Spike Jones: The Man Who Found His Hit in Hitler

Well, this is a tough time for heroes. There might still be a need for them, but we stop short of worship. The nominal badge of honor has been applied too freely and deviously to inspire awe, let alone lasting respect. Even Superman is not looking quite so super these days, his box-office appeal being middling at best. And as much as I loathe the cheap brand of sarcasm that passes for wit these days, I am among those who are more likely to raise an eyebrow than an arm in salute.

Compared to the hero, the villain has proven a more durable figure. After all, it takes considerably more effort to forgive than to forget. Besides, we appreciate the convenience of a scapegoat, of a stand-in for our collective guilt; one hideous visage to represent what we dare not find within ourselves.

In government propaganda, the villain serves to remind us against (and, by indirection, for) what we are supposed to fight—a single face to signal what we must face lest we are prepared to face doomsday.

So, who is the next big thing in villainy—fading pop icons excluded? Is there any such person alive today who is as reviled or dreaded as the man who paved the career of one of the most successful US musicians of the 1940s? Adolf Hitler, I mean. That’s the villain. The musician, of course, was bandleader Spike Jones.

A California native born in 1911, Jones had his breakout hit in the early 1940s with the song “The Führer’s Face,” a merry war mobilizer of a tune that went something like this:

When Der Führer says, “We ist der master race”
We Heil! Heil! Right in Der Führer’s face,
Not to love Der Führer is a great disgrace,
So we Heil! Heil! Right in Der Führer’s face. 

When Herr Goebbels says, “We own der world und space.”
We Heil! Heil! Right in Herr Göring’s face.
When Herr Göring says they’ll never bomb this place,
We Heil! Heil! Right in Herr Göring’s face. 

Are we not the supermen?
Aryan pure supermen?
Ja we ist der supermen,
Super-duper supermen. 

Ist this Nutzi land not good?
Would you leave it if you could?
Ja this Nutzi land is good!
Vee would leave it if we could. 

We bring the world to order.
Heil Hitler’s world New Order.
Everyone of foreign race will love Der Führer’s face
When we bring to der world disorder. 

When Der Führer says, “We ist der master race”
We Heil! Heil! Right in Der Führer’s face,
When Der Führer says, “We ist der master race”
We Heil! Heil! Right in Der Führer’s face.

Are we still singing chart-topping songs like this about any one of our present-day (mis)leader? Should we? Is to laugh at them enough? Might the laughter perhaps be cheap and the joke on us? I don’t presume to have any answers. Listen to Spike Jones and his famous song on BBC Radio 4 this week, a song initially banned by the BBC. Don’t starting hitting your grandma with a shovel, even if yours, as mine, was working for one of Germany’s biggest names in fascism.

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