The Duke of Ook

Alan Seidler

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The Duke of Ook Review

by arwulf arwulf

The title track from Alan Seidler's album The Duke of Ook is a deliciously weird takeoff on Gene Chandler's hit of 1962 (and oldie karaoke staple ever since) "Duke of Earl." It bears some resemblance to a chanted passage from "Duke of Prunes" as presented in 1967 on the album Absolutely Free by Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention. Seidler's grand deviation from his life-long mission as composer of poetically inspired chamber music was this 14-track album of what he specifically described as neo-vaudeville and blues. It was anchored by his knack for barrelhouse and parlor piano, and enlivened by a private vocabulary as seen in the title "Won't You Come and Be Profligerate." Whereas he named young Al Jolson (circa 1911-1922) as a major vocal influence, Seidler' archaic saloon tenor delivery on this album sounds more like Arthur Askey, Donald Swann, or old-time British music hall comedians Billy Merson (whose "The Spaniard That Blighted Me Life" was covered by Jolson in 1913) and Harry Champion, who in 1931 gave the world "I Am Henery the Eighth I Am." The strongest example of this aspect of Seidler's complex performance persona is "Never oh Never Whatever You Do, Sing a Gorilla Song," which he is believed to have composed in 1963. The simian thematic runs rampant throughout Seidler's professed Weltanschauung, which is centered upon adoration of the Universal Ape, or as identified on this record, "The Universal Uk." Clues to this important mind-set are scattered throughout his song titles, which contain glowing examples of Seidler's personal lexicon. Poet Timothy Aurthur, with whom he collaborated for roughly 20 years beginning in the mid- to late '60s, was responsible for setting down a glossary of Seidler's neologisms. Ook or Uk may be understood as the sound made by an ape, the ape itself, the cosmic or Universal Ape, any being "in total union with the Universal Ape", or "the sound made by a creature in total union with the Universal Ape". A Vuv is "any agreeable or interesting person whose disposition denotes awareness of the Universal Ape", and a Puv is a Vuv with furry hooves. This may account for his almost Jerry Lewis-like delivery on "What Sort of a Vuv." As to the secret locked within Seidler's "The-Once-It-Was-Herbibiwis-But-Now-It's-Anemic-Rag", Herbibiwis means herbivorous, as distinct from Carnibiwis. A Fash is a "fish" (to use a term singled out as "regarded as vulgar by the Church of Ook"), or anything unpleasant, or any creature in total rebellion against the Universal Ape. Seidler's highly individualistic approach enabled him to amend "All by Myself" (written by Irving Berlin in 1921) with the subtitle "Without No Ape." The Aurthur/Seidler collaborations are particularly captivating, as "What Is the Use of Calling Me San?" gives way to the "Oozing Cyst Blues" and its logical/illogical sequel, "Oozin' Just Oozin' for You."

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