Thursday, February 12, 2009

Of Bonzo Dogs, Camels, and Lots of LSD

I was going to do a post on President Obama's visit to Elkhart, Indiana, the city of Melpomene, the Muse of Tragedy. Or one about the influence of Zoroaster on the three "Abrahamic" faiths and why they should perhaps be known as the Zarathushtran faiths. Maybe later. Right now I'm going to write about the Bonzo Dog Dooh-Dah (or Dada) Band.

The Bonzo Dog Band was part of that great absurdist British comedy tradition that included The Goon Show, I'm Sorry I'll Read That Again, and Monty Python's Flying Circus. And because of its absurdity, I assumed that "Bonzo Dog" was just made up. Not so. When Kathleen was rereading Dorothy Sayers' Murder Must Advertise, she came across a reference to the Bonzo Dog. In fact, the Bonzo Dog was a British cartoon character created in 1922 by George Studdy. It would have been known in Britain, but not here in the States.

One of the more bizarre songs, in a collection of bizarre songs, was "Ali Baba's Camel."



Recently my daughter Anne found an earlier version of the song, by Buddy Lewis and His Orchestra, from around 1931:





So why does this 1931 song included these lines?

"You've heard of Ali Baba, forty thieves had he
Out for what we all want, lots of L.S.D."

Lysergic acid diethylamide was not even synthesized until 1938. It turns out that LSD was also British slang for money--actually £sd, for pounds, shillings, and pence. The initials are from the Latin: librae, solidi, denarii. I'm sure the Bonzo Dog Band had fun with the double entendre.

6 comments:

twoblueday said...

Not real melodic.

Olivia said...

I love those silly old songs!
I remember first hearing "I've got a loverly bunch of coconuts" and used to sing it laughing with my Dad :)

The LSD/pounds shillings and pence link is so funny now. My parents used to know how to calculate that extremely complicated monetary system. I could never get my head round it.

I can totally imagine a Monty Pythonesque Ali Baba going for the wrong kind of lsd!

steve said...

Gerry--hey, it's the Bonzo Dog Band. Melody isn't the point.

Olivia--J.K. Rowling's wizarding money has to be based on the old English money system. I was in the British Isles in 1971, right after the Brits had gone decimal. We Americans had no problem with it, but the British were still quoting shillings and sixpence.

Olivia said...

Being from a colonial country (British Guiana) my mother also had to deal with guilders and guineas.

Yay for decimals!

steve on the slow train said...

Olivia-I assume the guilders were because British Guiana was adjacent to Surinam. I've never quite figured out guineas, except that they're more valuable than pounds. When Kathleen and I were living in married student housing in the 1970s, we knew a couple from Guyana. They were of East Indian descent--they said a lot of Indians had been brought over as indentured servants--and Seventh-Day Adventists. So when we went shopping with them, we'd go to places that sold soy-based meat substitutes.

Lilith des Cavernes said...

LOL I got the worst crush on Neil Innes after seeing Rutles, that I bought every Bonzo album I could. Fortunately, I was working at Tower Records at the time, so it was easy to indulge such whims.

Knowing that LSD actually meant British currency makes wonder if Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds wasn't a metaphor for cash and not drugs. :-)

Cheers and thanks for the grin.