JEREMIAD WAS A BULLFROG
True story: a long time ago, 1971, A good friend of mine was sitting around his apartment on a friday night by himself as usual, drinking some wine also as usual. When his phone rang. He picked it up, said “Hello” and hoped for the best. That’s what you did back then.
This call began with a bit of silence then several female voices began to sing the then top 40 hit “Joy to the World” that begins with “Jeremiah was a bullfrog / Was a good friend of mine / I never understood a single word he said / But I helped him a-drink his wine / And he always had some mighty fine wine.”
They were giggly from the start (Were they drinking “mighty fine” wine too?) but by the 4th line it was all giggles and they hung up. He never found out who the telephone sirens who called him were. So this post is about that.
Was this a random call, he muses now and then? The ladies could have just picked a number from the phone book which for all you kids is a large cheaply printed book that is just an alphabetical listing of everyone who has a phone. He thinks it could have been that.
Or maybe one of them knew him? He was in college then, and the ladies’ voices sounded young, but not childish so they could have known him through school. In college you meet so many people in passing you can’t remember them all. Maybe someone he forgot remembered him. He’s easily distracted; sometimes names and faces don’t have time to sink in.
In favor of one of them knowing him: They sang he talked nonsense a lot (line 2) which is true. But against it: And that they helped him drink his wine (line 3) This is false as he usually drank alone. They were friends (line 1) This is false too. He doesn’t believe one of his few friends would do this, But then, as he doesn’t read people well, maybe a maybe on this point.
There’s some non-english words that might describe his current musings: Hiraeth, Sehnsucht and Saudade which to varying degrees combine longing, anxiety and sadness are about what was, that isn’t now and never will be again. Then there’s mono no aware which is an elevated appreciation of something lost or losable simply because of its transience.
My friend, who’s now more generally sensible than when he was young, says none of those words quite fit because when he remembers that brief phone call, he is reminded of how he, for a moment, fantasized what could be, then, quickly resuming his typical melancholic resignation, realises it what wasn’t then, and it still isn’t now.
So let’s not use those untranslatable as one word into english terms, let’s neologise and create a paradoxical portmanteau of ironic and nostalghia, “Ironostalghia” to explain that my friend neither longs to get that moment back, nor even continue to recall it, because he remembers it didn’t end well.
But still there’s a folklore-ish enchantment to it he can’t ignore, even some 50 years ago as of this writing. He still occasionally finds himself, against his better judgment, in a less than sensible reverie, fantasizing the “what could be” part.
[ . . . ]
“Joy to the World” was written by Hoyt Axton (1938–1999) for a kids show that never happened. Religious types have tried to co-opt the meaning of the verse, but they are wrong! The verse, according to Axton, was a placeholder until he could come up with something better. He didn’t and, looking back, he couldn’t. The pop rock band Three Dog Night recorded it in 1971 and the rest is history.
Axton was quite the star on his own. He wrote or co-wrote “Greenback Dollar,” “No No Song,” “The Pusher,” “Never Been To Spain,” as well as “Boney Fingers” (“Work your fingers to the bone – whadda ya get? (Whoo-whoo) Boney Fingers – Boney Fing-gers.”) And as an actor he played the well meaning, but foolhardy dad in in the comedy-horror classic “Gremlins”
Bonus fact: Hoyt Axton’s mother, Mae Axton, co-wrote the Elvis hit “Heartbreak Hotel.” When “Joy To The World” topped the charts, the Axtons became the only mother-son team to each be credited with writing a #1 record.
If you want to know more…
- Joy To The World by Three Dog Night
- Travel – The untranslatable word that connects Wales
- The European country that loves being sad
- Saudade and Sehnsucht
- Japanese Aesthetics (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
- Boney Fingers – Hoyt Axton
- Gremlins (1984)