Our favorite music-themed April Fool’s joke of the day involves Bob Dylan, the very forgettable Nick Hathaway, a little known song called “Ooka Dooka Dicka Dee,” and the genius of The New Republic’s music critic David Hajdu. Here’s how it starts:
Jameson “Nick” Hathaway, the Tin Pan Alley tunesmith who died this week at age 96, is most memorable for his forgetability. Among song composers of the pre-rock era, Hathaway was such a marginal figure, even in his time, that his name long ago drifted off the margins, off the desktop, out of the room, and took a drive to a place populated only by minor academics, nostalgaists, and other people like me. Although he is understood to have written dozens of songs in every mode from country and western (“If You’re Running Away from Me, I’m Behind You All the Way”) to psychedelia (“The War Between the States of Mind”), he is best remembered by a small but diminishing group of Hathaway enthusiasts for his generic masterpiece, “Ooka Dooka Dicka Dee.”
Members of the postwar generation who know the title at all know if from Bob Dylan’s mordant reference to the song in an interview Dylan did with Gil Turner for Sing Out magazine in 1962. “I don’t have to be anybody like those guys up on Broadway … writin’ “I’m hot for you/You’re hot for me/Ooka Dooka Dicka Dee.” By failing to mention Nick Hathaway by name, Dylan suggested that he did not know his name, and Hathaway’s few protectors have wondered if Dylan’s attitude toward “Ooka Dooka Dicka Dee” might have been affection or even envy posing as contempt. When I heard about Hathaway’s death, I reached out to Dylan, through his manager, to let him know that I was thinking of writing this, and he said, “Great idea.” (It’s not much of a quote, I know; but that’s really what he said. This is true.)
But who in the world is Nick Hathaway? Geoff Muldaur, the virtuoso guitarist, composer and music scholar, knows who he is (and did a rendition of the song). Jill Sobule knows, too (and has her own music tribute). To find out how Hajdu’s ruse ends, read the full story on his blog, The Famous Door, for The New Republic.