Q: When I was a teenager in the 1960s, I remember enjoying a song called “The Rockin’ Goose.” It wasn’t very popular but it was on the radio. When I tried to convince my granddaughter, she said, “Grandpa, I’ve tried to find it on the computer, and I think you’ve slipped a cog.” I’d appreciate it if you could convince her I still have a little bit left even at my advanced age.
Bill Hearty, of Cahokia
A: You should politely tell your granddaughter she owes you one honkin’ apology.
In the late ’50s and early ’60s, Johnny and the Hurricanes were blowin’ up a storm at a time when two-minute novelty instrumentals were constantly taking the hit parade by storm. (Remember “Apache,” “Calcutta,” “Java,” “Alley Cat,” “Yakety Sax,” etc., etc.?)
After getting together in 1957 in Toledo, Ohio, John Pocisk (stage name Johnny Paris) and four school chums hit the big time two years later when “Crossfire,” recorded in an empty theater to provide echo, shot up to No. 23 on the charts. Using a typical mix of organ, sax, guitar, bass and drums, they would make a name for themselves by taking traditional tunes and giving them a rock ’n’ roll flavor. Their biggest hit was “Red River Rock” in 1959, which hit No. 5, but there also was “Reveille Rock,” “Revival” (taken from “When the Saints go Marching In”) and “Blue Tail Fly,” which they turned into “Beatnik Fly.” (I have a copy, natch.)
Among the group’s nine Top 100 hits was “Rocking Goose.” It has a driving organ melody with backup rhythm that includes what sounds like someone blowing a goose call at appropriate times. In 1960, the little ditty topped out at No. 60, which pretty much marked the end of their success in the United States. However, they developed a following in Europe, where in 1962 they played the Star-Club in Hamburg, Germany. Their opening act? A still fairly unknown quartet who called themselves the Beatles. Johnny and his Hurricanes would continue to tour off and on until his death in 2006.
You can relive your early rockin’ days at www.youtube.com, where you can hear the golden oldie by searching for “Rocking Goose.” Or go to amazon.com and buy one of Johnny’s greatest hits CDs. Better yet, have your granddaughter buy you one as an I’m-sorry-I-ever-doubted-you present.
Q: I remember seeing an unusual movie in about the 1950s called “Bill and Coo.” It had live birds, from parakeets to cockatoos, living as humans in a small town. They lived in houses, drove cars and had jobs. There must have been some kind of narration because they were years away from being able to have what looked like live animals speaking. I have looked for it and I can’t find it. Help!
Bill Tierney, of Belleville
A: Return with me to Chirpendale, a town strictly for the birds.
Here your fine-feathered friends can find everything they’d ever want — plenty of parking spaces, jazzy music and a bar where the fair fowl can nibble on junebug sundaes. There’s even love in the air when a plucky young avian named Bill Singer, a taxi driver by day, rescues Coo from a fire.
They wind up in front-seat perches at the circus to watch Cannonball Twitcher on his out-of-control motorcycle. But (gasp!) there’s trouble aloft when an evil raven known as “The Black Menace” flies into town. Will Bill and the other townsfolk be able to clip his wings?
Long before Pixar and other technologically advanced studios were even a dream, this 1948 film was pleasing children of all ages — and apparently still is.
“It charms the viewers — and astounds,” one reviewer wrote on imdb.com. “How DID they get all those birds to do those things?! A person must see this to believe it.”
“Unshackled insanity,” another offered. “It’s as if Hitchcock had cast birds in all the roles in ‘The Birds.’”
It’s certainly unique. Some say it holds the world record for the smallest movie set ever —a model village just 30 feet by 15 feet. The 61-minute live-action flick even earned an honorary Academy Award for its mix of “artistry — and patience.”
And here’s my second piece of great news for the day: At the moment, you can see the movie again anytime you want because someone has uploaded the whole thing to www.youtube.com. Just search for Bill and Coo. Or feather your nest with your own DVD copy for $10 and postage at amazon.com.
Q: Did Mary Shelley, author of “Frankenstein,” ever write under an assumed name? I know women authors often used male aliases in those days because they thought their works would be taken more seriously, and I thought Mary went by George something.
L.T., of Belleville
A: Mary did some monstrous things, but I can’t find any indication that taking on a male pseudonym was one of them. At first, “Frankenstein” was published anonymously, but succeeding books, such as “The Last Man,” gave her full credit.
Instead, I’m betting you’re thinking of another Mary — Mary Ann Evans, who wrote such classics as “Adam Bede,” “Silas Marner” and “The Mill on the Floss” under the pen name of George Eliot. Evans was quite a spitfire in the middle 19th century, openly living with George Lewes, a married man whose wife had four children by yet another man. Some speculate that Evans’ pen name paid homage to her lover: George (his first name) and Eliot, possible code for “to L (Lewes) — I owe it.”
Clarification: After my column on the fire at the Institute of the Immaculate Conception in Belleville, a woman criticized me for not referring to the succeeding school as “the Academy of Notre Dame” and for misstating its address.
However, when the new school opened in 1925, it was referred to in both the press and city directories as Notre Dame Academy and for years it was listed at 6301 W. Main St., not 6401.
From the devious mind of Belleville Public Library triviameister Gary Lawrence: What state has only two escalators in it (as of 2013)?
Answer to Sunday’s trivia: To pay tribute to Denmark’s treatment of the Jews in World War, Reuben Mathus wanted a Danish-sounding name for the new premium ice cream he planned in 1961. So he reportedly dreamed up hundreds of nonsensical words at his Brooklyn kitchen table until he hit on a pair he liked: Häagen-Dazs. Early labels even boasted a small map of Denmark.