Thursday, August 18, 2005

Yip Harburg Teaches the Controversy

I don't know how long this has been around, but I see there's now an official website for one of my favorite -- and most-quoted -- song lyricists, "Yip" Harburg. It's a good site that includes a comprehensive song list and even some examples of his light verse.

Anyway, reading about the "intelligent design controversy" didn't make me want to write about it -- fortunately, Kung Fu Monkey has already done a good job of it -- but it did bring to mind Yip Harburg's lyrics (to Harold Arlen music) to the song "The Monkey In the Mango Tree" from the 1957 musical Jamaica -- a song originally written for Harry Belafonte but which wound up being sung by Ricardo Montalban, believe it or not. It sort of gives the opposite perspective on Darwin's theory, namely that it's insulting to simians to point out that they evolved into something so awful as modern man.

Some excerpts, and note that the laundry list of humankind's problems hardly seems to have changed at all except for the line about the Greeks. Note also the reference to Harburg's beloved Gilbert and Sullivan near the end:

Three monkeys in the mango tree
Were indulging in philosophy.
And as I walked by the mango tree,
One of them addressed himself to me:

"Hey, man, is it true what they say?
Hey, man, is it true that today
They claim that my brothers and me
Are the predecessors of humanity?
Hey, man, why you give us bad name?
Hey, man, it's a blight and a shame
To claim this uncivilized cuss
Could have been descended from the likes of us.
How can you have the brazen face
To scandalize our noble race?
Don't identify yourself with me,"
Said the monkey in the mango tree...

"Hey, man, why you give us bad name?
Hey, man, it's a blight and a shame
To claim, most un-biblically,
That this chump could once have been a chimpanzee."

That's the monkey language!
The monkey very clever!
Which is to say, in his own way,
Would a monkey ever

Analyze his psyche, amortize his soul,
Tranquilize his frontal lobes with al-co-houl,
Televise his follies and the life he lives,
Eulogize his gargles and his laxatives,
Simonize his teeth, lanolize his hands,
Hormonize his chromosomes with monkey glands,
Mechanize the Greeks, modernize the Turks,
And then with one little atom -- poof! -- atomize the works?

"Hey, man, do you call it fair play?
Hey, man, is it brilliant to say
That the monkey and his uncles and his cousins and his aunts
Are the parents of such foolishment and de-ca-dance?
Don't identify yourself with me,"
Said the monkey in the mango tree.

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