Some days I seriously have to wonder about the effects of excess pop culture on my aging brain. The other morning I woke with a song from Mary Poppins in my head, and as I struggled to re-enter the workaday world, I found myself obsessing on some of the lyrics.
The song was the Sherman Brothers’ (no relation) “It’s A Jolly Holiday with Mary,” a duet sung between Julie Andrews’ eponymous magical nanny and Dick Van Dyke’s unbelievably accented chimney sweep Bert. In it, the two characters sing each other’s praises and at one point in the number Mary gives the following thumbs up to Bert:
”It’s a jolly holiday with you, Bert;
Gentlemen like you are few.
Though you’re just a diamond in the rough, Bert,
Underneath your blood is blue.
You’d never think of pressing your ad-van-tage;
Forbearance is the hallmark of your creed.
A lady needn’t fear, when you are near;
Your sweet gentility is crystal clear . . .”
Okay, let me get this straight: in a G-rated movie musical, Mary Poppins is telling us what a swell guy this cockney sweep is simply because he isn’t a rapist. Way to lower the bar, Mar’! I know that it could be a hard-knock life (to quote another musical) in Edwardian England, but that’s a bit severe, innit? Makes me wanna pull out the movie’s soundtrack to see what other grim messages are embedded in this beloved children’s classic.
So what’s that “Feed the Birds” song really about, anyway?