The Michigan Rag

12Mar09

Contrary to what it says right there in the song, it turns out that not everybody likes the Michigan Rag. Indeed, my girlfriend hates “The Michigan Rag” more than any other song that I’ve absolutely refused to stop singing since “The Humpty Dance”. I can’t imagine why.

A couple of days ago, I was watching Three Little Bops, the Warner Brothers cartoon where the Three Little Pigs are a jazz trio, and pondering the theological implications of the wolf joining the band from beyond the grave. (How bad can hell be if you’re allowed to just leave to sit in with a live band and blow jazz trumpet?) Then I watched the Spanish-language version to try to see it from a Roman Catholic angle.

Then I noticed there was also a translated version of One Froggy Evening and wondered what Michigan J. Frog would sound like en español. It turns out he sounds (a) the same as he does in English, because they didn’t translate that part and (b) great, because he always sounded great, and dubbing in a translation would have ruined one of the greatest cartoons ever made.

Not everyone agrees, however. My ragtime gal not only finds the song “The Michigan Rag” irritating but also thinks the way the word ra-a-a-a-ag is repeatedly drawn out makes it sound like the frog is puking. This brings two things to mind.

First, it reminds me of a review of a Magnetic Fields album in which the writer mentioned that Stephin Merritt’s deep baritone once caused his mother to exclaim, “Is someone throwing up in there?” I’m almost certain the song that provoked this reaction was “World Love” from 69 Love Songs, in which Merritt genuinely does sound like he’s dry heaving, although strangely, this doesn’t ruin the song at all, which perhaps makes the Magnetic Fields the best band to vomit to. (The worst band to vomit to, theoretically, would be a supergroup comprising Bon Scott, Jimi Hendrix, and John Bonham, all playing from beyond the grave like the wolf sitting in with the Three Little Bops. Although this power trio would indisputably rock harder than almost any other band that ever existed, it might be too upsetting to listen to them in that context, as each member died of choking on his own vomit.)

And second, the thought of a frog puking doesn’t bother me at all. In fact, it’s a happy memory. I didn’t realize when I was a kid that a couple of my friends were probably budding sociopaths, but they were definitely a bedwetting incident or two away from completing the MacDonald triad.

Fire-starting incidents? Oh yes. One of them burned down a whole field and even set a creek on fire once. It would have been twice, but when we collaborated to make a Molotov cocktail, we were too boneheaded to realize we needed a smashable glass bottle. We used a two-litre plastic pop bottle, which, when thrown onto the rocks of the then-dry creek bed, simply bounced harmlessly and then lay there with a jet of flame sputtering from its nozzle.

As for the torturing of small animals, this was where I took a back seat, though I saw it done with terrible zeal and rather impressive ingenuity. Like amphibian-focused junior versions of Josef Mengele, they experimented with death, skinning the frogs alive and watching them hop around in pain, burning them, even crucifying them. One even reached down a large frog’s throat and pulled its guts out, then shoved a smaller frog head-first into its mouth so that it looked like a pair of conjoined twins with a set of legs at each end.

But the puking frog I’m reminded of was the one that had a blasting cap purloined from a nearby construction site shoved down its throat and was thrown back into the creek. (Playing with blasting caps is obviously an incredibly stupid and dangerous idea, and it’s a wonder none of us had our fingers blown off, though we would probably have deserved it.) The detonating wires were touched together, and the water erupted into a thundering spout, like an artillery shell hitting the waves at Omaha Beach.

But a split-second before this, the frog regurgitated the blasting cap — which was almost as big as it was — and swam for its life.

As the waters rippled, every minnow in the vicinity floated at the top, stunned dead. But the frog sat on a rock, panting. One of us snatched it up and was about to dash its brain out on the rocks, but before he could, the rest of us stopped him. That frog was a survivor — he’d cheated death and now deserved to go free and enjoy his prize, like a condemned prisoner reprieved by the malfunction of the apparatus of death.

Of course, he probably died not long afterward of massive internal injuries from having a huge blunt object shoved down his throat. But I like to think that, like Michigan J. Frog himself, he lives still and, even in the fantastic year 2056, will continue to take up a jaunty top hat and cane, dancing and singing ad nauseam:

Everybody do the Michigan Rag
Everybody likes the Michigan Rag
Every Mame and Jane and Ruth
From Weehawken to Duluth
Slide, ride, glide the Michigan
Stomp, romp, pomp the Michigan
Jump, clump, pump the Michigan Rag
That fuckin’ rag!



7 Responses to “The Michigan Rag”

  1. 1 Keith

    Yikes.

  2. 2 Peter Lynn

    I should probably make it perfectly clear that I do not now approve of torturing and/or killing small animals, nor did I then. I was pretty happy that frog got away.

  3. 3 jtl

    That’s one hell of a rag, for sure. And one hell of a frog.

  4. 4 Scott

    This post made me watch “One Froggy Evening” and that made me happy. Plus, I’m starting to sing a little “Michigan Rag” myself now.

  5. 5 John M

    Ha.. I love the Humpty-Dance…Filled with great one-liners. One of the best chorus’ to do the ‘john-man’ to… 🙂

  6. 6 Marlene

    I’ll never forgive you for giving me the mental images of what happened to those poor frogs or for making Scott sing that stupid song. I don’t know what’s worse.

  7. 7 Chester Arbuthnot-Smythe, Esq.

    I daresay, a fine rag for the ages.
    Some may deem it vulgar, but I believe this is where, not unlike one faced with a moustache a la Souvarov, we can tip our hats and say, “as you were, gentlemen.”

    As to the comments of the lady of the house, particularly where she refers to the most extraordinarily jaunty section of the rag as (dare I repeat it), “a frog puking” — I might recommend to her that such a disposition may be cured through repeated listening, a bottle of Hendrick’s gin, a fine tonic water, and a stiff upper lip.


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