Monday, January 25, 2010

Music: Rolf Harris / Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport

(First sent  29.11.2008)
Never let it be said, dear readers, that this regular email does not strive, on occasions at least, to be topical and relevant. Certainly an item on what was thrown off the Tallahatchie Bridge may not be of riveting interest in 2008, but today’s item is bursting with topicality…
Rolf Harris has been in the news in the last few days for a number of reasons:
Baz Luhrman did a last minute deal with Rolf to have Rolf’s wobble board in the sound track for Australia, Baz having realised how iconic for Oz that wobble board sound is;
Rolf has released a picture book of his paintings illustrating the lyrics to Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport.
After doing the big atonement grovel for some of the lyrics, Rolf made a few comments that weren’t exactly PC (more of that later).

Today’s featured item is therefore…(drum roll/wobble board)… Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport

Some facts and background:

Harris wrote the song in 1957. Having heard Harry Belafonte sing a calypso “Hold ‘Em Joe”, he wanted to write a pub song in an Australian calypso style that the drinkers could join in on. Rolf says that he was particularly influenced by the words “Don’t tie my donkey down there, let him bray, let him bray.” He has stated that the lyrics just flowed and the melody came easily.

When it was released in 1960, it went to #1 in Oz for 4 weeks and reached the top 10 in Britain.

It flopped in the US but became a hit after Rolf had a hit with “Sun Arise.”

The US version was produced by George Martin, who later produced the Beatles’ hits

The whoop-whoop sound of the wobble board came about when Rolf had been drying a piece of masonite on which he had done a painting. Having tried to dry it on a paraffin heater he shook it to dry  and a new musical instrument was born.

Hear the song at:

The lyrics:

The lyrics are well known enough not to need reprinting here.

What is lesser known is that in 1960, when the song was released, there was a verse included for which Rolf has repeatedly apologised and which he has not sung since 1960.

That verse is:

Let me Abos go loose, Lou,
Let me Abos go loose.
They're of no further use, Lou
So let me Abos go loose.

In 1957 when the song was written, aboriginal workers on stations were in many cases treated no better than slaves, a fact reflected unwittingly in the Harris lyric above. Singapore banned the record for that reason.
The lyric above is even more racist and controversial when one considers that the animals referred to in the other verses of the song (kangaroo, platypus duck etc) are all in captivity.

In an interview in 2006 he stated "I was 27 or something when I wrote that. But since 1960, I have never sung that verse."

He has since tried to stop the verse being played or republished, not always successfully.

More foot in mouth:

In an interview published in the Sydney Morning Herald - -
on 28.11.2008, Rolf again apologised for the offending verse: It was a mark of the times, done totally innocently with no realisation that you would offend at all … Just trying to create a fun song for a bunch of Aussies who were drinking themselves stupid on Swan Lager in London at the time.”

He then proceeded to make some observations on aboriginal culture and lifestyles:

"The attitude is that in their original way of life they would really wreck the surrounding countryside that they lived in and they would leave all the garbage and they would go walkabout to the next place," he said. "The traditional attitude is still there and I wish there was a simple solution but I'm not certain."

"You sit at home watching the television and you think to yourself, 'Get up off your arse and clean up the streets your bloody self' and 'Why would you expect somebody to come in and clean up your garbage which you've dumped everywhere?' But then you have to think to yourself that it's a different attitude to life."

Aboriginal children were never disciplined or expected to adhere to rules until adulthood, he said. "[Until] then they have a totally carefree life to do what they want and that quite often involves smashing everything that they have."

So there you have it, laze and gem, the thoughts of Oz’s Mr Rolf Harris… is anyone else reminded of Sir Les Patterson? (And does anyone else think that he looks evil in the pic above?)

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