Tuesday, November 18, 2008

A Word Only a Five-Year-Old Could Love

I told you in July that my second personal attempt to buy a 45 in a store was my disastrous purchase of a 45 about Batman. My first foray into music commerce occurred a year earlier, and it’s time to tell that story.

My parents didn’t take me to see Mary Poppins. I don’t remember wanting to go to see it. I have never seen the film. But I did have contact with the biggest hit from the film, though it reached only #66 on the Hot 100. Did the song get WLS airplay, or did my cousin Bobby perhaps own the soundtrack LP? The song didn’t earn WLS airplay, and I’m not going to call Bob to ask if he had that album.

Maybe the Walt Disney show ran a clip of the song. That could well be how I was exposed to “Super-cali-fragil-istic-expi-ali-docious” by Julie Andrews, Dick Van Dyke and the Pearlies (Buena Vista 434).

I remember very well the day that Mom and Dad took five-year-old caithiseach to the record store in Gary to purchase the 45. A small, suspicious part of me wonders if Mom and Dad were acceding to my request to buy the record, or if they wanted to see the look on the face of the store clerk when I asked for the record.

You see, I could say “Super-cali-fragil-istic-expi-ali-docious.” In 1965, the human race had not evolved to its current state, and only Julie Andrews, Dick Van Dyke, two other kids and I could say that word. My parents couldn’t. (Now, of course, all humans can say it.) So maybe they made me ask for the 45 because they wanted it but could only point at it.

The very tall (five feet) woman (16 years old) who sold me the record couldn’t say it. Here is a transcript of our conversation:

Mom: Tell her what you want, Seán.
Me: I want “Super-cali-fragil-istic-expi-ali-docious,” please.
Clerk: You can say that? I can’t say that. Hey, Fred, come listen to this guy. Say it again.
Me: I want “Super-cali-fragil-istic-expi-ali-docious,” please.
Fred: Groovy. Hey Dexter, come check out this kid. Say it again.
Me: I want “Super-cali-fragil-istic-expi-ali-docious,” please.

So, I got “Super-cali-fragil-istic-expi-ali-docious.” I didn’t know many tricks, but I was good at that one. I took the record home and played it often. I played it enough that Uncle Tom felt encouraged to buy the whole soundtrack for me. We went shopping at Big Top, and when I wasn’t looking, he slipped the LP into the shopping cart. When he got me home, he showed me the LP. I was suitable impressed and grateful. And he paid full price, not a nickel a disc, as he paid for the 45s.

That trip may have been the time Uncle Tom let me drive the car in our neighborhood. He put me on his lap and let me steer. I drove into someone’s yard, despite his request that I turn to the left. He took over the steering wheel after that.

But even if I did my driving on another occasion, getting that LP made it a great trip. I bought into the whole Mary Poppins thing from a musical point of view, though I didn’t do anything like try to use an umbrella to fly.

When I became a Mary Poppins fan, I also became a Julie Andrews fan. I had no prior knowledge of who she was, but it turns out that Julie, born Julia Wells in 1935 in Surrey, was in a movie I did eventually see, The Sound of Music. We were singing that doe-a-deer song in school long before I knew about the movie, but that’s how it is with my knowledge of music. You won’t ever see me do a series on musicals, because I don’t get them so well.

Julie also appeared in a movie that my college pals and I liked a lot, 10. It happens that my roommate, Ray, was a great fan of everything Julie, so when the Bo Derek hype converged with his Julie Andrews fixation, you can bet we all went. And when Bo said to Dudley Moore, “Esta noche la paso contigo,” I said, “Oh, wow,” and several people turned to me and said, “What did she say?” By the time she translated it for Dudley, my friends knew what she was up to.

Ray had some difficulty with Julie’s appearance in the film S.O.B., because, as he put it, Mary Poppins should not be displaying her breasts. He’s probably right. Julie must really have been fond of her husband, to let him talk her into that. I do remember that neither Ray nor I refused to look at stills from the film.

Her absolutely amazing singing voice was damaged by vocal-cord nodules in 1997, and nearly silenced by her doctors, whom she sued for malpractice. She can sing again now, though I haven’t heard the post-op Julie.

As for the song, it was written by Robert (born 1925) and Richard (born 1928) Sherman, who formed the perfect Disney-score team in the 1960s. They are responsible for Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, The Jungle Book and The Aristocats, among many other works.

I should mention Dick Van Dyke. As the male counterpart to “Mary” in “Super-cali-fragil-istic-expi-ali-docious,” Dick sings in a faux-Cockney accent that is not his real voice. As a Missouri native who grew up in Danville, Illinois, near where my step-grandmother met Burl Ives, with a short stint in Crawfordsville, Indiana, there’s no way he could put on a convincing accent from anywhere on the British Isle. Born in 1925, Dick appeared on Broadway and thus earned the lead role on the Dick Van Dyke Show. Johnny Carson was considered for the role, which would have made for some serious confusion unless they changed the name of the show.

You can hear Dick’s real voice in a full episode of his show, one featuring Henry Calvin, who scared me in Babes in Toyland. Or you can take my word for it: he’s not really Cockney.

That’s what I have on these people. I am proud that I can type “Super-cali-fragil-istic-expi-ali-docious,” and even more proud that I can still say it. Yep, I’ve still got it.

For Saturday, I will be presenting you with a rare recording of historical value. Trust me when I tell you that you will want to listen to this one. See you Saturday!

Julie Andrews et al., Super-cali-fragil-istic-expi-ali-docious


Any major dude with half a heart said...

Great story. And, you know, see the movie. It's quite lovely. Glynis Johns is fantastic in it.

whiteray said...

I agree with the major dude . . . it is a fine movie. And for me, the song that stuck with me was "Feed the Birds." Even eight years later, when I was twenty . . . walking up the steps of St. Paul's in London, I was humming "Feed the Birds."