top of page

Surfer Dan - the Turtles

The old game of preceding your mother's maiden name with the name of your first pet to produce your porn star sobriquet is pregnant with startling Freudian implications for both the teller and anyone who found this particularly amusing. Does this mean we all secretly (a) want to be a porn star or practice (b) incest or (c) bestiality? My name isn't Oedipus, but my sweaty alter ego would have been Mingo Johnson.

When I was six, my family looked after a cat for a friend of my mother's, one Nina Bowler, while she was away for three months. We were told he was "male" but this proved not to be the case as the cat, Charlie, gave birth to a pair of kittens shortly after being put into our care. Much was made of this by my mother and whether cats generally were male or not was a source of much discussion with her. This confused me as people often seemed to get this wrong and I thought it had something to do with the incoming letters that my father would pick up daily from our postbox at the town post office. I was given the honour of naming the kittens. One was a bouncy black and white chap (we were told) and the other a quieter, shyer female that was white with grey splodges and I called them Bingo and Mingo respectively.

The gender confusion continued as we were told (by mail) by the equally surprised Mrs Bowler that upon her return we could keep one of the kittens but that one of her friends, a Mrs de Porto, was keen to have the other and should have first choice once they were weened. By this time my sister Hilary and I had fallen in love with the more playful Bingo, and so when Mrs de Porto demanded that she had the male kitten, my mother pleaded that she should take pity on us and change her mind. But she was adamant she wanted the male, and I recall her turning up one day, and walking off in high heels with Bingo on a lead like a dog while I cried.

Once again there had been a misdiagnosis and when she took Bingo, by now renamed Charlie (confusingly, after her mother) to the the shed behind the hospital (there was no vet in Awali, Bahrain at the time, so one of the doctors moonlighted for this role), and found out, she demanded that we exchanged her with Mingo - now proven to be the male of the litter after all. I can tell you that by now I was very confused, and thought the postman had really been messing up but my mum was having none of it, and so Mrs de Porto renamed Charlie Charlotte and had her spayed. Years later the de Porto's got a new job in Cyprus, and arranged for the cat to be put down prior to their departure, rather than go through what in those days were incredibly complicated pet emigration regulations and transport. She received a phone call from the hospital on the fated evening that Charlotte had been gassed and was at peace in her old basket, and Mrs de Porto, who by now was deeply attached to her, wept gallons, crying herself to sleep that night. Imagine her surprise then, when Charlotte turned up the next morning at her back door, mewing loudly for her breakfast as usual, especially as the hospital was a couple of miles away. She hadn't the heart to send her off again, so that's how Bingo came to Cyprus!

Mingo, in turn, became the first of the great cats of my life, and died an old tom from complications of a tropical stomach disorder on my mother's bed as she slept some eight years later. More of a tale of androgyny far, far from pornography after all.

The Turtles were very cool cats as well as being yet "another group from LA", and were always ready to lampoon their West Coast contemporaries, not least themselves. Surfer Dan was the the "b" side of their worldwide 1968 smash hit, "Elenore" which was a parody of their own biggest hit "Happy Together." In "Surfer Dan", they have the credentials to laugh at surf music, having started out as a surf band - the Crossfires. Here they brilliantly take off the Beach Boys down to a model T, spoofing their two main staples - surfing ditties and hot rod car songs in a glorious 2 minutes 38 seconds. From the opening close knit harmonies, through the staccato bass, slipping in a few "You're so Good to Me" guitar chord chunks into the middle eight, and finishing up with Al Jardine-style fake good-time squeals straight out of "Barbara Ann". And Dan himself is a piece of hilarious unromantic realism despite the 27 girls who follow him wherever he goes:

"He's a gremmie maharishi in his baggies and beads super stock surfer jock down to his knees"

is not so good even though

"he's so cool you know his cool is cool"

but he's really an awol mummy's boy:

"everybody's looking for Surfer Dan:-

Skinny Minnie, mom and dad and Uncle Sam

he's so cool they can't see him go by...."

As the music fades we can hear his smoker's cough but

"he's so ripped he can't see you go by". Brilliant and classic.

Oh yes, for those that don't know the meaning of the word "gremmie", here is the Meriam Webster definition:

"a young or inexperienced surfer especially : one whose behavior is objectionable. — called also gremlin."

bottom of page