Probably item #1 among my nascent collection of Maxims for Nostalgists would go something like this:
Not everybody shares your memories — in fact, few people do. But don’t write off your memories as lively (or misshapen) childhood inventions, either. The Internet tells us so.
Like many stories, the story behind today’s post is longer than the simple facts (or mere common sense) might indicate. I recently received a comment on one of my old (mostly two-part) What’s in a Song posts, the one about “Cry Me a River” (Part 1 of which was here). In the course of replying to the comment, I got involved in re-reading what I’d already posted, checking the links and so on. Naturally, some of these — especially YouTube videos — had broken in the last three years, so I looked around for more current links to the same (or similar) content.
Which got me looking back at the Julie London version of the Mickey Mouse Club‘s sign-off song (“M-i-c, k-e-y…”). Suddenly, unbidden, a mini-avalanche of memories tumbled out of my subconscious, into the full light of awareness — all related to the songs on an old phonograph album, of music featured on the original TV series.
One of the songs on this album was an odd little number partially in some Oriental language — Chinese, I thought, or maybe Korean. It was a song about (according to the English verses) a raccoon, a raccoon who was always hungry. And because he was always hungry he sang — in particular, he sang something which sounded like koink-koink-koink! But that couldn’t be right, could it?
A quick Google search led me straight to this post by someone identified as Mama Lisa — and her many commenters. A gold mine of reassurance!
Turns out that “Sho-Jo-Ji” wasn’t written for the Mickey Mouse Club (as I’d assumed). It’s actually a fairly old Japanese children’s song, about a creature called a Japanese raccoon dog — or tanuki. The song made its appearance during the first season of the Mickey Mouse Club, in November, 1955 (too early for even me to have seen and remembered it from that source). This version doesn’t seem to be available in any commercial form (MP3, iTunes…), but I have found what is darned close to the version I remember (if not the actual thing). The specific signature touch I recall: the prolonged trilling/warbling/musical-free-association between verses.
The uploader tags this with the year 1957 but I assume that’s the date of the album. (I got the November 1955 date from this page, which seems pretty confident about it.)
As I said, the song has a history. Here’s a vintage (apparently real vintage) Japanese black-and-white cartoon featuring dancing raccoon dogs:
But the oddest little tidbit I found while looking into this was the discovery of a recording by Eartha Kitt, from just about the same time that the song appeared on the Mickey Mouse Club:
By the way, if you’ve got children of your own who are capable of Internet research, you might want to guide their search on this topic. The tanuki stories of Japan, in general form, seem vaguely reminiscent of Native American stories of the entity called Coyote. (You can find a few of them in translated form here.) Tanuki, personified, is a mischievous trickster capable of changing shape at will, often for no particular reason than that he enjoys it. Wikipedia:
Compared with kitsune (foxes), which are the epitome of shape-changing animals, there is the saying that “the fox has seven disguises, the tanuki has eight”… The tanuki is thus superior to the fox in its disguises, but unlike the fox, which changes its form for the sake of tempting people, tanuki do so to fool people and make them seem stupid. There is also the theory that they simply like to change their form.
So far so good. Still cute, right? (I mean, just look at the photo over there on the right. Raccoons themselves cute as a button, of course — but add The Pooch Factor and it can just about make a small-dog lover swoon.)
But the tanuki tales have a somewhat kinkier side, too (kinkier to American readers, anyhow): male tanuki are supposedly blessed with enlarged testicles, which (so goes the legend) bring financial good luck. Some of the artwork playing up this angle carries the hope for good luck to an extreme; the creature itself may occupy a little tiny corner of a two-page spread, say, while the testicles fill the entire remainder. I know I’m revealing a Philistine nature here, but, well… it can be a little, um, ick.
Edit to add: The English-language versions above both feature — if I’m not mistaken — the rhyme:
Macaroons and macaroni
Jelly beans and beef baloney
Which, if I haven’t misheard the lyrics, probably signals a non-literal translation. (It also sort of drags my head in another direction — towards the Chef Boy-Ar-Dee Beefaroni theme song — but please, don’t let me get started on the subject of commercial jingles from the ’50s and ’60s!)