I’m lucky. I have a ten month old son who I spend an entire day with every week. We have a Friday ritual where after his Mother has scampered off to work and before he goes down for his morning nap we listen to old records.
He likes Buck Owens and western swing. He likes early Jerry Lee where he’s pounding on the keys. He likes Ray Charles and the Hot 5’s. Maybe because I sing them, he likes Jimmie Rodgers’ blue yodels. Some of the records fall flat. He’s yet to understand the greatness of Aaron Copland, Brian Wilson, and Woody Guthrie. The Beatles and Bob Dylan don’t hold his attention the way my shoes do, and, if we compared the music to the vinyl it comes on I’ll give you one scratched up guess to which he prefers.
Every Friday though we inevitable stumble on something that works. One week it was the old honky tonk pianist Moon Mulligan. Moon is all rhythm. His is dancing music and the boy bounced up and down grinning, completely out of sync.
All of this somehow takes us back to Hong Kong of the 1930s. Somewhere, in that rapidly modernizing city, two men, He Zemin and Huang Peiying, recorded the song “Big Idiot Buys a Pig.” 80 years later this old 78 has survived countless risks and has been rendered into a surprisingly clean digital recording by the talented folks over at Dust-to-Digital. Now it lives on in my hard drive. The record begins with a man laughing and then singing what I would assume is a more or less straight telling of how a big idiot buys a pig. Throughout the song he stops to chuckle some more.
This song played one morning and the boy stopped what he was doing and turned his attention to the music. Then he laughed. As the song went on he laughed every time the man on record laughed, until by the end he was in absolute fits. We played it again. Hilarity ensued. And again, until I worried he would literally bust his gut. So there it is. 80 years gone, and a full world away makes no difference. Funny is funny. Any 10 month old baby can tell you that.