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Manis and learned behavior in Fort Wayne
By Chris Colcord
Fort Wayne Reader
Of all the great mysteries of the 20th century--who really kidnapped Lindbergh's baby, did Lee Harvey Oswald act alone, what crashed at Roswell--the one most pressing question on my mind is, Who came up with the idea of shouting "get laid, get f----d" in the middle of that keyboard riff in "Mony Mony?"
I first heard this here, in Fort Wayne, about twenty five years ago, and I had to have somebody explain what I'd just heard. For the uninitiated — and really, I can't imagine anyone in Fort Wayne who's been to a bar and doesn't know this — "Mony Mony" is a garage rock classic from the 60's, originally performed by Tommy James and the Shondells, that was re-tooled in the 80's by Billy Idol. Coinciding with the various Billy Idol versions and their increasing popularity (there was a studio version, a dance remix, and finally a live single), a bizarre phenomenon started occurring — after the first line of the song, audiences would spontaneously shout the aforementioned obscenity in time with the keyboard riff. Nobody knows where this started, but by the end of the decade, Billy Idol discovered on tour that virtually everywhere he went (America, U.K., Europe), his song was greeted with this enthusiastically profane chant.
For the longest time I believed this was a bizarre local custom, like cow tipping or calling green peppers "mangos." During that era (let's call it the Reagan mid 80's) I had dozens of friends who came to Fort Wayne from out of town and whenever they heard "Mony Mony" they always gave me the same perplexed look. When John Mellencamp played Fort Wayne at that time, he stopped the concert in mid-song to ask just what the hell people were yelling during his version of "Mony Mony." When the crowd yelled the answer back, Mellencamp and the bad started laughing hysterically — they had never heard it before. This convinced me that the "Mony Mony" thing had its genesis in Fort Wayne. Mellencamp was an international music star, after all, and this was the first he'd heard of it. Surely, Fort Wayne could claim it for its own.
Having done just a tiny bit of research, of course, I soon discovered that it's just about impossible to nail down exactly when this all started. A cursory look to the internet (and yes, I know how reliable that is) showed that there were dozens of possible origins for the chant, from Maryland to South Bend to Canada. Most likely, though, the "Mony Mony" thing is one of those bizarre, spontaneous cultural eruptions, like the tide of sick jokes that invariably follow after a celebrity's death or a national disaster. But I do think it's fairly accurate to say that Fort Wayne was one of the first cities to embrace this juvenilia and clasp it to its bosom.
And I don't mean that to sound like an insult; I'm all for juvenalia in all forms, especially when it's connected to rock and roll. People have dismissed "Mony Mony" as being stupid for years now, and that the yahoos yelling were equally moronic, yet I've always thought that stupidity was sort of the point. Rock and roll has always had a high trash aesthetic. Trying to take the "stupid" out of rock music is like trying to take the lead guitar out of rock music. You just can't do it. In Fort Wayne we figured this out, and that chant has been ringing in my ears for a quarter century.
I'm fascinated by local, learned behavior patterns like these in Fort Wayne, trends that seem to be particular and endemic to our fair city. Even the ones that drive me crazy have intriguing elements I can never quite work out. Take winter in Fort Wayne. We've experienced harsh winters in Fort Wayne for, oh, I don't know, a million years or so, and yet every year the first forecast of two inches of snow produces a mad siege on all area grocery stores. This is incomprehensible to me on many levels, but primarily I'm thinking, Nobody knows the drill? It's winter. It snows. This is surprising? Secondarily, I can't help remembering that Fort Wayne is one of the fattest cities in the universe, and even if we get hit by a mega-blizzard, odds are high that most Fort Wayne families have enough food in their houses to feed a Third World country for a month. This is a Sam's Club, bulk-buying town, where "low on food" still means you've got half a cow in the basement freezer. That insane rush to Scott's to score the French Onion Dip before the storm has always seemed a tad excessive to me.
And look, I know how to read a map, okay? I know that Kentucky and Tennessee are a couple hundred miles south of Fort Wayne. And I know that Fort Wayne's heritage is primarily German, with strong Irish and English influences — I know this. I know the influence of Appalachia is not nearly as pervasive in Fort Wayne as other cultures are. So how is it, exactly, that tons of born-and-raised Fort Waynians still sound like they came from the hills and hollers of Kentucky? Even second, and third generation folks? This is wildly disorienting for me, I'll be driving down Calhoun, I'll turn right, and suddenly I'm in the Smoky Mountains.
And finally, about cow tipping--I've heard about this for years but always disputed that anyone actually tried it. A few years ago, though, a drunken friend, embarrassed, admitted that tipping cows was sort of a point of honor among his friends in high school. He regaled me with a few more memorable stories. When I finally asked him why he'd do such an odd thing, he shrugged. "It's just something you do in Fort Wayne."