Simon Smith and His Amazing Dancing Bear
How a bear changed a song writer. An interesting musical film with archive footage of a bear called "Simon Smith and the Amazing Dancing Bear". It's a song written by Randy Newman, about a sincere young man of modest means named Simon Smith who entertains affluent ("well-fed") members of the public with his dancing bear.
I may go out tomorrow if I can borrow a coat to wear Oh, I'd step out in style with my sincere smile and my dancing bear Outrageous, alarming Courageous, charming Oh, who would think a boy and bear Could be well accepted everywhere It's just amazing how fair people can be
Seen at the nicest places where well-fed faces all stop to stare Making the grandest entrance is Simon Smith and his dancing bear They'll love us, won't they? They feed us, don't they? Oh, who would think a boy and bear Could be well accepted everywhere It's just amazing how fair people can be Who needs money when you're funny? The big attraction everywhere Will be Simon Smith and his dancing bear It's Simon Smith and the amazing dancing bear
The bear you see in the film footage below is a sun bear. Here is a photo so you can see the 'bib' under the bears' chin better, you get a glimpse of it in the film.
Newman said that this song changed the way he wrote. . "That was the first one I wrote like that. I was writing a song, believe it or not, for Frank Sinatra Jr. And it was called something like “Susie” or “Mary” and I just all of a sudden couldn’t do it. So I ended up somewhere with “coat to wear” and “dancing bear”. There I was, and I just sort of followed it on. And then I was never the same. And I never wrote particularly conventional songs after that."
While Frank Sinatra Jr. never recorded the finished song, it was popularized in the UK by the Alan Price Set, reaching #4 on the Record Retailer chart in 1967. Randy Newman recorded his own version for his 1972 album Sail Away. The song has also been covered by such diverse artists as Harry Nilsson, Morrissey, Harpers Bizarre, Bobby Short, Akiko Yano, and Okkervil River. Bobbie Gentry recorded a gender-switched version, "Salome Smith and Her Amazing Dancing Bear."
The song appeared in the first episode of The Muppet Show, sung by the character Scooter as Simon Smith, with Fozzie Bear as the dancing bear. It's sweet and it's funny of course because it's designed for children. Notice however that Fozzy when first appearing on stage makes a point of tugging at the collar and chain thus subtly pointing out the cruelty of such a thing. The show then goes on to show the characters as equals dancing and singing together.
Thankfully the practice of dancing bears is waning across the world. They are taught by cruel methods including being put on heated metal sheets while music plays. So in actual fact the dancing bear comes to associate music with pain.
Bears are a wonderfully intelligent animal and in times past were very much seen as the equal, indeed the relative of humans. So here I present the wonderful Muppet Show version. Enjoy! :-)