Saturday, August 22, 2009

Living with the Chicken Heart Every Day

Brown cathedral-style Philco radio from the 1930sAs a kid, my family enjoyed Bill Cosby's album Wonderfulness, especially the bit called "The Chicken Heart." (Listen to an MP3 of Cosby's original recording here.)

I think of it often these days, whenever I hear about people who listen to alarmist 24-hour news stations or inflammatory talk radio, and who subsequently think child abductors lurk around every corner, Obama is coming for their guns, or health insurance reform is a government takeover.

In the story, Cosby is 7 years old. His parents go out and leave him alone, warning him not to get out of his bed, because on previous date nights he had turned on the radio and listened to a scary radio show.

His mother reminds him that because it frightened him so much, he "smeared jello all over the kitchen floor to make the monster slip if he came at you." And that when his father later came in to get a drink of water, he slipped and hurt himself.

(If you're wondering why his parents would leave a 7-year-old alone, Cosby reminds us: "This was before babysitters when parents did not believe in babysitters at all. The philosophy was, 'What? Let some stranger look after my kid? I'd just as soon leave him home by himself.' ")

After his parents leave, of course, Cosby immediately turns on the Philco radio to the Lights Out program and hears a story called "The Chicken Heart that Ate Up New York City."

Punctuated with Cosby's explosive, imitation heartbeats (ba-BUM, ba-BUM, ba-BUM over and over again into the microphone), the story tells of a chicken's heart that spills in a New Jersey laboratory and grows 6 feet tall, then goes out "in search of human blood."

After eating the elevator boy, all the cabs, the Empire State Building and the Jersey Turnpike, Cosby rhythmically intones, "It's in your home state -- ba-BUM, ba-BUM, ba-BUM -- It's in your home town -- ba-BUM, ba-BUM, ba-BUM -- It's outside of your door -- ba-BUM, ba-BUM, ba-BUM -- And it's going to eat YOU up."

At which point the 7-year-old Cosby gets out the jello and smears it all over the kitchen floor. Then he sets the sofa on fire. Meanwhile the rhythmic ba-BUM, ba-BUM, ba-BUM from the radio continues.

The story concludes:

My father came in the house, said, "What --" ZOOP! (falls on the kitchen floor.) "What the hell's the sofa doing on fire??!"

Cosby: Come in the house, the Chicken Heart's going to eat you up!

Father: What Chicken Heart are you talking about?

Cosby: The one on the radio!

Father: So you idiot, turn it off!

(Dead silence for a few seconds as the traumatic ba-BUMs disappear.)

Cosby then says: "I hadn't thought of that."
It's time we all think to turn off the bad news, brought to us by companies that profit from selling us negativity, as well as ideologues who benefit from fanning our fears.

We don't have to listen to it, and we'd all be happier and better able to discuss the important issues of the day without it.


elena said...

Thanks for recollecting the lesson of the Chicken does seem more pertinent than ever.

Ms Sparrow said...

You make a good point, but I'm a confirmed news junkie. I'd probably go into withdrawal and wind up eating myself into a stupor. This would not be good. However, I must point out that I don't succumb to stupid, alarmist over-the-top pundits!

Daughter#1 said...

It was good to hear "The Chicken Heart" bit on our trip to Quebec :-)

I agree about turning off the radio to escape the strident voices being heard all around. It is a bit much to tolerate in this day and age!

Michael Leddy said...

When we visit friends in NJ/NY, the day usually starts with the radio, not talk but WINS (“All News, All The Time”), grisly stories of crime and death, one after another after another. Your post is a great reminder to think carefully about what we’re putting in our heads.

pamohara said...

I remember the Chicken Heart well, I can even hear the cracks and skips on our well-loved LP.