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Brandon's Big Gay Blog

Name That Tune: "The Typewriter" by Leroy Anderson

by Brandon Burt
Posted // 2010-11-30 -

Ever have one of those weeks when the same word, name or song keeps randomly cropping up?

Undoubtedly, these little memetic synchronicities mean something -- especially when it's an unusual, ponderous word such as "Weltschmerz" or an obscure, heavyweight name like "Heraclitus of Ephesus." Then it's obviously an omen. It's time to start living right.

But what if, instead, it's just a chipper little symphonic-pop tune from the 1950s? Recently, I've been hearing this particular happy theme an awful lot. I didn't recognize it (although it's the type of thing I should know, because kitschy novelty tunes are a hobby of mine). But, the third time it came into my life, I had to look it up online. The tune in question turned out to be "The Typewriter" by Leroy Anderson* ... click to listen. So that's my big Jungian symbol -- but, for the life of me, if it really is a meaningful omen, I can't figure out what it portends.

This past Sunday, the tune materialized in an episode of Fox's The Simpsons ("How Munched Is That Birdie in the Window") during a sequence in which Bart and Milhouse are exchanging messages via carrier pigeon (10:31). The reference seems a bit obscure, since the only obvious connection is that typewriters and homing pigeons are both obsolete technologies. (Of course, it's immediately preceded by a segment in which Mr. Burns dances nude to Tchaikovsky's Sleeping Beauty waltz (10:10), so the whole thing makes a kind of bizarre Simpsonsesque sense somehow.)


If you're getting the feeling that I listen to soundtrack references a bit too attentively, you're probably right. But what started it all off for me was a scene in Adam Eliot's brilliant claymation feature Mary & Max (2009), where Max finally decides to sit down and type a reply to an Australian letter-writer he has never met, thus setting in motion a touching lifelong correspondence. The music was so incongruously cheerful, it made Dave and me laugh out loud -- and so the tune stuck in my mind.

Then, after Mary & Max, but before The Simpsons episode, "The Typewriter" turned up somewhere else -- and I can't remember where. A search of IMDB suggests Christmas With the Kranks (which is impossible because I'm allergic to Tim Allen), as well as Who's Minding the Store? and But Not for Me, neither of which I've seen recently. (Fearless, which I did watch over the holiday weekend, appears among Anderson's credits, but for a different composition.) So I'm stumped.

Anderson is perhaps best known for the Christmas song "Sleigh Ride" -- which, if you ask me, beats the hell out of non-Anderson seasonal hits such as "The Little Drummer Boy" and "Frosty the Snowman." On the other hand, he also wrote "The Syncopated Clock," which I've always felt was overrated. (That clock is just barely syncopated; for real complex rhythms, the go-to guy is Tito Puente.) Surprisingly, Anderson did not compose "Holiday for Strings" -- that piece was by David Rose (and it's the most fabulous music ever to mop floors by).

The wonderful, clacky noise of a typewriter is never heard today. Even back when it was a familiar sound, it was underutilized in music -- the only other composition I can think of that uses it is "Franklin Shepard, Inc." from Stephen Sondheim's Merrily We Roll Along. And, even there, it wasn't so much a percussion instrument as a bit of stage business (although Lonny Price's hyperkinetic performance in the original Broadway recording is wonderfully unnerving).

If there is any meaning to all this -- and surely there is -- it must be that I need to listen to more cheerful music. Or that I need to type more.


* Some sources dubiously attribute it to Michel Legrand for some reason.

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