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Do you like 'Little Boxes'?

DigiTrad:
BURY ME IN MY OVERALLS
FROM WAY UP HERE
IF YOU LOVE ME
JUST A LITTLE RAIN
LITTLE BOXES
LITTLE BOXES RE-VISITED
MAGIC PENNY
MAGIC PENNY
ROSIE JANE
THE BANKERS AND THE DIPLOMATS
THE BOY SALUTES
THE MONEY CROP
TURN AROUND


Related threads:
Help: Little Boxes (Malvina Reynolds) ticky-tacky? (133)
Mrs. Clara Sullivan's Letter background (3)
No Closing Chord - Tribute to Pete (4)
Help: Everything Malvina! (76)
Lyr Req: The Little Land (Malvina Reynolds) (16)
World in Their Pocket (Malvina Reynolds) (4)
Lyr Add: Andorra (Malvina Reynolds) (4)
Origins: Morningtown Ride (Malvina Reynolds) (40)
Lyr Req: The Little Mouse (Malvina Reynolds) (3)
Lyr Add: 1st Amendment Banjo (Malvina Reynolds) (4)
Lyr Req: The Man in the Mask (Malvina Reynolds) (3)
BS: Little Boxes revisited (8)
Lyr Add: God Bless the Grass (Malvina Reynolds) (23)
Malvina Reynolds - World Gone Beautiful (4)
Lyr Req: Let Us Come In (Malvina Reynolds) -Seeger (3)
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(origins) Origins: Turn Around (Reynolds/Greene/Belafonte) (31)
Lyr Req: Magic Penny (Malvina Reynolds) (12)
Malvina Reynolds (16)
Lyr Add: Alone (Malvina Reynolds) (1)
BS: Whats the point of Andorra (43)
Lyr/Chords Req: Morningtown Train (M Reynolds) (6) (closed)
Tune Req: Turn Around (Malvina Reynolds) (4) (closed)
Lyr Add: Little Tourists (Little Boxes parody) (12)
Lyr Add: Faucets Are Dripping (Malvina Reynolds) (5)
Lyr Add: Lambeth Children (Malvina Reynolds) (1)
Two new Folk Sites (Malvina Reynolds!) (7)
Lyr Req: No Hole in My Head (Malvina Reynolds) (7)
Help ...'The Magic Penny' (10)
Malvina Reynolds tribute (26)
Tune Req: If You Love Me (Malvina Reynolds) (5)
Lyr Req: Battle of Maxton Field (Malvina Reynolds) (9)
(origins) Origins: I Don't Mind Failing (Malvina Reynolds) (7)
Lyr Req: Morningtown Ride (Malvina Reynolds) (12)
Lyr Add: Peace Isn't Treason (Malvina Reynolds) (3)
Need a Song - Morningtown Ride (5)
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How about that Malvina Reynolds? (5)
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Lyr Req: male version of 'Turn Around' (M Reynolds (6) (closed)
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Lyr Add: The New Restaurant (Malvina Reynolds) (3)
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MGM·Lion 08 Sep 09 - 05:36 AM
glueman 08 Sep 09 - 05:41 AM
autoharpbob 08 Sep 09 - 05:42 AM
alex s 08 Sep 09 - 05:43 AM
GUEST,Chris B (Born Again Scouser) 08 Sep 09 - 05:47 AM
MGM·Lion 08 Sep 09 - 05:48 AM
Leadfingers 08 Sep 09 - 05:56 AM
MGM·Lion 08 Sep 09 - 06:04 AM
Acorn4 08 Sep 09 - 06:12 AM
GUEST,Ed 08 Sep 09 - 06:28 AM
Emma B 08 Sep 09 - 06:28 AM
MGM·Lion 08 Sep 09 - 06:41 AM
Emma B 08 Sep 09 - 07:03 AM
matt milton 08 Sep 09 - 07:09 AM
matt milton 08 Sep 09 - 07:20 AM
Stu 08 Sep 09 - 07:28 AM
glueman 08 Sep 09 - 07:31 AM
GUEST,Ed 08 Sep 09 - 07:45 AM
Will Fly 08 Sep 09 - 07:45 AM
Will Fly 08 Sep 09 - 07:58 AM
Crow Sister (off with the fairies) 08 Sep 09 - 07:59 AM
Marc Bernier 08 Sep 09 - 08:04 AM
Crow Sister (off with the fairies) 08 Sep 09 - 08:05 AM
olddude 08 Sep 09 - 08:08 AM
Bob the Postman 08 Sep 09 - 08:18 AM
Emma B 08 Sep 09 - 08:20 AM
Azizi 08 Sep 09 - 08:27 AM
glueman 08 Sep 09 - 08:38 AM
MGM·Lion 08 Sep 09 - 08:42 AM
Emma B 08 Sep 09 - 08:43 AM
glueman 08 Sep 09 - 08:53 AM
Azizi 08 Sep 09 - 08:53 AM
M.Ted 08 Sep 09 - 08:55 AM
MGM·Lion 08 Sep 09 - 09:07 AM
Jeri 08 Sep 09 - 09:08 AM
MGM·Lion 08 Sep 09 - 09:18 AM
Azizi 08 Sep 09 - 09:36 AM
Stu 08 Sep 09 - 09:37 AM
M.Ted 08 Sep 09 - 09:45 AM
Charmion 08 Sep 09 - 09:55 AM
Acorn4 08 Sep 09 - 09:59 AM
M.Ted 08 Sep 09 - 10:00 AM
Azizi 08 Sep 09 - 10:04 AM
M.Ted 08 Sep 09 - 10:16 AM
Dave Roberts 08 Sep 09 - 10:38 AM
MissouriMud 08 Sep 09 - 11:09 AM
Jeri 08 Sep 09 - 11:13 AM
Rog Peek 08 Sep 09 - 11:19 AM
bobad 08 Sep 09 - 11:21 AM
catspaw49 08 Sep 09 - 11:32 AM
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Subject: Do you like 'Little Boxes'?
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 08 Sep 09 - 05:36 AM

I have just started another thread about tune of this song [Folk Borrowing From Pop]. There is more to say about the words of the song, however; so rather than introduce 'drift' so soon into my own thread I am starting another.

I have never liked it [& was once fortunate enough at a London party to meet Malvina Reynolds & have the opportunity to tell her why]. It seems to me to be an ill-natured and unwarranted attack on the legitimate aspirations and lifestyles of a perfectly respectable and hardworking segment of the community who have not, so far as I can see, done anything to deserve such contempt and obloquy — wtf should 'doctors and lawyers and business executives' be expected to put up with being denounced as being 'all made out of ticky-tacky and all look[ing] just the same'?]

I know I am viewing the matter from 3000+ miles away; but our communities, and our housing-estates, over here are not that much different. Why this attack on these ordinary hardworking citizens and their chosen lifestyles?


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Subject: RE: Do you like 'Little Boxes'?
From: glueman
Date: 08 Sep 09 - 05:41 AM

I agree MtheGM, but Little Boxes has always been a perfect model for the inverted snobbery / sneery middle class condescension that haunts 'folk' and as such, a good reminder of the mindset we're dealing with.


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Subject: RE: Do you like 'Little Boxes'?
From: autoharpbob
Date: 08 Sep 09 - 05:42 AM

I liked it enough to nick the tune and put my own words to it - thereby removing that which offends you so much!

Little Boxes

Little Boxes, full of medicine
And homeopathic remedies
Little tablets, pills and capsules
Analgesics for my pains.
There's a white one and a pink one
And a blue one and a yellow one,
There's the one for high cholesterol
And the one that keeps me sane

There's the tinctures and the linctuses
And the Deep Heat and the Actifed
Stuff in spray cans, dropper bottles,
Tins and boxes everywhere.
Then there's Germolene, and there's Vaseline,
And Cetirizine and Glucosamine,
Stuff to make me lose some bodyweight
Or to stop me losing hair.

Simvastatin, Ibuprofen
Antihistamines and simple aspirin
From the doctors and the health store
In their childproof jars and bubble packs.
Then there's minerals and multivitamins
St Johns Wort and cod liver oil.
For diarrhoea or constipation
There's Imodium and Ex-Lax

Every illness has an answer
Every ache and pain an antidote
Take some pills until you rattle
Rub some cream on, twice a day
I guess doctors won't be happy
Till the whole world are hypochondriacs
But there's no pill can stop you dying
And there must be a better way.


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Subject: RE: Do you like 'Little Boxes'?
From: alex s
Date: 08 Sep 09 - 05:43 AM

1960s contempt for the conservative lifestyle? Or maybe, as Billy Fury put it so succinctly - "Jealousy".........


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Subject: RE: Do you like 'Little Boxes'?
From: GUEST,Chris B (Born Again Scouser)
Date: 08 Sep 09 - 05:47 AM

Well said glueman. Mind you, I hadn't even thought about this song in years until MtheGM mentioned it and I imagine that's true for a lot of people.

I think the attitude we're talking about goes a long way beyond folk music (or 'roots music' or 'world music' or whatever it's called this week). I think it can be found right across the subsidised arts world among people whose livings depend to one extent or another on the taxes of exactly the sort of hard-working, decent people they take such pleasure in taking the piss out of.

Mind you, I still have a laugh at the thought of folk singers playing songs about saving the planet on Brazilian Rosewood guitars.


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Subject: RE: Do you like 'Little Boxes'?
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 08 Sep 09 - 05:48 AM

Delighted to be getting such support so quickly. & I thought your version was superb, AHBob - you are a credit to us autoharpists [tho I must admit I haven't played mine for a while].


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Subject: RE: Do you like 'Little Boxes'?
From: Leadfingers
Date: 08 Sep 09 - 05:56 AM

Whitsun Bank Holiday 1964 - The lads in the Swahili Coffee Bar in Weston Super Mare did a rewrite - Little Tourists - which I stll churn out now and then !


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Subject: RE: Do you like 'Little Boxes'?
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 08 Sep 09 - 06:04 AM

Well, I haven't heard it - but I suspect that Weston-S-M might just DEPEND on its tourists in the way that we all DEPEND on those doctors & lawyers...


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Subject: RE: Do you like 'Little Boxes'?
From: Acorn4
Date: 08 Sep 09 - 06:12 AM

I think you've got to take the song in the context of the time it was written. The song was a very valid questioning of accepted norms, though it does seen very dated these days.


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Subject: RE: Do you like 'Little Boxes'?
From: GUEST,Ed
Date: 08 Sep 09 - 06:28 AM

The lads in the Swahili Coffee Bar in Weston Super Mare did a rewrite - Little Tourists

Snide comments from people without a mirror, I expect.


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Subject: RE: Do you like 'Little Boxes'?
From: Emma B
Date: 08 Sep 09 - 06:28 AM

I always thought the song was more about the sterility of the kind of dispiriting urban sprawl architecture known as Tract housing.

Also known as 'cookie-cutter housing', a style of housing development in which multiple identical or nearly-identical homes are built to create a community.
Tract housing developments may encompass dozens of square miles but only makes use of a very few designs in order to reduce labour costs

housing developments near Markham, Ontario.

I'm also reminded of Alex Glasgow's song -

Take your Mary Baker City Mix and mix yourself a city to a plan,
Full of instant plastic palaces, homogenized, untouched by human hand.
Add a central plate glass precinct where pedestrians can stroll around and cry
As they see the blackened embers of an older and more richer city die.


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Subject: RE: Do you like 'Little Boxes'?
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 08 Sep 09 - 06:41 AM

Yes, but Little Boxes doesn't only denounce the architectural merit of the houses, but goes on to denounced the people who live in them — & that is thoroughly bloody disgusting, to my mind... which is why I OP'd this thread.


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Subject: RE: Do you like 'Little Boxes'?
From: Emma B
Date: 08 Sep 09 - 07:03 AM

Well you see MtheGM I actually find the parody in the DT which equally pokes fun at an alternative life style amusing whch, in its own way, is just as 'conventional' as playing golf and drinking dry martinis.

Don't you think 'denounce' and 'throughly disgusting' is a tad OTT - the song pokes fun at conventional life styles which fit people into little boxes from birth onwards and ensures 'they all grow up the same'!

LITTLE BOXES RE-VISITED
(Dick McCormack)

Little Boxes on the hillside
Little Boxes filled with macrame
Little Boxes on the hillside
Little Boxes all the same

And the women all wear over-alls
And grow organic vegetables
And their jewelry comes from Pakistan
And it all looks just the same

And the men are into leathercraft
Or else they're into pottery
And they're getting their heads together
And their head are all the same

Little Boxes on the hillside
Little Boxes full of Escher prints
Little Boxes on the hillside
Little Boxes all the same

And the children go to daycare
Where the girls all are aggressive
And the little boys are nice and passive
So they all grow up the same

And they all read Kurt Vonnegut
And Carlos Castanada
And they all ski in Colorado
And it all comes around the same

Little Boxes on the hillside
Little Boxes full of Kliban cats
Little Boxes on the hillside
Little Boxes all the same

Little Boxes on the hillside
Little Boxes full of spider plants
Little Boxes on the hillside
Little Boxes all the same

@parody
Copyright Dick McCormack

Anyways, if it's good enough for Pete Seeger ....


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Subject: RE: Do you like 'Little Boxes'?
From: matt milton
Date: 08 Sep 09 - 07:09 AM

Yeah it's quite unpleasant, and a bit of an own-goal in many ways. It epitomizes that rather adolescent sneery and superior attitude that the left, or anarchists, or activists of every stripe are guilty of at their worst.

I think it's a song that demands to be rewritten. I only heard it for the first time recently, and I reckon it's easily recuperable. A contemporary version could definitely withstand a few self-directed lines about complacent singers with guitars, for instance. Trust-fund dropouts and the like...


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Subject: RE: Do you like 'Little Boxes'?
From: matt milton
Date: 08 Sep 09 - 07:20 AM

"Anyways, if it's good enough for Pete Seeger ...."

I was kind of surprised that Pete Seeger was associated with that song. It's uncharacteristic of him. Like Utah Phillips, Seeger's generally too savvy to bother with that kind of puerile sneeriness. Middle-class children slagging off their parents for being square. Most people grow out of that.

The civil rights marches were, of course, entirely composed of hippies and anarchists. Not a single doctor or lawyer in there. Oh no.


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Subject: RE: Do you like 'Little Boxes'?
From: Stu
Date: 08 Sep 09 - 07:28 AM

Well, I'll stick up for it.

I think it's a comment on the vacuous nature of modern life. People following pre-ordained career pathways, aspiring to nothing beyond the material and settling for a life of 2.4 children and unswerving loyalty to the status quo. They never think outside their little boxes and perhaps suffer some existential angst as a result that keeps them consuming.

I think back to the huge housing estates some of my mates lived on where I grew up, Dad off to the golf club on a Sunday morning, mum cooking lunch, living rooms with a huge telly and no books. Given I grew up in that aspirational middle-class mindset I can see exactly what she means.


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Subject: RE: Do you like 'Little Boxes'?
From: glueman
Date: 08 Sep 09 - 07:31 AM

I grew up with an outside bog, no bath and cold taps. A nice clean warm box on a hillside would have been a dream.


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Subject: RE: Do you like 'Little Boxes'?
From: GUEST,Ed
Date: 08 Sep 09 - 07:45 AM

I think it's a comment on the vacuous nature of modern life.

It was written 47 years ago...

You're dead wrong anyway: Dad off to the golf club on a Sunday morning, mum cooking lunch, living rooms with a huge telly and no books. simply never existed.

Ed


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Subject: RE: Do you like 'Little Boxes'?
From: Will Fly
Date: 08 Sep 09 - 07:45 AM

An outside bog, no bath and cold taps? Luxury! Now, when I were a lad...


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Subject: RE: Do you like 'Little Boxes'?
From: Will Fly
Date: 08 Sep 09 - 07:58 AM

When I was young and foolish and used to listen to Little Boxes (never sang it myself), I always thought it was more about the fixed mindset of middle, corporate America as portrayed in American TV shows and TV ads of the time. The 2.5 children, the plethora of white goods in the kitchen, the perfect, sweet family unit unsullied by individuality or anything other than keeping up with the neighbours and the status quo.

Which is what rebellious, non-too intellectual, folk-oriented young people thought in those days. It was really a case of kicking against the pricks and rebelling, blah blah. I can't bear the song now as I think it trite beyond belief, but I think it had a certain resonance in those earlier days.


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Subject: RE: Do you like 'Little Boxes'?
From: Crow Sister (off with the fairies)
Date: 08 Sep 09 - 07:59 AM

Well having looked up the lyrics, I'd be inclined to second Emma B's reading about private housing estates pumped out on a production line, which appear to appeal to a certain peculiarly sterile mindset. One, which actually appears (to my mind in any event, if the estates they've filled my own village with are anything to go by) to be at least as prevalent now as it may have been when origionally writ. Not sure I'd run with the jibe about "doctors and lawyers" though (Cue: "some of my best friends" etc. disclaimer), because these same houses occupants tend to echo Sugarfoot's description of "no books". Even so, I don't find the song unspeakably awful in any way.


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Subject: RE: Do you like 'Little Boxes'?
From: Marc Bernier
Date: 08 Sep 09 - 08:04 AM

"You're dead wrong anyway: Dad off to the golf club on a Sunday morning, mum cooking lunch, living rooms with a huge telly and no books. simply never existed."

Sure it does.


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Subject: RE: Do you like 'Little Boxes'?
From: Crow Sister (off with the fairies)
Date: 08 Sep 09 - 08:05 AM

"the fixed mindset of middle, corporate America as portrayed in American TV shows and TV ads of the time. The 2.5 children, the plethora of white goods in the kitchen, the perfect, sweet family unit unsullied by individuality"

Like the image of America portrayed in Pleasantville?


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Subject: RE: Do you like 'Little Boxes'?
From: olddude
Date: 08 Sep 09 - 08:08 AM

I don't find the song offensive, it is like anything else a time and a moment to the author. Rows and rows of houses all exactly the same. The urban sprawl. I find it no more offensive than "red velvet steering wheel covered driver" that one would think is a slam on all older people. It is a moment in time frozen by the author. I never liked little boxes ... But there is no doubt the impact she had on folk music. If I like the song I will sing it, if I don't I just ignore it.


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Subject: RE: Do you like 'Little Boxes'?
From: Bob the Postman
Date: 08 Sep 09 - 08:18 AM

I think that, as with so many other things, you had to be there. This song meant a lot to me when I was thirteen years old. About the same time that Peter, Paul, and Mary had the big hit with "Blowing In The Wind". It speaks to the collective post-Depression post-war denial that anything rather bad had just happened or would ever happen again, as long as Senator McCarthy and his ilk were committed to their righteous crusade. Many people who'd grown up in the Dirty Thirties and come of age during WW II in North America were putting themselves, their selves, into little mental and spiritual boxes on purpose--the identical houses are only a very apt symbol. A few people of that generation, like Reynolds and, say, "the Beats", could see this, and so could us kids, which is why we were so eager to become hippies and live in shacks in the woods just as soon as that way of life was invented. And I don't think people in the UK can really understand this song--their experience of the war was too dire. Also Brits don't have the vast tracts of undeveloped land one finds (found) in California, so the scale of the ticky-tackiness is smaller--real estate development in the UK is almost always a matter of RE-development, usually with the local council taking an active interest rather than, as in the States, with a few local concillors simply taking graft.

All that being said, I've had "Little Boxes" on my mp3 player as part of a folk compilation lately and I find it unlistenable for all the reasons MtheGM and others cite. One ought to pity rather than revile the doctors and the lawyers and the business executives.


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Subject: RE: Do you like 'Little Boxes'?
From: Emma B
Date: 08 Sep 09 - 08:20 AM

Malvina Reynolds's song "Little Boxes," made its debut in 1962.
It ridiculed the architecture of Westlake Daly City Califonia and gave us the expression ticky-tacky.

Nancy Reynolds, daughter of Malvina Reynolds, explains: quoted at wiki

"My mother and father were driving South from San Francisco through Daly City when my mom got the idea for the song. She asked my dad to take the wheel, and she wrote it on the way to the gathering in La Honda where she was going to sing for the Friends Committee on Legislation.
When Time Magazine (I think, maybe Newsweek) wanted a photo of her pointing to the very place, she couldn't find those houses because so many more had been built around them that the hillsides were totally covered"

Tom Lehrer (a hero of mine) desribed it as "the most sanctimonious song ever written," but this criticism would be totally buried by later developments in the late 60s, when removal to the suburbs became a polite synonym for "white flight"


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Subject: RE: Do you like 'Little Boxes'?
From: Azizi
Date: 08 Sep 09 - 08:27 AM

When I was about 15 years old, I included a reference to "little boxes made of ticky-tack"* in some speech or the other to an audience of African Americans as part of some Junior NAACP program.

I recall that the audience seemed to really like some parts of my speech, but was silent after my "little boxes" line that I had expected would be a zinger line that would elicit laughter or applause or something.

Giving it some thought directly after the speech, I realized that I hit too close to home (if you'll excuse that expression) with that line because some of those attending that function were probably proud new owners of those recently built houses. Part of my reason for including that reference to that song was to chide people for being self-satisfied and not reaching back in their comfort to help others. But I remember feeling bad that "little boxes made of ticky-tack" line kafter my speech because I was sneering. And I realized that my motivation was jealousy since I lived in the city's public housing project and I would have preferred to live in what would have been definitely a couple of steps up from that.

I've often thought about that speech. Because of how I felt afterwards, I realized that "sneering" doesn't become me, or at least I don't want it to. And since then I've tried to check myself out when it comes to why I want to say the things that I want to say.


*I'm very sure that I used the phrase "ticky-tack", not "ticky-tacky". That's interesting because something or someone being "tacky" (meaning "cheap") was and is still a common colloquial expression in the Black communities in which I've lived.


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Subject: RE: Do you like 'Little Boxes'?
From: glueman
Date: 08 Sep 09 - 08:38 AM

Like so much counter-cultural protest music it was informed by a position of affluence. For the dark heart of America enjoying itself, the Beach Boys have few equals. Nihilism with cool licks and harmonies. Worth a bagful of Little Boxes.


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Subject: RE: Do you like 'Little Boxes'?
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 08 Sep 09 - 08:42 AM

'Tacky' is a word much used over here too, Azizi: not racially or American specific, I don't think.

Emma B, I always admired Tom Lehrer also; but hadn't heard before that he was on my side over this song, & thanks for pointing that out — "sanctimonious": right, that's the word OK.

Matt Milton, I too was always surprised that Pete S should have so much associated himself with such a song.


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Subject: RE: Do you like 'Little Boxes'?
From: Emma B
Date: 08 Sep 09 - 08:43 AM

In the same year (1962) Jacques Brel (another musical hero) performed his song Les Bourgeois
which mocked people who ridiculed the bourgeoisie in their youth only to become the same as them as they got older.

'So they all grow up the same' :)


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Subject: RE: Do you like 'Little Boxes'?
From: glueman
Date: 08 Sep 09 - 08:53 AM

Jacques Brel could eat the morning newspaper and crap a better song than Little Boxes.


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Subject: RE: Do you like 'Little Boxes'?
From: Azizi
Date: 08 Sep 09 - 08:53 AM

something or someone being "tacky" (meaning "cheap") was and is still a common colloquial expression...

Some here may be interested in the etymology of the word "tacky".

"[Tacky] is an American term dating from the 1860s (even older in its meaning of a poor quality horse or poor farmer) that only seems to have made inroads over here [in Britain] in the last few decades and which is still regarded as informal. And nobody seems to know where the word in that sense comes from, which is unsurprising as the whole history of tacky and its root noun tack is enough to confuse anyone.

The oldest usage of tack is that relating to the nail, which derives from an ancient Germanic word that is also the origin of the modern German Zacken, "prong; tooth", which entered English via the Old French tache, "fastening, nail". This seems mostly to have had the sense in English of something small or slight in the nail line, a fastener that is used to affix only a light object or to hold it temporarily...

There are related obsolete usages in, for example, coal-mining, a tack there being a temporary prop or scaffolding. Our other main sense of the adjective tacky seems to be derived from this slightly derogatory meaning, referring to some stuff, such as paint, glue or printing ink, which is not quite dry and which tends to stick, but only lightly.

So there is a recurring undercurrent in these senses of something insubstantial or temporary. Could it be that the peculiarly American sense of tacky grew out of this feeling of lack of substance or value? It would not be so far fetched.

There are, of course, other senses of tack, of which the one relating to horse harness and the like seems to be an abbreviation of tackle, a word which derives from another Germanic root relating to any sort of equipment, as the OED comprehensively puts it, "apparatus, utensils, instruments, implements, appliances; equipment, furniture, gear". It seems to have been used like our gadget, thingummy or gubbins: a generalised hand-waving kind of term. It was particularly applied to the cordage and other equipment of ships' rigging, from which another sense of the abbreviated form tack was generated to mean the process of turning the ship's head across the direction of the wind.

This maritime connection is suggested by some authorities as being the origin of that pair of nineteenth century words hard tack and soft tack, since both are naval terms: hard tack for ship's biscuit and soft tack for bread. It could be that the other sense of something inferior attached to tack could also be playing a role, since they are basic rations which fill the stomach but do not engage the taste buds. But, just to complicate things further, the words tuck and tucker for food rations also seem to derive from the same Germanic original as tack, so there may be yet a third thread to take into account."

http://www.worldwidewords.org/topicalwords/tw-tac1.htm


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Subject: RE: Do you like 'Little Boxes'?
From: M.Ted
Date: 08 Sep 09 - 08:55 AM

I'll never forget my first trip down US 101 after I moved to the Bay Area--I knew immediately that I was seeing the sight that had inspired Ms. Reynolds. Few songwriters have captured a vision as well as she did--and with such penetrating wit.

The development is called Westlake and is located in Daly City, immediately south of San Francisco. It was conceived, designed, and built by one Henry Doelger, completed around 1959. He grew up poor, and lacked formal education, but had ambition and a vision, which made him a sort of poster child for the generation that first moved to the suburbs. In fact, he built a home for himself there.

My family bought a brand new ticky tacky house, in a considerably more prosaic setting, and we saw ourselves, complete with our cookie cutter dreams, in that song. We liked it.
The Little Boxes as they are today .


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Subject: RE: Do you like 'Little Boxes'?
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 08 Sep 09 - 09:07 AM

Thanks for that picture M.Ted. The great thing in it that they do NOT all look just the same. It's a big, diffuse estate indeed; but whoever designed it has been at pains to vary the colours, shapes, window-patterns &c of the houses to avoid the "all look just the same" FK.


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Subject: RE: Do you like 'Little Boxes'?
From: Jeri
Date: 08 Sep 09 - 09:08 AM

In a Wikipedia article on Malvina Reynolds, her daughter Nancy Reynolds wrote:
"My mother and father were driving South from San Francisco through Daly City when my mom got the idea for the song. She asked my dad to take the wheel, and she wrote it on the way to the gathering in La Honda where she was going to sing for the Friends Committee on Legislation. When Time Magazine (I think, maybe Newsweek) wanted a photo of her pointing to the very place, she couldn't find those houses because so many more had been built around them that the hillsides were totally covered."
If you look at Daly City's website, there's a link to 'Westlake Book' about Little Boxes: The Architecture of a Classic Midcentury Suburb.

There are all sorts of reasons to get offended and I'm sure people here will eventually explore all of them, repeatedly, but criticizing 1950s era American architecture isn't something that seems very worthwhile.


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Subject: RE: Do you like 'Little Boxes'?
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 08 Sep 09 - 09:18 AM

Thanks Jeri — but, to quote another well-known song: Which side are you on?


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Subject: RE: Do you like 'Little Boxes'?
From: Azizi
Date: 08 Sep 09 - 09:36 AM

Hi, Michael.

I didn't mean to imply that that word "tacky" was racially specific. However, I'm sure that there are some cultural differences in what some economic classes consider to be tacky. And I believe that there probably are some racial differences between what people within those economic groups consider to be tacky. Also, that what is defined as tacky is probably also influenced by people's age.

Let me share this example: I remember on occassion when a young African American mother whose two year old son was on my foster care caseload came to the agency for one of her twice monthly visits with her child. After hugging him she expressed to me (but not in these words) that she was appalled that her son's [African American] foster mother had dressed her son in a shirt with a figure of Mickey Mouse on it. She said to me "Miss Azizi, you know I don't play that. She has my son wearin Mickey Mouse!.

I knew where she was coming from, since among Black Americans (and non-Black Americans?) calling something "Micky Mouse" meant that it meant that it is the epitome of tackiness (for instance a "Micky Mouse watch or-in that instance-a Mickey Mouse shirt). And, for some reason or the other, "Mickey Mouse" also can carries a connotation of being a "sissy" (meaning the opposite of manliness/macho"). I think that that young mother meant both of these meanings when she complained about the shirt her son was wearing for her visit.

And yes, I did feel that it was ironic that the mother was focusing on what her son was wearing-tacky or not. I thought it was a nice looking shirt which went well with the pants and his tennis shoes (which the mother also complained about because they weren't made by some brand name company. But I realized that 1. many women with children in foster care often find petty things to complain about regarding their children's foster parents because they need to vent, and they need to feel that the foster mother could never be as good a parent to their children as they are. (which I know is ironical, but I think it's what they feel) and 2. bringing changes of clothes for their children (which is what I suggested that this mother do if she didn't like the clothes that the foster mother puts on her son) helps give birthparents some feeling of control in this situation, where clearly they have lost so much control.

**

There are 16 definitions for "mickey mouse" on http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=mickey+mouse. Here's one that is similar to one definition of "tacky":

3.Mickey Mouse
To build or repair something shoddily and with substandard materials.
Who built this Mickey Mouse thing anyway?

-snip-

Here's another definition for "mickey mouse" that is the same as the word tacky's "cheap" definition:

1. mickey mouse
Substandard, poorly executed or organized. Amateurish.
Who's in charge of this mickey mouse operation, anyway?

-snip-

For what it's worth, #16 definition pf mickey mouse refers to homosexuals. But I'm not going to quote the sentence example that was given.


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Subject: RE: Do you like 'Little Boxes'?
From: Stu
Date: 08 Sep 09 - 09:37 AM

"You're dead wrong anyway: Dad off to the golf club on a Sunday morning, mum cooking lunch, living rooms with a huge telly and no books. simply never existed."

You're dead wrong Ed - this is from personal experience.


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Subject: RE: Do you like 'Little Boxes'?
From: M.Ted
Date: 08 Sep 09 - 09:45 AM

Incidentally, if you like   "Little Boxes", you'll love There's A Pawnshop on a Corner in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania from Guy Mitchell, back in 1952.


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Subject: RE: Do you like 'Little Boxes'?
From: Charmion
Date: 08 Sep 09 - 09:55 AM

I live in a house constructed of spit and sawdust (well, actually plywood with vinyl siding) in 1998 by a speculative builder. It is one of 16 that all look just the same, in a wee development of freehold townhouses in downtown Ottawa. Across the street is a brick condominium development comprising some 25 townhouses that also look just like each other. At the end of the street is a co-operative of several rows of townhouses with board-and-batten facing that -- amazing! -- all look just the same, except for the variations in paint colour. South of our street is a large district of brick-faced public (i.e., council) townhouses constructed during the 1970s, also all looking just like all the others.

Our neighbourhood, Lower Town, was bulldozed during the 1950s when Ottawa went on a spree of urban renewal. Today's tidy rows of townhouses, each with handkerchief-sized front and back gardens, replaced Victorian rows of two-up, two-down workers' houses with pot-bellied stoves for heating and privies at the bottom of the garden for sanitation. Not all had electric light, so the residents used kerosene lamps. Fires were frequent, and nasty diseases were common. My mother and her sister grew up in that neighbourhood, and like many of their generation they cheered the arrival of the bulldozers. My mother is long dead, but my aunt thinks Lower Town has improved immensely.

Personally, I love my modern spit-and-sawdust house. The windows all open and shut as they are supposed to. The floors are flat, the walls are plumb, and the corners remarkably close to square. Doors don't stick, although I occasionally wish for better quality hardware. The plumbing works with delightful efficiency.

And the uniformity of the basic structure is misleading. Outside they're all the same, but inside the houses are as different as the families that live in them. The ticky-tacky exterior is mere camouflage.


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Subject: RE: Do you like 'Little Boxes'?
From: Acorn4
Date: 08 Sep 09 - 09:59 AM

We moved onto a new estate last year - it's quite a fair sized box, but builders these days do try to vary the design - I suppose 'chocolate box' would be a good description - slightly different shapes and colours but basically the same thing.

Once again, I've no particular liking for the song,or no particular dislike, but you can pull any song to bits if you've a mind. If they'd put in bankers rather than doctors or lawyers would we be thinking differently.


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Subject: RE: Do you like 'Little Boxes'?
From: M.Ted
Date: 08 Sep 09 - 10:00 AM

As per the pictures, MtheGM, keep in mind that you're comparing Westlake to to the sprawling tracts that have come in the years since, and not to the verdant rolling hills that they had been only a couple years before our beloved Malvina immortalized it in song.

It is a jarring experience to drive down a familiar road and suddenly see townhouses on hillsides that were covered with trees the last time you saw them--


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Subject: RE: Do you like 'Little Boxes'?
From: Azizi
Date: 08 Sep 09 - 10:04 AM

I happen to live in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The street scenes have changed from those shown in that YouTube recording/photo collage whose link is given above. But I'm here to let everyone who is interested know that there still are a few pawn shops in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (though I don't believe that any of them are in the downtown business section).

The "clock" referenced in the song-which is affixed to a department store on the corner of two of the main streets-is also still there. And, so far, even though the department store changed names some years ago, "under Kaufmann's clock" is still where lots of people arrange to meet those who might be unfamiliar with the city's downtown area.


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Subject: RE: Do you like 'Little Boxes'?
From: M.Ted
Date: 08 Sep 09 - 10:16 AM

I actually had a choice between posting that clip and one that showed an old Victrola, Azizi, and I thought you'd like the pictures.


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Subject: RE: Do you like 'Little Boxes'?
From: Dave Roberts
Date: 08 Sep 09 - 10:38 AM

It's a song that's of its time.
I was 10 years old when it was current and, to me, it was just another novelty/comedy song like the others I heard during Summer Holidays on the BBC Light Programme(mostly on 'Housewives Choice'). My favourites were 'Right Said Fred' and 'Gossip Calypso' by Bernard Cribbins, 'That Noise' by Anthony Newley, and 'Transistor Radio' by Benny Hill. There were a lot more, many of them masterminded by one George Martin in his doldrum days at Parlophone before the Beatles came along.
It was also during this period that I first heard Flanders and Swann, a life-changing revelation for me and, I know, so many others.
So to return to the point, 'Little Boxes' never struck me then as a song of protest.
It does now, of course, but only as a song of very mild protest..


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Subject: RE: Do you like 'Little Boxes'?
From: MissouriMud
Date: 08 Sep 09 - 11:09 AM

I spent the 60s in the Bay area in college and law school and the Daly City residential areas were definitely a subject of derision.Daly City was one of the first large planned residential developments in the country and it looked different from what most of had ever seen before. The houses were not identical - but they were similar enough that when one passed them driving on the highway they all looked the same and very box like, except for the pastel colors - there was a pink one and a green one and a blue one and a yellow one etc. We all joked that after dark it would be impossible to find ones house, assuming that one could only differentiate them by color - ie the eighth green house on the left. Also for a suburban setting (at the time) the streets were set out in a grid which put the houses in perfect rows all evenly spaced which contributed to the image of sameness. All of this was exacerbated by the fact that the development was on a hillside so that it's full expanse was splayed out in plane view of the adjacent highway - so you got the full visual impact as you drove by (which is all we ever did).

What the houses were made of one couldnt tell from the highway but they had the appearance of being made from less substantial stuff than what we had been brought up in, looking like cardboard models you would get for a train set. While these days we are very used to "housing developments" with large blocks of housing all based on similar floor plans (although now a days developers take more care in having different front options and windier streets) made out of plywood and sheet rock, back then we were not and it was indeed a jarring sight.   

My recollection is that it was more middle class than low income housing, so that the people who lived there were "people like us" - as we students were aspiring doctors, lawyers, teachers, accountants etc. So the area gave rise to the internal reaction - "is this what the future holds for me?" which was a lot different looking than the vision that a lot of us had of our future lives. It definitely made you feel that "when you grew up" you wanted to live in a place that seemed a bit more special and had less sameness.

These days Daly City doesnt really look very different than a lot of places and most of us ended up living in some sort of "planned residential community" at some point after all so in retrospect the derision may have been unfair. However the song definitely resonated with us at the time in the sense of embodying our feeling that we wanted a different dream than ending up in a place with that much similarity - we wanted life to be special and to live in a special place. So to me the song was always about middle class sameness - similar in a way to Mellencamp's Pink Houses in terms of asking "is that all we get?". Perhaps derision that was heaped on Daly City did encourage developers to try thereafter to make affordable suburban housing a bit more varied looking


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Subject: RE: Do you like 'Little Boxes'?
From: Jeri
Date: 08 Sep 09 - 11:13 AM

Which side am I on? I grew up in a community that had some ticky-tacky houses and I saw loads of them. They're cheesy.

Keep in mind that if you dislike making fun of mass-produced, popular things, you must never make fun of B******er beer, American Idol and whatever it is in the UK, McDonald's, Walmart.

What I find most offensive is that you're equating a fortysomething year old piss-take on housing popular in America fortysomething years ago with "an ill-natured and unwarranted attack on the legitimate aspirations and lifestyles of a perfectly respectable and hardworking segment of the community". People are not equal to the stuff sold to them, and to think they are is stereotyping.

Not only that, but saying today's American 'segment' is the same as the 1950s American 'segment' is leaving the whole pop culture reference out and... stereotyping of people. It's all "middle class Americans bought crap back then and we know they still do, but we shouldn't make fun of the disadvantaged." I never had one of those houses. My family lived in the house my grandparents built and couldn't afford the ticky-tacky houses that the doctors, lawyers and engineers could. I didn't have much of a problem making fun of people with more money than I had and for the choices they made. Luckily, most of the people I've met who lived in those 'little boxes' had a bit of a sense of humor about them.

And in any case, the cookie-cutter houses are a bit different these days:

Now the boxes on the hillside are sold cheap at 300K
And they all got foreclosed on as the interest rate rolled
There's a sign on the front lawn that says a house is for sale again
And other signs on other lawns and none of them say 'sold'.

Cuz there's taxes on the houses and the houses are in New Hampshire
And no one can pay the taxes unless they rob a bank
There's a closed one and a closed one and another one that's almost done
And the banks own all the mortgages and that's why they tanked

(I know--f I had a day job, I wouldn't give it up.)


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Subject: RE: Do you like 'Little Boxes'?
From: Rog Peek
Date: 08 Sep 09 - 11:19 AM

I just never liked the song. Not for any political reasons, didn't like the tune, so never really listened to the words.

Rog


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Subject: RE: Do you like 'Little Boxes'?
From: bobad
Date: 08 Sep 09 - 11:21 AM

When I first drove by Daly City, back around 1971, the song immediately came to mind, not having known that this was the inspiration for it.


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Subject: RE: Do you like 'Little Boxes'?
From: catspaw49
Date: 08 Sep 09 - 11:32 AM

Sure....who doesn't? Nothing like a tight fit and all.................say what?   Oh..............song huh? Never mind........


Spaw


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