… Sing along, you don’t know what you’re missing now. … The song remains the same.
— Led Zeppelin
My 12-year-old daughter spent some of her summer downtime attending camp at Chehaw Park recently, and, yes, she had plenty to say about working with the animals and how cute they were and how much fun it was feeding them and how cool the camp counselors were and how neat it was getting all up-close-and-personal with the park’s critters.
That was all well and good. But I wanted to know about the stuff that really mattered: Like did she learn any cool camp songs?
One of my primary goals in life — right behind winning a Pulitzer Prize and becoming Pope (Prince said it best, “You can be the president, I’d rather be the pope.” — is to one day write a camp song that spreads across the country and lives on long after I’ve taken my place in the Songwriters’ Hall of Fame. I mean, pretty much anybody can split the atom, write the Emancipation Proclamation, invent the computer or walk on the moon.
But how many people can sit down and, in a moment of inspiration, write “On Top of Spaghetti?”
After listening to my precocious 12-year-old sing some of the Chehaw camp songs on the phone with her friend and co-camper Blair, I asked her to give me a run-down on the songs that were the biggest hits at camp.
After the required eye-roll, she told me “Boom Chicka Rocka,” “Flee, Fly, Flow” and “Bazooka Bubble Gum” were among the most popular songs making the rounds. She, of course, offered several rousing renditions of each, initially encouraging me to join in until she heard me sing and then telling me I’d enjoy the songs more if I just listened.
Now I’ll admit that I was certainly taken with the aforementioned ditties — I especially dug “Boom Chicka Rocka,” could actually see Lana Del Ray doing a smoldering, slow-burn version on her next album. But what gladdened my heart, and eventually led to a disagreement that had my wife doing her own version of the pre-teen eye-roll, was my daughter’s confirmation that “Great Big Gobs of Greasy, Grimy Gopher Guts” — Radiohead has a version called “Silicon Annihilation” — remained among campers’ favorites.
If that doesn’t take you back and get the old nostalgia juices flowing, you either a) never went to camp, b) never watched a Bill Murray movie, c) never had any friends or d) were that weird kid who said singing was a waste of your time and that you preferred to do more meaningful things, like reading the latest edition of the camp manual.
Man, you talk about classic lyrics … “Great big gobs of greasy, grimy gopher guts, mutilated monkey meat, little dirty birdie feet. Great big gobs of greasy, grimy gopher guts, and I forgot my spoon.”
Hearing my daughter’s somewhat updated version (more on that in a minute) of this timeless classic really stirred up some memories for me. The Fletcher kids were not big camp-goers back in the day. My brother and I usually spent our summers working with our dad, and camp was seen as more a luxury than a birthright.
But we were allowed to attend 4-H camp at Rock Eagle one summer, and that’s where we learned most of our own camp songs. Of course “Gopher Guts” was No. 1 with a bullet, but I also remember joining in on quite a few choruses of “Spaghetti.” Does it get any better than “On top of spaghetti, all covered in cheese. I lost my poor meatballs when somebody sneezed”?
There were also “School’s Out,” the appropriately gross “Diarrhea” and the altered versions of such classics as “Shimmy Shimmy Coco-Bop,” “In the Sweet By and By” and “It’s Howdy Doody Time.” (You know, “It’s Howdy Doody time, but it ain’t worth a dime, so change to channel nine and let’s watch Frankenstein.” … Ahh, the classics.)
My daughter’s version of “Gopher Guts” included an additional stanza — “French-fried eyeballs bobbing in a bowl of blood” before the “I forgot my spoon” part and even ends with a kicker “But I brought a straw.” — which I thought was in the spirit of the original. But in her version, she re-arranged some of the lyrics, which I declared to be akin to blasphemy. She, of course, knew in the way that 12-year-olds know everything that she was right, so we started a heated debate on the lyrics of “Great Big Gobs of Greasy, Grimy Gopher Guts.”
This drew an amazed look from my wife, who stood listening — disbelieving — for a couple of beats before walking out of the room with a “Really?”
My daughter and I exchanged a look: “Yep, she was that nerd who read the camp manuals.”