The worms crawl in, the worms crawl out...
That little limerick got a lot of play when I was a lad; any excuse for a toe-headed boy to extol the virtues of gangrene and putrescence (Is that almonds I smell?). Ever poke a dead animal w/ a stick? Same thing. Surprisingly, the rhyme itself, in all its permutations, owes less to the schoolyard kick-ball dugout and more to musings of colonial era levity, having first appeared in an excerpt from Matthew Gregory Lewis' 1796 novel 'The Monk' entitled ALONZO THE BRAVE, AND FAIR IMOGINE:
"All present then uttered a terrified shout;
All turned with disgust from the scene.
The worms, They crept in, and the worms, They crept out,
And sported his eyes and his temples about,
While the Spectre addressed Imogine."
While 'Alonzo' may indeed be the first instance of the couplet's publication, I suspect this little ditty really got legs under it with the introduction of the folk song 'There Was An Old Woman of Skin and Bones', first published in the early 1800's and still popular amongst school children today, be it in a much more harmless form:
"On looking up, on looking down,
She saw a dead man on the ground;
And from his nose unto his chin,
The worms crawled out, the worms crawled in."
A foundation having clearly been established, what still remains uncertain is how these seemingly innocuous ballads gave rise to the incarnation we all know and love today, otherwise known as the 'Hearse Song'. While we may never know the particulars of it's authorship , be it cautionary tale (never laugh when the hearse goes by for you may be the next to die), or a little slice o Victorian death fetishism (Puss oozes out like a whipping cream-and me without a spoon), I can say w/ some certainty who waxed the ultimate version of this childhood favorite:
Born in 1942 to Kermit Knutson, Terence Blaine Knutson , or Terry Teene, began taking piano lessons at four years of age and later sang in the high school choir. A local DJ, hearing him sing in church, suggested that he audition to perform on a local television program. He performed on TV for eight weeks in a row and put together the band "Terry and the Pirates".
In 1960, in Clovis, New Mexico, he cut recordings of his first two songs, "Just Wait Til I Get You Alone" and "Orchids Mean Good-bye", under record producer, Norman Petty. These songs were released on a 45 single by Warwick records.
When the Fireballs—a rock group with which he was performing at the time—disbanded, Terry began a second parallel career as a clown. He has performed under the names of "ToBo the Clown" and "Clownzo"; and was one of the creators and originators (with George Voorhees) of the costume, likeness, name and character of Ronald McDonald, one of the world's most recognizable trademark characters.
You’ll notice the reference to the song title ‘Curse of the Hearse’ as opposed to just ‘The Hearse’. Near as I can tell this is a later 60’s press of the same song on the ‘Iowa’ label b/w a fuzzed out psych tune more in keeping with the times. Not a bad cut by any name.
So when you’re sitting down in Mickey D’s w/ your crispy snack wrap, pulling hard on the guar gum which they pawn off as a vanilla shake, try not to think of it as puss or some other bodily fluid associated with death. Just enjoy it. You never know when it might be your last. Just sit back and let this little jingle crawl in your ears and out your...well, you get the idea.
The Hearse - Terry Teen