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Ruth Krauss, Sergio Ruzzier, and… the Beatles?

For the first time in 32 years, there is a new book by Ruth Krauss!  Roar Like a Dandelion, with art from Sergio Ruzzier, was published on the first of the month.  Krauss began writing the book in around 1960, just after she began to focus more on writing poetry or poem-plays and less on writing children’s books. The poetic ear she had once turned to children’s speech, she now turned towards the broader world. One result was avant-garde poetry and poem-plays, and another was… this book!


For more on how the book came to be, check out the latest episode of Jennifer Laughran’s Literaticast podcast! (I, Sergio Ruzzier, and Harper editor Nancy Inteli are all guests on this episode. Here’s the iTunes link — show will appear on Apple Podcasts site later today.)


But wait. How do the Beatles enter into this?

Moments after we finished recording the podcast, I realized something.  The book’s working title — Running Jumping ABC — is likely an allusion to Richard Lester’s 11-minute absurdist film, Running Jumping & Standing Still (1959, starring Peter Sellers and Spike Milligan).

I suspect Krauss is alluding to Running Jumping & Standing Still for many reasons, one of which is that another working title — The Running Jumping Shouting ABC — includes a third term, and thus more closely parallels the three items in Lester’s film title. More importantly, Krauss’s poem-plays and poems explore comparably absurdist juxtapositions. At least some of the avant-garde writers and artists she was hanging out with from 1959 (when she became a poetry student of Kenneth Koch‘s) on would have known Lester’s film. I’m thinking here of New York school poets Koch and Frank O’Hara, Fluxus pioneers Dick Higgins and George Brecht, filmmakers Willard Maas and Marie Menken,* and choreographer-artist Remy Charlip. She might also have encountered the film on her own: Running Jumping & Standing Still gained sufficient acclaim to receive an Academy Award nomination that year (it did not win).

And this is where the Beatles come in.  They so admired Running Jumping & Standing Still that they asked its director to direct their A Hard Day’s Night (1964) — which he did, and which, in turn, popularized Lester’s visual grammar. (Ever seen an episode of The Monkees?)

Whether or not Roar Like a Dandelion and Hard Day’s Night share a common ancestor, both works have a slightly surrealist sense of humor — curious juxtapositions and nonsensical improvisations that produce the smiles (or laughs).  When Krauss writes, “Jump like a raindrop,” I think of Ringo jumping in A Hard Day’s Night.  Or “Butt like a billy-goat,” to which Ruzzier has added a tiny billy goat head-butting a much larger rhino — head-butting the rhino in the butt, of course. The visual pun puts me in mind of the many linguistic (and a few visual) puns in A Hard Day’s Night.

So, that’s the heretofore unexplored connection between Ruth Krauss, Sergio Ruzzier, and the Beatles.** In the spirit of the mashups in Krauss’s The Cantilever Rainbow and in the (mostly) Lennon compositions “I Am the Walrus” and “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” and “Revolution No. 9” (which takes this idea to its extreme), here’s a little Krauss-Lennon-Ruzzier-McCartney mashup I’ve made for you:

Crow like a rooster, make the sun come up.

And of course Henry the Horse dances the waltz!

Eat all the locks off the doors.

Follow her down to a bridge by a fountain where rocking-horse people eat marshmallow pies.

Go like a road.

Help yourself to a bit of what is all around you.***

And check out Roar Like a Dandelion. It’s classic Krauss with a Ruzzier twist!


* Willard Maas (1906-1971) and Marie Mencken (1909-1970) inspired the characters of George and Martha in Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1962).

Front cover by Chris Ware for: Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss: How an Unlikely Couple Found Love, Dodged the FBI, and Transformed Children's Literature (forthcoming from UP Mississippi, Sept. 2012)** Or it’s one connection. If we wanted to pursue this further, we might note that Krauss was also one degree of separation from John Lennon. She and her husband Crockett Johnson were friends with cartoonist Mischa Richter and his son Daniel Richter. Dan lived and worked with Lennon and Yoko Ono from 1969 to 1973. For that matter, Krauss and Ono both hung out with the Fluxus group — though Ono was an active group member (inasmuch as Fluxus had “members”) and slightly earlier than Krauss. So, I cannot verify that they ever met. Nor can I verify that Krauss and Andy Warhol (who was also a friend of Lennon’s) ever met, though they have more potential points of intersection. Both Krauss and Warhol attended the parties given by Willard Maas and Marie Menken — parties that were, as I note in my biography of Krauss and Johnson, a who’s who of the culturally influential. Warhol also published four of Krauss’s poems in Instransit: The Andy Warhol Gerard Malanga Monster issue (1968), which featured work by Lou Reed, John Cale, Nico, John Ashbery, Frank O’Hara (who had died two years earlier), Allen Ginsberg, Phil Ochs, John Hollander, James Merrill, May Swenson, Charles Bukowski, and Warhol himself. An intriguing connection, I think! Make of it what you will.

*** Sources for C, E, G: Roar Like a Dandelion. Source for D: “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite.” Source for F: “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.” Source for H: “Martha, My Dear.”

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You Can’t Do That: Over 100 Beatles Covers

Welcome to… over 100 cover versions of songs by the Beatles! 120 covers, to be precise. My favorites — not that you asked — are the truly transformative ones, such as Nina Simone’s “Revolution” (11th track on this playlist) and Harry Nilsson’s “You Can’t Do That” (57th track, which is also a mash-up). Though I really like versions that compel you to listen anew to a song you thought you knew, attempts at fidelity have their own appeal — especially when the song covered is the Beatles’ venture into concrete music, “Revolution No. 9.” (Scroll down to track #115 and listen to the version by Alarm Will Sound.)

Designed by Ivor Arbiter. First appeared on Ringo’s drum kit in May 1963.

Yes, technically, two of these are not covers. Lennon and McCartney pitched “I Wanna Be Your Man” to the Rolling Stones, who recorded it first. The Stones’ version, released 1 Nov. 1963, reached #12 in the UK. The Beatles’ recording appears on With the Beatles (released 22 Nov. 1963 in the UK). Similarly, Aretha Franklin’s “Let Be” was issued before the Beatles’ release of the original song. Franklin’s album This Girl’s in Love with You (which included both this and “Eleanor Rigby”) was released in January 1970, and the Beatles’ single (from the band’s final — and then still forthcoming — album) was released in March 1970. Franklin based her version on a Beatles demo.

This week-long experiment in musical delight (which I’ve hashtagged as #MusicDelights on Twitter) continues tomorrow with an energetic compilation of Italian film music from the mid-1960s through the mid-1970s. As I say in tomorrow’s post, a hearty thanks to Bill DeMain for introducing me to many of these!


The mixes/playlists thus far

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