsongy cliche it has spent the majority of its life being. But the second line requires more analysis. You’re a naked movie star. The idea is to call the other person something positive so that – what one says being what one is – the remark will rebound back and predicate the speaker rather than the person to whom s/he is speaking. Clever. The “movie star” part is fair enough; what I don’t entirely understand is the “naked.” I suspect manuscript corruption, and/or a four-year-old who didn’t fully understand what s/he was doing and was at that stage of life (age four through age 30) where making cheeky references to nudity was irresistibly hilarious, irregardless of the context. Perhaps the thrill of calling the day care teacher naked was worth sacrificing a bit of compositional integrity. I remember this poem causing its share of consternation back in the day: the “naked” was an ongoing concern for those of us “older kids” who understood what the joke was trying to do and saw that the word didn’t belong. Many of us attempted to popularize a new adjective (“stinky,” “stupid,” etc.), but in vain. Kids know a spurious verse when they hear one, and the traditional, vocalically superior “naked” held its own.

The only thing as hilarious as nudity is, of course, bodily functions. Hence the abovementioned tribute to diarrhea, as well as the following shorter shoutout:

Campbell’s soup
Makes me poop
Down my leg
And in my boot.

Wow. What inspired muselet wrote this? The first two lines are markedly better than the second two and were probably composed weeks or months before the last half of the verse was tacked on by one of those kids who are never satisfied with what they have and want more, more!! But as a whole, it’s another lovely piece, although it’s no “Supersonic Fart.” The best part of this one was that Campbell’s soup is consumed at least once a week in most homes (and the first word could easily be switched to “Lipton” if necessary), so there were plenty of opportunities to make real-world use of this poem, to universally poor parental reviews.

Speaking of which, this next one was my mom’s all-time least favourite thing in life, and so was proportionately adored by my brother and me:

Bang bang, you’re dead.
Fifty bullets in your head.
One’s black, one’s blue,
One’s for the chicken poo.

This piece has everything – violence and bodily functions. And it’s ridiculously catchy. My mom may have hated it, but she must have had it in her head for two years straight, because she was hearing it at least nine hundred times a day from 1984 through 1986. My god did she ever despise this song. Really got every last bit of her dander up. “I ASKED YOU TO STOP SINGING THAT!! IT TALKS ABOUT KILLING SOMEONE WITH A GUN AND IT DOESN’T EVEN MAKE ANY SENSE!!!!!!!!”

Kids also excel in the field of song parody. I had two favourites that I couldn’t choose between; one was dear to my heart for its length and the other for its cutting brevitas. I’ll let the reader choose a favourite. The first was loosely based on the opening theme of the cartoon “Hercules,” undoubtedly the most ridiculous television program ever produced. It’s Otis, the Chameleon Man! The Chameleon Man!

Hercules
The big fat phony,
Hercules
Made out of cheese and bologna.
Fighting for his life
With a rubber knife,
With the strength of ten
Little paper men.
Victory is here;
Join us for a beer
At the side of
Herculeeees!

Perfect. Inspired. Scrumtrelescent. Group renditions of “Hercules” filled me with an overpowering, empowering desire to be taken seriously as a comedian. That song was harmless because no one except everyone’s parents had ever watched Hercules or had affection for any of the characters. I’d seen the show only a handful of times but I still enjoyed the parody of its theme song. All that reversal of expectation! Plus it mentioned beer! But if you wanted to rile up a gaggle of seven-year-old girls while spinning comedy gold – which I inevitably did, even during the period when I myself was a seven-year-old girl – you had to get personal. You had to hit them where they lived:

My little pony,
Skinny and bony,
Died of a heart attack yesterday.

I still laugh out loud at this. LOL. ROFLMAO. It is brilliant. It speaks for itself. I always disliked the saccharine pinkness of MLP, but over time as more and more relatives began to bestow the pastel-coloured winged insipid beasts and their accessories (Magic Dream House!) upon me, I grudgingly accepted them into the play rotation. They never fit in with my beloved Maple Town animals; they were so fucking big and gangly. In the stories I devised they were used mainly for transportation, while the Katz family (IT DOESN’T EVEN MAKE ANY SENSE!!!!!! What are the odds that a family of cats would actually have the surname Katz? About as high as the likelihood of a human family surnamed Person!) and Mouse family (Augh! Embarrassing for the same reason!) and Mrs. Kangaroo and Sheriff Bulldog and the rest had the real adventures.

This post could go on forever, but maybe I’ll just leave it here. Christmas is scarily near, and that’s really the jackpot season for childhood song parodies. But what about the principal? / He’s hanging from the flagpole, / Waiting to die, / Waaaiting to die, / WaaaaaaAAAAAaaaaaiiiiting to die.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. cockrocker69 permalink
    October 1, 2009 10:01 am

    It’s our very own oral poetry tradition. Milman Parry would have had a field day.

  2. Kate permalink*
    October 1, 2009 10:06 am

    Did you have “Supersonic Fart” in Ontario? I’ve always wondered how widespread that one was…

  3. tara permalink
    October 2, 2009 7:14 pm

    For some reason, I always thought it was “one’s full of chicken poo.” Not that it makes more sense, but still…

  4. Kate permalink*
    October 3, 2009 2:57 pm

    It does make slightly more sense. I bet that was the original version. But I have to stand by the University Day Care 1983-86 version, even if I’m representin’ a less enlightened playground.

  5. cockrocker69 permalink
    October 3, 2009 7:16 pm

    The kids on my bus were singing something ridiculous the other day. I must ask what it was.

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