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Pogo's 'Deck Us All With Boston Charlie:' A Walt Kelly Christmas Carol

Music | December 24, 2020

Source: The Website Of Doom

Deck us all with Boston Charlie,
Walla Walla Wash., an' Kalamazoo!
Nora's freezin' on the trolley, 
Swaller dollar cauliflower alleygaroo!

Walt Kelly's Pogo comic strip stopped publishing in 1975, but the spoof Christmas carol "Deck Us All With Boston Charlie" deserves to live on. Kelly's version of the song, mixes winks towards Shakespeare with malapropisms and just straight up gibberish to make one of the weirdest Christmas tunes of the Groovy era.

The song became a tradition in Pogo, with Kelly always working some version of it into the comic strip during the lead-up to Christmas. "Deck Us All With Boston Charlie" has six verses, and has been published in several songbooks featuring music from Pogo.

In the 1950s, Walt Kelly was just off a short stint at Disney when he put ink to paper and dreamt up one of the most popular comic strips of the era. Concerning the comings and goings of an opossum and his swamp-buddies, Pogo took aim at the human condition with sharp wordplay, absolute nonsense, and appearances by some of the biggest political names of the day (albeit in animal form). 

Walt Kelly got his start at Disney

source: pinterest

Walt Kelly spent much of his early life in Bridgeport, Connecticut, where he worked as a journalist at the Bridgeport Post before traveling west to Southern California where he took a job at Walt Disney Productions. Initially, Kelly worked as a storyboard artist before moving on to work in the animation department, a position that saw him contributing to Pinocchio, Fantasia, and Dumbo.

You may not be able to find Kelly's work in any of those Disney classics, but it's interesting to know that he's one of the many artists who was born of the early days of the House of Mouse.

Kelly left his gig at Disney during the 1941 animators strike, taking a job at Dell Comics illustrating a series of comic books based on fairy tales before hitting on his most popular work, Pogo. It's clear that Kelly drew on his work adapting fairy tales to inform his wordplay in Pogo, especially when it came to writing lyrics.

Pogo for President

source: Fantagraphics

Running from 1948 to 1975, Pogo followed the adventures of a group of furry creatures in the Okefenokee Swamp, specifically its titular character, a humble opossum with an everyman kind of reasoning. Throughout its nearly three decade run, Kelly populated the strip with more than a thousand characters - some of them were wry satirization of current political figures, others were stand-ins for Kelly's personal philosophy.

Pogo's friends include the loudmouth Albert Alligator, self-appointed sage Howland Owl, deranged mud turtle Churchill "Churchy" LaFemme, self-satisfied hound dog Beauegard Bugleboy, and Porky Pine, a misanthropic porcupine. Miss Mam'selle Hepzibah, a beautiful skunk who sometimes has a thing for Pogo, speaks in a French dialect; while Deacon Mushrat (a muskrat), spouts his antiquated views in a calligraphic blackletter font.

Kelly's work with Pogo is most similar to that of Lewis Carroll. His Georgia swamp was a safe place for fantastical creatures to opine about political topics of the day, from McCarthyism to segregation, and the environment. Pogo was such a popular character during his time that college students attempted to make him a candidate for President.

Pogo was the perfect comic strip for the early '60s. Kelly wasn't educating his readers on news stories of the day, and he wasn't even lambasting it. Kelly's comic strip seemed to be an attempt to make sense of the toxic political wasteland of the day. It's clear why people were drawn to his philosophical comic strip.

Deck Us All With Boston Charlie

source: pinterest

Kelly's blustery, non-sensical prose drew inspiration from Shakespeare, fairy tales, and the witty wordplay of folkies like Arlo Guthrie, all of which dovetailed into "Deck Us All with Boston Charlie." Sung to the tune of "Deck The Halls," the six verses make use of chaotic nonsense and references to World War I slang to create a kind of alternate universe Christmas carol.

Despite having no official recorded version, the song is an ear worm that doesn't just live alongside "Deck The Halls," but erases and replaces the lyrics in your head. The first line of the parody mimics the cadence of the source so well that you can hear the melody even though the words are different. It's a strange and impressive thing that Kelly accomplished.

Each of the six verses incorporate different references to plants, animals, and minerals, while making sly allusions to Shakespeare and the ye olde English saying and traditions. It's a lot to take in if you've never heard it before. What's really fascinating about the song is the way that it reads like it was made up off the top of Kelly's head, as if he's pulling references from every facet of his life to build his holiday masterwork.

Is this carol really a smart song or is it nonsense?

source: fantagraphics

Reading to the song's lyrics today isn't just like listening to a song that fell out of a time capsule, it's like studying something from another universe (albeit an alternate universe that celebrates the same winter holiday that most of us do). If you've never heard of "Deck Us All With Boston Charlie," your mileage may vary with the track. If you like sardonic takes on holiday classics then you'll appreciate it, but if you're not into this kind of thing prepare to be exhausted.

There's a small cult surrounding Walt Kelly and his anarchic Christmas carol. Fans of his work have described the song as a genius work of word wizardry, but is it really an intellectual probing of western Christmas traditions? Today, the lyrics read like the ravings of a madman (albeit a madman with the entire works of William Shakespeare on his bookshelf), but fans of Kelly's work insist that the song is a dense work of intellectual prowess. So is the song just a goof or is it the work of abject genius? That's really up for you to decide.

Sing along with Pogo

source: pinterest

Deck us all with Boston Charlie,
Walla Walla, Wash., an’ Kalamazoo!
Nora’s freezin’ on the trolley,
Swaller dollar cauliflower alley-garoo!

Don’t we know archaic barrel
Lullaby Lilla Boy, Louisville Lou?
Trolley Molly don’t love Harold,
Boola boola Pensacoola hullabaloo!

Bark us all bow-wows of folly,
Polly wolly cracker ‘n’ too-da-loo!
Donkey Bonny brays a carol,
Antelope Cantaloupe, ‘lope with you!

Hunky Dory’s pop is lolly,
Gaggin’ on the wagon, Willy, folly go through!
Chollie’s collie barks at Barrow,
Harum scarum five alarm bung-a-loo!

Dunk us all in bowls of barley,
Hinky dinky dink an’ polly voo!
Chilly Filly’s name is Chollie,
Chollie Filly’s jolly chilly view halloo!

Bark us all bow-wows of folly,
Double-bubble, toyland trouble! Woof, woof, woof!
Tizzy seas on melon collie!
Dibble-dabble, scribble-scrabble! Goof, goof, goof!

Tags: Christmas Songs | Newspaper Cartoons | Pogo

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Jacob Shelton

Writer

Jacob Shelton is a Los Angeles based writer. For some reason this was the most difficult thing he’s written all day, and here’s the kicker – his girlfriend wrote the funny part of that last sentence. As for the rest of the bio? That’s pure Jacob, baby. He’s obsessed with the ways in which singular, transgressive acts have shaped the broader strokes of history, and he believes in alternate dimensions, which means that he’s great at a dinner party. When he’s not writing about culture, pop or otherwise, he’s adding to his found photograph collection and eavesdropping on strangers in public.