Monday, October 12, 2009

Songs My Mother Taught Me . . . Barney Google (With the Goo-Goo-Googly Eyes)

{This is the fourth in an undetermined number of songs my mother taught me I'm posting this month in her memory. For background, please visit the post containing the first song, Ivory Tower.}

My mother sang a song from her own childhood for my little sister and me when we were kids that made us all giddy, especially when we learned enough to sing the chorus along with her. Barney Google (With the Goo-Goo-Googly Eyes), for us, however, had nothing to do with all I've learned about the comic strip while putting this post together. I love political cartoons but have never been a huge comic strip fan, so I didn't know until now that the comic strip was the inspiration for the song. So, if not about a comic character, what exactly was the significance of Barney Google for my mother and then for us?

It involved memories of her childhood pet turtle, named Barney Google by her brothers. No photos survived the years but I imagine Barney Google looked something like this turtle named Zeppe discovered here with other great photos of turtles of all kinds. From her description of him it's most likely that Barney Google was an Eastern Box Turtle.

My mother's family lived in New Rochelle, New York during the time they had the pet turtle, in a large three-story home with large front and back yards. Barney Google slept inside the house, in a wooden box with damp wood shavings, from which he was removed each morning by Nellie, my grandmother, who was up early to begin breakfast for my grandfather, their three sons, and my mother, who was the youngest in the family. At dawn, Nellie put Barney Google outside in the flower garden against the back of the house. And the turtle's day began. It was comprised of the exact same daily walk, snacking and sleeping along the way. Always heading in the same direction, Barney Google walked slowly in the sheltered, soft border around the circumference of the house, one time around. To my childhood wonder (and it still amazes me to think of it now), the trek around the house took him exactly until dinner time, when he could be found waiting at the bottom of the back porch steps to be carried inside.

As winter approached and it was evident that Barney Google was ready to hibernate, a place was made for him in a part of the basement where the floor was dirt and he dug in using the soil and wood shavings. The family checked his area periodically during the winter, but Nellie was in tune with the rhythms of nature and usually approached Barney Google's corner of the basement in spring to find signs that he was awakening.

The end of the story is sad. A special container was readied for Barney Google's transport when the family moved some years later to Florida. My mind has blocked the particulars that used to make me cry hysterically as a child. What I recall is that the water supply spilled or wasn't sufficient for the length of the trip. Barney Google did not survive the move.

"Edison Blue Amberol cylinder record No. 4757, by Billy Jones and Ernest Hare, recorded April 13, 1923. This cylinder recording was dubbed from an Edison Diamond Disc record," writes phonophilo who uploaded this great addition to youtube, adding "This record is being played on my table top Edison Amberola DX cylinder phonograph which was manufactured in 1914." ...........[My mother was born in 1915, so it's likely that she listened to Barney Google on a phonograph similar to this.] 

(Rose / De Beck / Con Conrad)
Billy Jones & Ernest Hare, Thomas & West 

Who's the most important man this country ever knew?
Do you know what politician I have reference to?
Well, it isn't Mr. Bryan, and it isn't Mr. Hughes.
I've got a hunch that to that bunch I'm going to introduce:
(Again you're wrong and to this throng I'm going to Introduce:)
Barney Google, with the goo-goo-goo-ga-ly eyes.
Barney Google had a wife three times his size
She stood Barney for divorce
Now he's living with his horse

Barney Google, with the goo-goo-goo-ga-ly eyes.
Barney Google bet his horse would win the prize.
When the horses ran that day, Spark Plug ran the other way.
Barney Google, with the goo-goo-goo-ga-ly eyes. 
Who's the greatest lover that this country ever knew?
And who's the man that Valentino takes his hat off to?
No, it isn't Douglas Fairbanks that the ladies rave about.
When he arrives, who makes the wives chase all their husbands 
Why, it's Barney Google, with the goo-goo-goo-ga-ly eyes.
Barney Google is the guy who never buys.
Women take him out to dine, then he steals the waiter's dime.
Barney Google, with the goo-goo-goo-ga-ly eyes.

Barney Google, with the goo-goo-goo-ga-ly eyes.
Barney Google is the luckiest of guys.
If he fell in to the mud, he'd come up with a diamond stud.
Barney Google with the goo-goo-goo-ga-ly eyes.

Who's the greatest fire chief this country ever saw?
Who's the man who loves to hear the blazing buildings roar?
Anytime the house is burning, and the flames leap all about,
Say, tell me do, who goes, "kerchoo!" and puts the fire out?
Barney Google, with the goo-goo-goo-ga-ly eyes.
Barney Google, thought his horse could win the prize.
He got odds of ten to eight; Spark Plug came in three days late.
Barney Google, with the goo-goo-goo-ga-ly eyes.

Barney Google, with the goo-goo-goo-ga-ly eyes.
Barney Google tried to enter paradise.
When Saint Peter saw his face, he said, "Go to the other place".
Barney Google, with the goo-goo-goo-ga-ly eyes.

From the official Barney Google comic strip website:
Barney Google and Snuffy Smith is one of the longest-running comic strips in history. Created by Billy DeBeck in 1919, it first appeared in the sports section of the Chicago Herald and Examiner as "Take Barney Google, F'rinstance." It starred the cigar-smoking, sports-loving, poker-playing, girl-chasing ne'er-do-well Barney Google. By October of that year, the strip was distributed by King Features to newspapers all across the country.
In 1942, Barney Google was inherited by DeBeck's long-time assistant, Fred Lasswell, who continued to draw the strip until his death in March 2001. John Rose, who inked the strip for Lasswell, continues the tradition today.
This tremendously popular feature boasts clients in 21 countries and 11 languages. It has added several phrases to the American vernacular, including "sweet mama," "horsefeathers," "heebie-jeebies" and "hotsie-totsie." It has been the inspiration for a hit song, "Barney Google (With Your Goo-Goo-Googly Eyes)," and is one of a few historical comic strips to be honored on a special set of U.S. postage stamps.

Does the origination of Google's name have anything to do with old Barney Google? According to a blogger in France, the answer is no.....or?

Available at ebay for $2,499.99  !  (There are other vintage Barney Google and Spark Plug items at this ebay page.)


the watercats said...

It's been so much fun catching up on all your posts! and I love the idea of your remembrance with songs you were taught, a very beautiful thing.. I love this song and had never heard it before.. the story of the poor ole turtle is really quite sad :-( but the photo at the top of post is fantastic! It's such a lovely thing when music craetes a direct link to a time and place and people.. thank you for sharing :-D

Darlene said...

I can imagine how you cried when your turtle didn't make the move.

I first heard Barney Google on my grandmother's Edison Victrola. It was one of the records I played over and over along with Caruso, John Brown's body and Little Brown Jug. I had forgotten about it.

It's fun having these memories renewed. I do remember reading the comic strip, but it wasn't one of my favorites. Probably because I didn't get the race track tie in.

Looking to the Stars said...

Lydia, this is a hoot. I have never heard of Barney Google but it was fun reading all about it(I thought about my Google page right away)LOL.

I really enjoyed the story about your mom's turtle. What a smart guy he was, to go around the house each day. It would have been fun to see things thru his eyes :)
I'm sorry he didn't survive the trip to FL but I really enjoyed you sharing about him. Thanks :)

Lydia said...

@the watercats- Thanks for coming over to catch up and leave your kind comments. :)

@Darlene- I'm happy to be stirring up some fond memories!
It wasn't my turtle: I cried over the story of my mother's turtle perishing in the move. However, I have a horrible childhood story of two small turtles owned by my sister and me, and of my ill-fated idea to put them in the sink with hot water since it was so cold outside that day. Come to think of it, the tragedy from that probably was one of the reasons I went all to pieces when I heard about my mother's turtle, Barney Google.

@Looking to the Stars- Quite a song, eh? Glad it brought a chuckle, and sharing about the turtle's story makes the ending not so sad.

Phoenix said...

A very sweet narrative.. though the end was quite sad, some memories just stay for the happiness and excitement they have created in our childhood!

Hattie said...

Oh, Dear. I heard that song as a child, and now it's running around through my head.
I loved the turtle story. It is sad in a way, though, reminding me that nothing lasts forever.

Lydia said...

@Phoenix- You're right about the value of learning the balance of sadness and happiness....and best done in childhood than having to catch up in adulthood (or perhaps never "getting it"). :)

@Hattie- It's a fun old song, but I hope it doesn't stay too long in your head because a little can go a long way with this one!

tom shubnell said...

I just wrote about Barney google on my blog too. I added the link under my name.
PS - great blog, I'll stop back.

Lydia said...

@tom shubnell- I was really excited to read your comments and I do hope you'll be back. I'm on my way now to read your Barney Google post.....



Related Posts with Thumbnails