Some day I’ll fly away, or how to freak out swallows

Birds vs humans.

Myself doing bird noises in the community centre, San Juan de Plan, Huesca, Spanish Pyrenees. You’ll have to twirl your machine 90º until Google Video start doing online rotation:

Tiny Tim started out as the Human Canary and died in the arms of Miss Sue after playing his appalling hit, Tip-toe thru the tulips, at the Women’s Club Of Minneapolis on November 30 1996. Since I can’t find recordings of the former, here is the latter in an earlier version:

It has to be said that I like Fred Lowery even less.

Some imitators suffered more for their art. TIME, March 11 1935:

When Joseph Walter Belmont visited Australia five years ago, his whole career was changed. Since he was 16, he had been a bird imitator, whistling for his living in vaudeville houses throughout the world. In Australia a casual dentist filed away part of a front tooth and Joseph Walter Belmont’s whistling days were done. Bravely he concentrated on raising and training canaries.

Twenty-three Belmont birds were billed to sing in Manhattan’s Rockefeller Center last week, and, according to advance notice, they would prove their skill with solos, quartets, sextets, choruses. The bullfinch, first on the program, was obviously stagestruck. Trainer Belmont waved his head until his Windsor tie trembled. The finch careened too, but his tongue stayed tied. If the canaries were disappointing in song, they at least knew when to start and stop. They trilled a few chords, gave a slight suggestion of harmony.

Trainer Belmont and his bushy-haired daughter sang songs about canaries. Then Trainer Belmont divulged a few professional secrets. A good way to reprimand a monkey is to bite it. But canaries must be guided by patience and love. A real singing bird must start his career at eight weeks, when a conscientious master will shut him in a dark room, teach him to imitate a master canary, a human whistle or some musical instrument. A canary that shows promise should practice three hours a day and by the end of a year should have its repertoire fully developed.

Others went considerably further. Ed Creutz of General Atomics looks back:

There once was a man who needed a job and went to a theatrical booking agency. When asked what he could do he said, “I am a good bird imitator.” The manager said, “I am sorry but we have so many bird imitators that we can’t use you. The man looked dejected, walked over to the open window, jumped out, flapped his arms and flew away.”

Finally, demonstration that humans imitating birds are a much safer bet than birds imitating humans. Osbert Lancaster spent summers before the war at Smoglands, his parents-in-laws’ villa at Bembridge, IOW:

Too often the rare occasions when [his eccentric mother-in-law] did make a social effort and extended a conventional hospitality to her neighbours were, through no fault of her own, doomed to disaster. Once she braced herself to invite to tea a certain Colonel and Mrs Savill, the most exalted and strait-laced of all the representatives of local society, and did her very best to create an unmistakeable atmosphere of gracious living. Exquisite in coffee-coloured lace she presided over tea on the lawn, the butler and parlour-maid hovered around with petits-fours and cucumber sandwiches, while all the house-party, for once properly attired, made polite conversation. Everything was going swimmingly and Mrs Savill had just launched on a long account of last night’s ball at the Garland Club when there came a voice from heaven, “Fuck-off, you silly bitch!”, and a gigantic orange and blue macaw planed gracefully down from the top of the Wellingtonia.

I will chronicle the Spanish finch and canary fancier wars some other time.

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