My old college pal Jeremy, on his blog Vaguely Unpleasant, recently waxed poetic about going yard sale-ing and finding all sorts of nifty stuff, including a talking Ed Grimley doll, a Choose Your Own Adventure novel, and…. a Rosenshontz video.
Yes, a Rosenshontz video.
These two guys were awesome, and I’ll tell you why if you click “Read More.”
Look, if you grew up in New England during the 1980s, there’s a good possibility you went to a Rosenshontz concert or two. By all rights, “Hippopotamus Rock” should be lodged in your brain somewhere between “I can walk like the penguins” and the theme from 3-2-1 Contact. In case it isn’t, and you don’t know that E.T. has a sister and everybody calls her Tee Hee, let me bring you up to speed on the whole Rosenshontz experience.
Okay. This record came out in 1981, when it wasn’t necessarily creepy to show two grown men on a mattress “tickling” children. I will fully admit to you that, yes, today, this seems so very wrong, and that the opening song, “Sam the Tickle Man”, unnerved me even then. Having said that, I’m still sort of uncomfortable making any sort of joke here; Gary and Bill were good guys, and they certainly never “tickled” me. Anyway, I’ll bet you were listening to Thriller back then, and that guy really did have “tickle parties.” So moving on.
Ahem. According to their official bio, guitarist/songwriter Gary Rosen and flutist/singer Bill Shontz met playing Ping-Pong. I fully accept that these two men did, in fact, meet playing Ping-Pong and not, say, at a “disco,” or “love-in,” or “key party,” or “Watergate.” Anyway, they joined forces and surnames, and became the bizarrely charming entity known as Rosenshontz. They played “family music,” which basically means “kids music that isn’t terrible.” Being from Vermont, said music naturally has a very relaxed, granola-friendly bent, although they would occasionally “rock out.” In a family-friendly way, of course.
I of course loved them, and went to see them multiple times as a tot. By this I mean, of course, that I was taken to see them multiple times, so I guess the family-friendly thing worked on my parents. They played school gymnasiums and church halls and other places where the kids could plonk down on the floor and stare, wide eyed, at two strange men with their names on their shirts. They would sing songs like “Teddy Bear’s Picnic” and “Rock and Roll Teddy Bear” and “One Shoe Bear”, and the kids would bring their favorite teddy bears and everyone would march around the room with them.
You’re still stuck on the “Tickling” thing, aren’t you? Seriously, grow up.
They would introduce themselves on stage as “We’re Rosenshontz. Not ‘Frawzensnots,’ or ‘Raisinsplats,’ and please don’t call us ‘Frozenshorts.’ The kindergarten-aged throngs would go wild. Rosenshontz seriously kicked Raffi’s butt at “working the crowd.” They played an eclectic mix of covers and originals, and many (including this guy right here) feel that their version of “Teddy Bear’s Picnic” is definitive.
The follow up to …Tickles You was called Share It!
Share It! featured the song “Share It!” which was about sharing. It. With a friend, so I recall. This was a concept which seemed to really excite Bill Shontz, as you can see. (He is from Vermont, where the Communism comes from.) As a matter of fact, everyone on the album cover seems pretty into this whole sharing concept. Everyone, that is, except this one kid:
This kid ain’t gonna share nothin’ with nobody. Either that, or he really needs to pee.
This album was a favorite of mine, and featured tunes like “Sleep Sleep”, which was sort of a point-counterpoint between a kid and a grown-up. The kid wanted to stay up, and kept offering more elaborate excuses for doing so, and the grown-up, as grown-ups are wont to do, kept telling him “sleep, sleep, ya gotta go to sleep.” Seriously, it’s actually really funny. There was also “Pet Sounds,” the title of which obviously served as a musical in-joke to boomer parents, even though it was about sounds your pet makes instead of girls Brian Wilson was too scared to talk to.
They also covered the early-environmental movement classic “Garbage”. Which, by the way, we are filling up the world with. Maybe that sentence should be “with which we are filling up the world,” but I don’t know because, as far as I remember, Rosenshontz never sang no songs ’bout good grammar. Not that anyone listened to them anyway – we’re still filling up the world with garbage – but at least they tried.
This was followed by It’s The Truth, which was probably their best record. If you can find it, it’s seriously worth a listen, if only because of the sheer amount of mid-80s pop culture references they cram into the title track. “It’s The Truth” is told from the point of view of a kid who, in one verse, spends all night playing Pac Man, and really does finish his homework, but then woundn’t ya know it, Pac Man actually comes out of the TV and eats his spelling book. The verse ends with “and THAT’S why I didn’t hand in my homework! Honest!” Nowadays, some parents group would probably say that this encourages children to lie and they should be ashamed and cookies are a sometimes food, but really, I turned out okay.
“Sugar” is also really clever and it’s about how you shouldn’t, you know, eat so much of it, or your dentist will be upset with you. “Don’t Bring It Home” is Jack Prelutsky/Shel Silverstein-level awesome. The cover of Kenny Loggins’ “House At Pooh Corner” is really nice, too.
Rock and Roll Teddy Bear, however, features the “Rosenshontz Rap.” This should be very, very wrong, but it’s actually kind of cute. It came out in 1986, too, which was a very good year for rapping bears, as you may recall. They’d started “rocking out” slightly more here – “Go For It”, as I recall, was new-waveish rock; a sort of “Be Aggressive” by Faith No More for the apple juice set. “Mr. Stringbean” had a riff that sort of sounded like the theme from Ghostbusters.
By this point, though, I was growing up, and leaving Rosenshontz fandom behind for the more mature, somber sounds of artists like Debbie Gibson and Weird Al. Nothing lasts forever.
I had the chance to meet Bill Shontz in 1999. I was working at Lowell National Historic Park for the summer, and he played a solo show at Boardinghouse Park. The band had split by that point, and both Bill and Gary were doing their own thing (although both seemed to go on to write even more songs about teddy bears.) He’d grown his hair out to a long, white mane, and he wore a Hawaiian shirt and a saxaphone. I introduced myself, and told him how much his music meant to me as a kid. He was very kind, very soft-spoken, and jokingly told me he was glad that I “seem to have turned out okay anyway.” He’s still doing his thing.
Gary Rosen passed away about a year ago. I didn’t hear until this morning, when I was pulling this article together. Apparently, he had been suffering from Lou Gehrig’s disease for a few years, but kept on making music and releasing albums and doing his thing. Nothing lasts forever. His kids are carrying on his legacy, though, and making music for the anklebiters of today, which is nice to see.
There really isn’t a lot of Rosenshontz stuff out there on the internet, which is surprising. You’d think that there’d at least be more “hey, remember when?” articles like this one, seeing as how they obviously affected the lives of many, many kids. The music is really pretty good, too. I don’t know what the tots of today are listening to, but I would assume some are still listening to old records by Bill and Gary, maybe the same records their parents used to listen to.
So, thanks, Jeremy and Annie, for buying that VHS tape at a yard sale and writing about it. Rosenshontz seriously rocked, and that’s all I have to say.