Sunday, June 11, 2017

Kites are fun. Damn it.

[Another "Best of Fred" entry from the old blog -- still a necessary curative.]

People who did not grow up with sunshine pop in their childhood can’t understand how weird it looks now.

I don’t want to pile on the Free Design, a band that cut seven real albums but never quite made it over the top. However, their first album, 1967’s Kites Are Fun, set the tone for what was to follow.

The title track may be familiar to those who watch Yo Gabba Gabba!, which did a cartoon video of the song, but if not, here are the lyrics:

I like flying
Flying kites, flying kites, flying kites
Kites are fun, kites are fun, kites are fun
See my kite, it's fun
See my kite, it's green and white
Laughing in its distant flight
All that's between us is a little yellow string
But we like each other more than anything
And we run along together through the field behind my house
And the little drops of rain caress our face and wash my blouse
And we'd like to be a zillion miles away from everyone
'Cause Mom and Dad and Uncle Bill don't realize

I like flying, flying kites, flying kites
Kites are fun, kites are fun, kites are fun
Kites are fun
See my kite, it's fun (See my kite, it's fun)
See my kite, it's fun (See my kite, it's fun)
See my kite, it's fun (See my kite, it's fun)

[Second verse same as the first, then chorus until you want to die]

Hard sell, don’t you think?

This might be a cute kids’ song, but the problem is, like “Windy” (The Association) and “Up, Up and Away” (The 5th Dimension) and “Let's Go to San Francisco” (The Flower Pot Men---no, really) and many others, it was not meant to be a kids’ song. It was meant to be taken seriously by adults. (NB: Earlier novelty songs that were childlike if not childish---“(How Much Is) That Doggie in the Window” sung by Patti Page is a well-known example---were meant for adults, but not meant to be taken seriously.)

You probably would have a few questions about “Kites Are Fun” if you’re like me:
  1. Who the hell is Uncle Bill? Is he a real uncle or a call-you-uncle friend of the family, or he is a weird “uncle” that should be locked away somewhere?
  2. Why does your family have to weigh in on this? Are they part of some unknown anti-kite faction? “Kites? Fun? Disabuse yourself of that notion, kid! Kites are an abomination to man and beast! Gah! Destroy all kites!”
  3. Charlie Brown never found kites to be much fun; you’d better take it up with him.
  4. Is your kite really laughing? Maybe you need to adjust the meds. How do you know it likes you? It has not weighed in to date.
  5. Wouldn’t it a really different song if they were talking about the bird of prey by that name? “See my kite, it’s brown and white / It saw a vole and took a bite…”
Songs of this type were meant to bring back innocence in a time of upheaval, when childhood itself was threatened with violence, commercialism, and media saturation. To which I can say with hindsight: You people hadn’t seen anything yet.

There were a lot of appeals in those days for the good old-fashioned fun of yoyos and wooden cars and jacks and other toys that didn’t make noises and break easily and weren’t made of plastic. Sites like Tin Toy Arcade aside, I haven’t seen many of those appeals to innocent toys in the last twenty-plus years. I suggest it’s because people my age knew that sagging feeling of disappointment when, instead of getting a Commando Jim doll with Kung-Fu Kick and Submarine Base Play Set, you got a set of pick-up sticks and a ball. They remember, and they want to give their kids the plastic noisy crap that the kids want.

However, I have to agree with the song that kites are fun. I remember flying some with my dad decades ago by the ocean. The wind was unbelievable. The kites threatened to rip right out of our hands, until they actually did. When I last saw my kite it was heading toward Pennsylvania at a good clip.

But it was fun.

And although I doubt the green and white kite has made its feelings known, I admit that it is fun to be a kite. I went parasailing some years back in the Caribbean and the view was breathtaking. Of course, I thought I was going to die every minute, and I missed the boat and landed in the water on the way down, but I got booze afterward so it was okay.

Had I thought of the song at the time, the first words out of my mouth upon returning to shore would have been, “I like drinking, drinking, drinking booze! Booze is fun!”

At this point in my life, though, I'd rather have the kite.

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