(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
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.
4 months ago