“The Internet is a lot like ancient Egypt: people write on walls and worship cats.”
Cats, kittens, dogs, puppies, birds, horses, hedgehogs … you name it. The supply of animal pictures seems to be limitless. And nothing can draw an “awww” out of even the most hardened grouch’s mouth quicker than the sight of a tiny, helpless, pink-mouthed baby anything. We are helpless before their innocent charms.
People love their pets. Thirty-seven percent of Canadian households own one or more cats, 32% own dogs. As of March 2017, there were a total of 89.7 million dogs and 94.2 million cats estimated to live in U.S. households as pets. Pets outnumber children four to one in the United States.
Of course, there are still way too many abused and unwanted animals, but for the most part, people take good care of their pets. The loss of a pet can be a traumatic emotional ordeal that takes as long, or longer, to recover from than losing a fellow human being.
It’s particularly difficult for those who are older, and may have lost a lot of their friends and family along the years. Many seniors have only a pet to call their friend. But many seniors also have a limited income, so when their companion animal gets ill, choices may have to be made that involve one of the two going without food or health care.
That`s why my friend Barbette Kensington, long time social worker and advocate, created the KittyPants charity six years ago, in partnership with Dundas Euclid Animal Hospital to assist their senior clients on fixed incomes with the cost of medications and grooming.
This afternoon, Sunday November 5, I’ll be one of several musicians performing for this worthy charity. We`ll be at Lola`s, 30 Kensington Avenue, Toronto, between 3pm and 7pm. Hope to see you there!
Since I’ll be busy today, I’ve revived this March 2013 column, brushed off the dust, and now present its slightly altered and hopefully improved, reanimated corpse ..
I often wonder if our lifelong fascination with pets has to do with most little creatures being smaller than ourselves. Perhaps having a living being in our lives, with even less power than we feel we possess, is our own first experience of authority, of being able to boss another living creature around.
Smart parents will guide the interaction between child and animal, and hopefully teach the child that having power over another is much less satisfying than having a companionable relation where both parties needs are met.
We start our relationships with pets when we are very young, and we learn to sing along to “B-I-N-G-O…and Bingo was his name O!,” “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” and a song that was a massive radio hit, reaching #1 for Patti Page on Billboard and Cash Box charts in 1953, “How Much Is That Doggy in the Window?”
“On October 3, 1945, Elvis Presley at age ten sang “Old Shep” for his first public performance, a singing contest at the Mississippi-Alabama Fair and Dairy Show. Dressed as a cowboy, he stood on a chair to reach the microphone. He came in fifth place, winning $5 and a free ticket to the fair rides.” (Wikipedia)
Elvis recorded “Old Shep,” written by Red Foley and Arthur Willis about a dog Foley owned as a child, in 1956. The good ole boy loved dogs.
Musicians have always seemed to have a special bond with animals. Pets have inspired many songs over the years. Dogs are especially memorialized. Some songs describe the human-animal relationship; some pick up on the innate characteristics of the beasts. You can dance to the “Stray Cat Strut,” mourn Tom Waits’ “Rain Dogs” wandering the wet city streets, or exult in Bowie’s post-apocalyptic future visions of “Diamond Dogs.”
Silly, happy songs like “Me and You and a Dog Named Boo” (Lobo), Cat Stevens’ “I Love My Dog,” and “Me and My Arrow” (from Harry Nilsson‘s wonderful musical, The Point) celebrate the childlike wonder and friendship that sharing life with a beloved partner – who just happens to have four feet and a tail – can be. I’m constantly finding myself singing Jane Siberry’s “Everything Reminds Me of My Dog,” because I can so relate. “And if you remind me of my dog, we’ll probably get along, little doggy, get along, get along, little doggy.”
No genre is immune to the call of the wild. In 1968, Johnny Cash’s historic album “At Folsom Prison” contained the novelty song “Egg Sucking Dog.” Pseudo-Spanish cats have the stubble faced “El Gato Volador” to look up to. We all dance to our pet’s tunes.
Beatles cognoscenti argued over whether Paul McCartney’s “Martha My Dear” referred to his beloved sheepdog, or to his longtime ladyfriend pre-Linda, Jane Asher. “Jet” was McCartney’s ode to a horse. For years, scuttlebutt had it that Freddie Mercury wrote “My Best Friend” about his dog, but in reality, bassist John Deacon wrote the song, and he insists it’s about his wife. The lyrics work, either way!
Henry Gross’ song “Shannon” mourned a beloved dog, apparently Beach Boy Carl Wilson’s Irish Setter. Gilbert O’Sullivan’s “Get Down” isn’t about dancing, it’s a dog command, and when it was a radio staple, pooches would cower at the words “you’re a bad dog, baby.” Patty Griffin‘s “Heavenly Day” is a love song to her pup, but is frequently played at weddings. Norah Jones “Man of the Hour”? Yep … her dog.
Got a taste for the surreal? Check out The Shaggs bizarre video for “My Pal Foot Foot,” which seems to be about a dog that just won’t stay at home. Kind of like the rascal Big Mama Thornton’s talking about in “(You Ain’t Nothin’ But A) Hound Dog.”
“Walkin’ the Dog” written by Rufus Thomas, and recorded by acts as innocent as The Mousketeers, is actually a paean to heroin … go figure. The Stooges “I Wanna Be Your Dog” is Iggy’s plea to be so caught up in the sexual moment that traditional male-female sexual roles blur. The song reeks of the desire to be dominated by a strong, controlling partner. Or so they tell me.
Led Zeppelin’s song catalogue includes “Bron-Yr-Aur Stomp,” about Robert Plant’s dog, Strider, while “Black Dog” was named after a 14 year old black Labrador retriever who wandered around the grounds where the band was recording on a mobile studio.
Pink Floyd’s “Lucifer Sam” was originally called “Percy the Rat Catcher,” and yes, it’s about Syd Barrett’s cat, although many speculated that it referred to his then-girlfriend, Jenny Spires. David Gilmour’s 1987 blues “Dogs of War” sings about how money sinks its fangs into our collective necks through war profiteering.
Al Stewart could have referenced any animal when he wrote the lispy “Year of The Cat,” but the poetic lines weave a tale like a cat weaves around it’s master’s legs.
“On a morning from a Bogart movie
In a country where they turn back time
You go strolling through the crowd like Peter Lorre
Contemplating a crime.
She comes out of the sun in a silk dress running
Like a watercolour in the rain
Don’t bother asking for explanations
She’ll just tell you that she came
In the Year of the Cat.”
I have absolutely no idea what to think about They Might Be Giants “Youth Culture Killed My Dog.” Ah, the 80’s, which also spawned the New Wave songs, “Cool for Cats” (Squeeze) and “The Love Cats” (The Cure.)
One of the most sampled songs ever is George Clinton’s raucous “Atomic Dog,” with its funkadelic groove, released in 1982.
Michael Jackson sang about his love for pet rat “Ben.” Nelly Furtado was “Like a Bird,” while in “Little Bird,” Annie Lennox envies the bird’s freedom, and wishes she “had the wings to fly away from here.” “BlackBird” sings in the dead of The Beatles’ night. Everyone, including Joe Cocker, had a crack at “Bye Bye Blackbird.”
There’s even a whole collection of tunes about horses. Michael Martin Murphey eulogized the ghost of a woman and her horse in “Wildfire.” Wild horses, running free, unencumbered by society’s rules, are wistfully and frequently referenced in every genre. The Rolling Stones “Wild Horses,” has lyrics that have been credited variously to Keith Richard’s attempt to deal with the loss of a child, or to the words Marianne Faithful said to him after coming out of a drug induced coma.
And just for fun, country’s Big and Rich’s “Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy” asks …well, that’s fairly self-explanatory!
The clock in my house is governed by our pets. I rise far too early to tend to their needs, and we cannot be away from home for more than 7 or 8 hours at a time, lest their tiny dishes grow empty. We walk on floors that glimmer with pet hair, and try to ignore the dust bunnies. Tons of money has been spent on pet food and toys. The melting of the snow in Spring reveals a yard collection that has most certainly not been left by the Easter Bunny. The burning question is “Who Let the Dog Out?” Like alien overlords, our pets are our rulers.
And if you remind me of my dog, we’ll probably get along, little doggy.
Tom Waits, David Bowie, Harry Nilsson, Lobo, Henry Gross, Cat Stevens, Jane Siberry, The Rolling Stones, Annie Lennox, Joe Cocker, Nelly Furtado, Iggy Pop, The Stooges, Freddie Mercury, Gilbert O’Sullivan, Norah Jones, Patty Griffin, The Shaggs, Big Mama Thornton, Rufus Thomas,