We have all heard it, we all chuckle at it, but I suspect few of us have pondered the deep philosophical meaning of the “The Hokey Pokey.”
Neither did Aristotle or Plato, so we’re in good company, at least.
Recently, an old friend passed on a Facebook note reading, “What if the Hokey Pokey is what it is all about?”
In part, lyrics for the Hokey Pokey song include “Put your left foot in; Your left foot out; Your left foot in; And shake it all about. Now put your right foot in; Your right foot out; Right foot in; Then you shake it all about; And then you do the hokey pokey; Turn yourself around; That’s what it’s all about.”
Freeze frame: “That’s what it’s all about.” What? Life? Love, happiness?
That is a pretty darned direct declaration: “it’s all.”
For such an all-encompassing, all-knowing statement, one deserves to know the source of what might purport to be the most important words ever uttered.
However, tracing the origin of the Hokey Pokey turns out to be about as difficult as determining if there is life on Mars.
Borrowing from research already performed, there are claims of authorship (or popularization) from multiple countries in multiple years, 1940, 1942, 1946, 1949 and 1953, with slightly varying titles and somewhat varying lyrics.
The adventure began with band leader Gerry Hoey of British origin who in 1940 wrote a song called “The Hoey Oka.”
In 1942, Irish songwriter Jimmy Kennedy (who wrote “The Teddy Bear’s Picnic, giving him credibility in my book) invented a dance accompanied by a song named “The Hokey Cokey.”
That is not a typographical error. Sounds like Irish English versus American English, a case of two countries separated by a common language.
Also in 1942, British composer Al Tabor got into the act with an act for Canadian troops in London, by writing, yes, “The Hokey Pokey.” He said he dreamed up the title from a childhood memory, when London ice cream sellers called themselves “Hokey Pokey Men.”
In 1946, Robert Degan and Joe Brier of Scranton, Pa., came up with “The Hokey Pokey Dance” and introduced it to summer visitors at Pocono Mountains resorts.
Charles Mack, Taft Baker and Larry LaPrise teamed up for their own “The Hokey Pokey” in 1949 and made a show of it at the Sun Valley Resort in Idaho. They recorded it, but a copyright infringement lawsuit from Degan and Brier followed. Courts granted LaPrise all rights.
An orchestra leader named Ray Anthony recorded “The Hokey Pokey” with a female lead singer in 1953. This song version stuck and is what we all know and love, except for the disconcerting assertion about “it” being all there is, which has turned myself around.
No wonder, since in keeping with the song, you are also supposed “Put your head in; And bang it all about.”
Banging my head in serious thought turned the light bulb on. Hokey Pokey song interpretations and dances all have silliness at their root.
Maybe laughter – needing more of it – is what “it” is all about.