Jan 21, 2013

David Seville and the Chipmunks

When Wiliam Saroyan's play The Time of Your Life (1939) was first performed, Willie the Pinball Player was played by his 20-year old nephew, Ross Bagsadarian.

But while the elder Saroyan specialized in wistful melancholy, Ross was famous for whimsy.  For the songs that I heard when I was a kid, with secret messages about something big and important that I wouldn't understand until I was grown up:

When I was six or seven years old, two teenage boys on a church bus singing "Come On-a My House" (1951):
Come on-a my house, my house
I'm gonna give a you peach and a pear and I love your hair
Come on-a my house, my house
I'm gonna give a you everything

What did they mean?  What was one boy offering the other?

And a warm summer night when I was four or five.  I was already in bed, though it was still light out, and I gazed out the window at a teenager in a red tie-die shirt walking down the street by himself.  He was singing "Bird on My Head" (1958):
I'm just sitting in a vacant lot with a bird sitting on my head
Wicked, wicked, cruel, cruel world, what have you done to me?
I deserve to be in someone's arms.

Someone's arms, not a girl's arms!

When my friend Bill's older brother Mike  babysat us, he sometimes played his guitar and sang. One night in the late 1960s he taught us the words to "Witch Doctor" (1958).  He sang:
I told the witch doctor I was in love with you.

And Bill and I, facing each other, giggling, sang the chorus:
Ooo eee, ooo ah ah, ting tang walla walla bing bang

It was one of the best nights of my life.

In 1958 Ross recorded "The Chipmunk Song", which spun off into an animated sitcom, The Alvin Show (1961-62, and syndicated through the 1960s).  Ross's alter ego, David Seville, became the beset-upon manager of the singing group The Chipmunks.
1. Alvin, the troublemaker, Dennis the Menace in a red baseball cap.
2. Simon,  the intellectual
3. Theodore, the glutton

I didn't see the series often; it was on too early, or too late, or against something I liked better.  But David Seville was cute and nice, a perfect fantasy boyfriend, and a de facto single dad to an unconventional family, with no girls around.

I was angry in 1983, when Ross's son revived David Seville and the Chipmunks, with girlfriends, part of the ongoing 1980s heterosexualization of children's tv.