Sunday, March 02, 2008

A Linguistic Conundrum

I am cursed to ponder, this fine early-spring Sunday:

What is the relationship between

Coo-coo-ca-choo, Mrs. Robinson

and

I am the eggman
They are the eggmen
I am the walrus
Goo-goo-ga-joob

The odd thing is, both lyrics were written at approximately the same time. Paul Simon adapted the song for 1967's "The Graduate," and the song was officially released on "Bookends" in 1968. Lennon wrote and recorded "I Am the Walrus" in September 1967.

Was this nonsense phrase, you know, "in the air" at the time?

And why does this question torture me so?

18 comments:

DonBoy said...

To me they both suggest "Boop-Oop-a-Doop" from Helen Kane via Betty Boop.

chezjake said...

I suspect they are both onomatopoetic of the boom-boom-ba-doom rythm
(although often done with brushes, yielding the softer sounds of your examples) that was that period's percussive equivalent of today's simple rimshot.

gregra&gar said...

I'd always assumed they were using the same words without your inclination to research the lyrics. That they aren't makes it more curious than if they were, but no less inconsequential to the cause of world peace.

bobby lightfoot said...

-I like that you're calling this early spring. It's so hopeful.

-Everything is inconsequential to world peace EXCEPT goo-goo-ga-joob.
IT'S ACTUALLY THE ONLY THING THAT IS CONSEQUENTIAL TO WORLD PEACE. WIKI IT, MAN.

Blowing Shit Up With Gas said...

Not in the air, but in the aether perhaps. Or maybe somehow in whatever weed was going around at the time.

Anonymous said...

Because you're a tortured man, natch. See "Wanda Jackson"

Anonymous said...

Good thing Paul Simon cut that line, "Very mellow custard, Mrs. Robinson, dripping from a dead dog's eye."

Ezra said...

On a consonant note: Wikipedia's entry for Kajagoogoo, the 80s band, has this tedious explanation: 'Writing out the phonetics of a baby's first sounds gave them "GagaGooGoo". With a little bit of "casual" alteration it became Kajagoogoo.'

But I'm with donboy--I think you're dealing with a little post-scat.

Jeremy said...

And of course there's Ms Monroe's Boo poop a doop in I wanna be loved by you, which would have burned its way into the brain of any red-blooded emo song-writer.

Neddie said...

OK, so we've got the Betty Boop/Marilyn "boop-boop-a-doop" as a potential source, which is a Twenties ref, no doubt. (Remember, also, the intro song that's almost perfectly contemporaneous: "Boop-boop-a-doop/Ladies and gentlemen/Laugh-in looks at the news!" This sung with "jazz hands" on the "boop" phrase, reinforcing the reference. God, it's torture to be me!)

I'll buy the rhythm similaraties, but how does "boop-boop-a-doop" become "coo-coo-ca-choo" or goo-goo-ga-joob"? And why in two prominent songwriters nearly perfectly simultaneously?

Ol' Pal D said...

Are we completely sure Simon didn't simply hear the Beatles' song (or vice versa) first?

David said...

"To be or not to be..." - Shakespeare
"I think, therefore, I am." - DesCartes.
"Doo-bee-doo-bee-do." - Frank Sinatra

Neddie said...

Pal D"

Here's yer Wikipdia:

The song also contains the unusual exclamation goo goo g'joob. Various unsatisfactory hypotheses exist regarding the origin and meaning of these syllables. One popular, yet impossible, claim is that the phrase was derived from the very similar "koo koo ka choo" in Paul Simon's song Mrs. Robinson, written in 1967. However, the film The Graduate, where "Mrs. Robinson" debuted, was not released until December 1967, a month after the release of "I Am the Walrus", and The Graduate Original Soundtrack (which contained only fragments of the final version of "Mrs. Robinson") was not released until January 1968.

Perhaps due to the close chronological timing of the release of the two songs, the "Walrus" chorus is often misquoted as "Mrs. Robinson"'s "koo koo ka choo", although the lyrics to "Walrus" were published as part of the Magical Mystery Tour EP packaging, so there is no debate to the actual lyric.

It has also been noted that James Joyce's Finnegans Wake contains the words googoo goosth at the top of page *557, where it appears:

...like milk-juggles as if it was the wrake of the hapspurus or old Kong Gander O'Toole of the Mountains or his googoo goosth she seein, sliving off over the sawdust lobby out of the backroom, wan ter, that was everywans in turruns, in his honeymoon trim, holding up his fingerhals...

It is not clear that Joyce is the source, or what it would mean if he were, but it has been a hypothesis put forward by fans of both artists alike...

Anonymous said...

Goo-goo: Lennon's innate infantilism. Not a criticism.

Ga-joob: Resentment of Brian Epstein, "the Jew"= "Ga-joob"

Mike said...

Q: Why does it obsess you?
A: You are a man of fine and discerning sensibility. It is the grace notes of life that give meaning.

Q: What does it mean?
A: Sometimes a googoo is just a googoo.

The Viscount LaCarte said...

C'mon people! Haven't you ever seen Wild Kingdom or National Geographic?

That's the sound the walrus makes right before they set out to make baby walruses. Or is it baby walri?

Tom said...

At the time, rumor was that the phrase was the private mantra given to one of the Beatles by the Maharishi. They were cooling on M., and outed the mantra...
Of course, another rumor was "Paul is dead," so take it for what it's worth.
Did Simon ever go to India?

jsrutstein said...

Maybe if Lennon had left it out of Walrus and given it to McCartney - "Hey Ju Ju Ju ja Jude"- they'd have won the Grammy Simon won for Mrs. Robinson.