Monday, May 12, 2014

Borrowing Outrage At A Ruinious Rate Of Interest

     (Via a hot tip from The Unwanted Blog) NPR, never a mob to blink at swallowing camels while straining at gnats, is anguished -- anguished! -- to discover what they're calling "the racist roots" of the old familiar ice cream truck song.

     Yeah, yeah, you probably thought it was Turkey In The Straw, and if you grew up on a steady diet of animated cartoons, the tune (along with the similar The Arkansas Traveler) conjures up images of rural America.  It probably ought to make you think of rural England or Scotland instead; that's where it came from, as The Old Rose Tree.  Nobody know how old it is -- as far back as folk music's been written down, it was there. It's been quoted as far afield as Brubeck's Unsquare Dance (in 7/4 time!).  The tune belongs to all of us, perhaps no one more than the small children who take the tinkling, eight-bit version wafting across summer laws as their cue to swap hoarded coins for sweet, chilly treats.

     And like a lot of things that go way back in American history, it took some terrible turns between The Old Rose Tree and your neighborhood purveyor of frosty calories: that simple, catchy tune was appropriated for 19th-Century minstrel shows, and for the kind of mockery that passed for light entertainment on gramophone records in the early years of the 20th.  Yep.  It happened.  Plenty worse happened, too, and we learned better, painfully, by and by. While simple types like you and me might think the crew at Warner's Termite Terrace and their peers elsewhere in Hollywood (and on the radio and, later, television) had redefined the racism right back out of that sequence of notes, we would, per NPR, be wrong.  But even their Fellow On The Suburban Front Lines, after duly agonizing over a past he never set foot in and his kids can barely comprehend, has to admit, "I will smile and hand over money from my pocket. The sight of my children enjoying a Good Humor ice cream bar will fight back the racist song..."

     Except it wasn't "a racist song" to begin with -- and decent people have been busily reclaiming it longer than he's been alive.  Geez, eat your ice cream.


David aka True Blue Sam said...

I've had my share of hateful comments when I had Turkey In The Straw up on YouTube, and if they get nasty, I just delete them. It's history, people. I've been posting a handful of Climax records recently, and because of the timeframe in which they were pressed, they came from the minstrel show era. I'm careful what I say and print in the descriptions so folks don't get their panties in a wad. They get twenty or thirty views from old record aficianadoes, and we are a pretty polite group of musicologists. I haven't seen any of the YouTubers who post these old records make gratuitous racist comments. It's history, and we're smarter if we know about it.

Wouter de Waal said...

Aaaah memories of my Apple ][

Yes, back in those days it was pretty amazing.

And it's a white person dancing, unless you had green phosphor like I did.

Fuzzy Curmudgeon said...

It is always amusing to watch the soi-disant right-thinking people lose their minds over the most idiotic, meaningless things.

Anonymous said...

Some people just need to get a life!


Anonymous said...

I hate the music from the trucks, but not because of the back history of the song. I hate it because the local truck plays the same eight bars of music over and over for the five to ten minutes it spends on my street every afternoon. I will note however that the kids who patronize the truck, several of whom are black, don't seem to mind whatever inherent racism might be in the song.


Windy Wilson said...

Anything apparently can be discovered to be racist.
I wonder when Irving Berlin's "White Christmas" will be deemed too racist to play during whatever the holidays in the last two weeks of December are called nowadays, because way back when the Army was being integrated by Harry Truman some bigoted soldiers expressed their opposition by singing, "I'm dreaming of a white Battalion."

Ed Skinner said...

Nice links esp Unsquare Dance. Thank you!