Friday, May 8, 2009

Humpty Dumpty, Babe Ruth, and six degrees of separation

The drawing on the left is an illustration made by John Tenniel in 1871 for the original edition of Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass. Here are a few lines from Chapter 6:

“There’s glory for you!” [said Humpty Dumpty].

“I don’t know what you mean by ‘glory,’” Alice said.

Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. “Of course you don’t -- till I tell you. I meant ‘there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!’”

“But ‘glory’ doesn’t mean ‘a nice knock-down argument,’” Alice objected.

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean -- neither more nor less.”

“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean different things.”

“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master -- that’s all.”

(End of quotation)

This famous literary conversation came to mind recently when I happened to google “Babe Ruth.” I know what you’re thinking, and you're wrong.

Steeee-rike one.

I wasn’t looking for Babe Ruth, the baseball player:

According to Wikipedia, George Herman Ruth, Jr. (February 6, 1895 – August 16, 1948), also popularly known as “Babe”, “The Bambino”, and “The Sultan of Swat”, was an American Major League baseball player from 1914–1935. He is one of the greatest sports heroes of American culture and has been named the greatest baseball player in history in various surveys and rankings. His home run hitting prowess and charismatic personality made him a larger than life figure in the “Roaring Twenties”. He was the first player to hit 60 home runs in one season (1927), a record which stood for 34 years until broken by Roger Maris in 1961. Ruth’s lifetime total of 714 home runs at his retirement in 1935 was a record for 39 years, until broken by Hank Aaron in 1974.

You’ll need to guess again.

You’re still wrong. Steee-rike two.

I wasn’t looking for Baby Ruth, the candy bar either:

Baby Ruth is a candy bar made of chocolate-covered peanuts, caramel, and nougat, though the nougat found in it is more like fudge than is found in many other American candy bars. The bar was a staple of the Chicago-based Curtiss Candy Company for some seven decades. Curtiss was later purchased by Nabisco, and after a series of mergers and acquisitions, the candy bar is currently produced by Nestlé. The creators of Baby Ruth, the candy bar, claim it was named for the daughter of President Grover Cleveland, not for Babe Ruth, the baseball player. But the creators launched their candy bar in 1921, at the height of the popularity of Babe Ruth, the baseball player, twenty-five years after Grover Cleveland stopped being president, and many years after his daughter had died. In the original flavor, U.S. edition, the ingredients listed by weight in decreasing order were sugar, roasted peanuts, corn syrup, partially hydrogenated palm kernel and coconut oil, nonfat milk, cocoa, High-fructose corn syrup and less than 1% of glycerin, whey (from milk), dextrose, salt, monoglycerides, soy lecithin, soybean oil, natural and artificial flavors, carrageenan, TBHQ and citric acid (to preserve freshness), caramel color.

No, I was looking for something else. What I was looking for -- and this may come as a shock to some of you (do I hear Steee-rike three?) -- was Babe Ruth, the British rock band from the seventies:

Here’s how Babe Ruth, the British rock band, looked in 1975. The members, from left to right, were Alan Shacklock, Dave Hewitt, Jenny Haan, Ed Spevock, and Steve Gurl.

Babe Ruth, the British rock band, hasn’t even existed for a couple of decades, but back when it did, one of their albums went gold in Canada. They were more successful in the U.S. and Canada than in the U.K., and I’m wondering whether any of you readers in Canada or the U.K. or even here in the States remember this band. (I must admit that I had never heard of them, but then rock music was never my thing.)

Here comes a second shock: Alan Shacklock and Dave Hewitt are both friends of mine.

At some point the Shacklocks and the Hewitts moved to Atlanta. Alan and his wife, Lee, joined our church in the early nineties and so did Dave and his wife, Mary. Mary sang soprano in the choir.

Here’s shock number three: Alan, who once produced an album for Meat Loaf, directed our church choir for more than a year. I will wait while you pick yourself up off the floor.

He didn’t look anything at all like he did in 1975. For one thing, he didn’t have any hair. None at all. His head was shaved. Dave Hewitt looked more like his 1975 self, except that he was older and his hair was quite a bit shorter. Dave played bass guitar. Alan played one of those electronic keyboard synthesizer thingies. Alan even had a title while he was at our church: Director of the Celebrative Arts. A few years later he moved to Nashville, Tennessee, where he now divides his time between producing recordings once again and teaching guitar in the music department at Belmont College.

Alice was wrong and Humpty Dumpty was right. You can make words mean different things. The proof is Babe Ruth.

Now if I could just find a connection between Meat Loaf and Kevin Bacon, I might decide there’s something to that “six degrees of separation” nonsense after all.


  1. Good post Mr. Brague! Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass are my favorite books of all time. I wrote my college thesis on the books. Well, I'm embarrassed to say it but, I was born in 1975, so I don't know the band, but as a Yankee fan I do love Babe Ruth, and Baby Ruths. Have a nice weekend!

  2. Or, as it has been said "Small world, isn't it?" Who would have thought that two members of a British rock band (of which I had never before heard) would eventually arrive at your church in Georgia?

    As for Humpty-Dumpty: He survives to this day and is a spin-doctor in Washington, D.C.

    Interesting post, RWP.

  3. Loren - I have other posts that reference AIW or TTLG here and here and even here that might interest you.

    Pat - I should have known Humpty would wind up in Washington D.C. after reading that he "smiled contemptuously."

  4. Excellent post! How you could keep the info about your choir director/rock star friend from us for so long, I'll never understand. I had not heard of the band "Babe Ruth", but you changed that forever.

    Happy Mother's Day weekend to you and Mrs. RWP.

  5. Fascinating Mr Brague but what are you doing hob-nobbing with former rock stars? They will lead you astray and that's for sure..

  6. Well it looks like you love AIW and TTLG as much as I do. I think it's so great that you blog- it's a perfect way to "capture yourself," like taking a picture of your personality, for your family. Do you understand what I mean? This is one of the reasons why I blog. Hope you have nice weather today.

  7. i don't know why you always seem to hit and then blog about my no not the rock band, but the baby ruth candy bar....ask anyone in my home....i won't eat anything but a baby ruth and even when and if it puts me into a diabetic coma, i am game for eating one ant=yway, any time, any where...i would eat a babby ruth with a cat in a hat when i'm fat..p.s. glad to see thatloren is one of your regulars now...she is a writing genius