The curse of the Little Red Monkey…

Woe is me, for I am undone! The curse
of the Little Red Monkey is upon me…

21st August 2015. [Sound of dipping into ink, followed by the scratching of a quill pen.] Dear Diary, I am at my wits’ end, and know not what to do. Though to be sure, it all began harmlessly enough. For some weeks, I had been watching, on DVDs lent to me by my son, many episodes of ‘The X Files’, a very popular U.S. fantasy & supernatural television series – I hardly need introduce it to you. We were well into the third series, when I happened to notice that the anacrusis of the main theme music reminded me of something. This impression persisted for several episodes, but I did not bother about it until a week or so ago. Oh, that I had left it well alone! But no; a thing worth doing is worth doing well, so I thought about what it might be reminding me of. (Or, as a dear friend of mine would say: ‘… of what it might be reminding me.’ – but that’s not important right now.)

Here is the relevant bit of theme music played three times. Right-click on the link & open in a new tab.

The key phrase may vaguely be represented by the following – I’m not sure, as my musical theory is rudimentary in the extreme:

So – what did it remind me of? Oh, bitterly do I rue the day when it dawned on me. It was scarce a week ago, yet it seems an intolerable æon of mental torture has been compressed into those few days. You see, what it reminded me of was LITTLE RED MONKEY.

That goes something like this:

I think it should be in 6/8 actually, but we couldn’t handle that, and in any case, no matter what the time signature, we were doomed. You see, ‘Little Red Monkey’, written by the estimable Jack Jordan, came out in 1953. It was intended for, or became, the theme music for a BBC Television espionage thriller series of the same name. If you wish, you can find out about all this on line. But the main point is, I was 9 years old in 1953, and though nothing is recalled of the TV series, the theme music was truly ubiquitous. It was on the radio all the time; we were living with my grandparents then, and my grandfather had the sheet music, which he would play on the parlour piano. Thus it went into my head quite early on, and so is – that is, was – buried very deeply in what I am laughingly wont to call my mind. It had slumbered there peacefully for just over 60 years.

But then, we began to tamper with our memory. We found that we could still whistle, fairly accurately, the first two themes, once we had made the connection between the X-files and Red Monkey. It’s as much in the rhythm actually; Monkey is a step down the chord, but the translation is obvious enough.

Alas, this led to meddling with things which had much better been left alone. We went to YouTube and played versions of Monkey there. There are very many indeed. We only played a few, but that was a sufficient catalyst. Yes, we finally unleashed the full invasive power of this amusing, lilting, light-hearted, minor-key, goblin-like dance tune. You know of course, that proper goblins, though essentially negative, usually have a sort of twinkle in their eye? It must be the inherent ambiguity of Celtic Mythology. On the one hand, you may meet a goblin sort of being, who will kill you outright, or at least reduce you to a vestige of your former self. But on the other, the goblin might frighten you a bit, just for fun; and then send you on your way with a handful of small pebbles, which, when you get to your impoverished cottage, you find are gold coins of the Roman Republic, the extrinsic value of which far exceeds that of the gold itself. (Sorry, I can’t resist using the word ‘extrinsic’. I fear that it has nearly died out, and am trying to preserve it.) But, dear reader, I digress.

For the last fortnight, we have been almost constantly whistling, tootling and humming ‘Little Red Monkey’, and it will not go away. It has imprinted itself in bold type on the palimpsest of my mind, obliterating all else. See – I am whistling it even as I type! People look round at me in supermarket queues, as I walk down the local high street, as I travel on a bus or in a train. Especially in the last two cases, it becomes necessary to stop humming or whistling, as it can indeed be very irritating to innocent people. But then the pressure builds up; trying to just ‘think’ the tune is almost impossible. Sweat gathers on my brow; in increasing desperation, I look out of the window for some diversion: an unusually large flock of birds, a car older than mine * – anything novel. But the world outside the window is always completely, distressingly ordinary. Mentally and physically exhausted, we alight from the bus or train, and at last can whistle again. Are we doomed?   

I think the best cure will be to find another tune that will supplant or over-write Monkey. A couple of years ago, for instance, we had an outbreak of von Reznicek’s 1894 ‘Donna Diana’ overture – or at least the first main phrase of it:

Eventually it went away by itself. Although now I come to think of it, it would occasionally recur, but at increasingly long intervals. In fact, it had probably not quite altogether gone when ‘Little Red Monkey’ arrived.

I cannot write more now, but must return to YouTube; perhaps if I again play all the versions of Little Red Monkey up there (I think there are nearly one hundred), at last I will get fed up of it?

Wish me luck![A couple of days later…]

By the way, this is my favourite version so far:

There are many versions for flute, both small ensembles and large choirs. It is very reassuring to see these young people playing with such sincerity and joie de vivre. I might even have to post a comment on the video; at the time of writing, there are only two, which is certainly not enough.

* Once, while driving to a distant gig in our elderly car, we decided to pass away the time by checking the age of vehicles going the other way – only when it was safe to do so, of course. Thus we could place our car in its age range, and find out how it was doing, so to speak. Astonishingly, I counted about 120 cars newer than mine, and only two that were older. And they were both Land Rovers, a notoriously long-lived breed. The conclusion was, that making a living as a musician is generally not very lucrative. Of course, I knew that already, but it was nice to have it so easily and efficiently confirmed. 8^)