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Thursday, August 18, 2011

For Winnie-the-Pooh's 90th Birthday: House at Pooh Corner/Loggins & Messina, and more

This Sunday, August 21st, is the 90th birthday of A.A. Milne's beloved children's character Edward Bear, better known as Winnie-the-Pooh. Happy birthday, Pooh! Or as the denizens of the Hundred Acre Wood might put it, hipy papy bthuthdth thuthda bthuthdy.

But how can Pooh be 90? The first Pooh book, Winnie-the-Pooh, was published in 1926. That would make him a mere 85, wouldn't it? It turns out that Pooh's birthday is not calculated from the date of his first publication, but from internal evidence found in The House at Pooh Corner: Pooh was presented to Milne's son Christopher Robin on the occasion of the boy's first birthday, on August 21st, 1921. So Christopher Robin's birthday became Pooh's.

Pooh has inspired his share of songs--and not all of them are for the kiddies. The obvious choice to begin with is House At Pooh Corner, written by Kenny Loggins. The song was originally recorded by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band for their 1970 album Uncle Charlie His Dog Teddy. Band member Jimmy Ibbotson reportedly suffered from polio as a child and spent much of the time reading. The works of A.A. Milne were particular favorites, so he was eager to record the song. But it gained real popularity after it appeared on Loggins & Messina's 1971 album Sittin in. It can also be found on their greatest hits album Best: Loggins & Messina - Sittin in Again. The lyrics describe Pooh going about various Pooh-ish activities--counting bees, chasing clouds, getting a honey jar stuck on his nose--with the help of his friends from the Hundred Acre Wood, including Christopher Robin, Owl, and Eeyore (what, no Tigger?). The subtext is a wistful wish to return to a lost childhood, an aspect that was emphasized when Loggins revised the song as Return To Pooh Corner, which appears on a 1994 album of the same name. Another follow up album, More Songs From Pooh Corner, in 2000, includes Loggins' song Your Heart Will Lead You Home, which served as the theme to Disney's animated film The Tigger Movie.

In 1970 Dutch composer Willem Frederik Bon wrote an orchestral score called To Catch a Heffalump, after the mysterious and elusive creatures that bedevil Pooh and Piglet.

Now things really do get nitty gritty. Arab Strap's song Piglet, from their 1998 album Philophobia, features a couple getting ready to go out clubbing. While the woman is in the shower, her boyfriend lets curiosity get the better of him: I'd always planned to have a look/in your special Winnie the Pooh book/The place was marked and it was there in blue and white/it just said simply, "Paul stayed last night." Her infidelity is revealed--recriminations, scatology and explicit lyrics ensue.

Jefferson Airplane's third album, 1967's After Bathing at Baxter's, features a song called The Ballad Of You & Me & Pooneil, written by Paul Kantner. "A song of love, hope, expectation, and a degree of doubt," writes Eric V.D. Luft in Die at the Right Time! A Subjective Cultural History of the American Sixties. "Pooneil was Kantner's fanciful hybrid of A.A. Milne's character, Winnie-the-Pooh, and Fred Neil, the New York City folk rocker." Kantner said Pooneil "referred to Freddie and Winnie-the-Pooh sort of thrown into a Mixmaster on the psychedelic era." The lyrics draw heavily from Milne's poetry collection When We Were Very Young, in particular the poems "Halfway Down" and "Spring Morning."

The band's follow-up album, 1968's Crown of Creation, featured a follow-up song, the title of which made the Pooh connection even more obvious. The House At Pooneil Corners, written by Kantner and Marty Balin, also draws lyrics from Milne's poetry, in this case "Noise, by Pooh" from The House at Pooh Corner. However, the tone of the song "was much darker than its predecessor," writes Luft. "Its graphically descriptive images of mass death and its gruesome aftermath made us think of nothing but nuclear war and its entailed universal annihilation."

Finally, there is an Italian band called Pooh. And check out The Pooh Sticks, an English indie band whose name recalls the favorite pastime of Pooh and Piglet. If you think Quidditch is the first game to make the transition from fiction to the real world, think again: The annual Poohsticks World Championships have been held on England's River Thames since 1984.