All I Needed to Know about Music I Learned from Bugs Bunny!

I’ve come to realize that when I was a kid, an important, defining “or” is “Bugs Bunny/Loony Tunes” or “Mickey Mouse/Disney”, as in “which one did you like”. On a side note, another important one of these is “Road Runner” or “Wiley Coyote”, but that’s a different topic.

I was firmly a “Bugs Bunny/Loony Tunes” person. I felt a certain affinity for the wry, sarcasm with most of the characters. I was also firmly a Wiley Coyote person for that matter.

So, a lot of my childhood cartoon watching was spent watching The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Show for 90 minutes every Saturday morning. Easily two of my favorites were the opera parodies.

Their parody of Wagner’s Ring Cycle, “What’s Opera, Doc?“:

and of course, their parody of Rossini’sBarber of Seville“, “The Rabbit of Seville“:

Being a kid, I didn’t really know that they were parodies, let alone what they were parodying. I just thought they were fun and I liked the music.

By the time I went to college at Oberlin (which has a top notch Conservatory referred to as the “Con”) I hadn’t seen these for a number of years and I hadn’t thought much about them. By then, though, I did know that they were parodies and I had some ideas about what they were parodying.

One day I heard Con students talking one day about “What’s Opera, Doc?” and how they loved it and that it was not just a parody but a very good one. That made me think for the first time that the music in the Bugs Bunny show might be more substantial than other cartoons like Scooby Doo (loved the cartoon but, man, that music was WAY too groovy).

This week, I find the topic of the importance of music in Loony Tunes coming back to mind. In “The Rest is Noise“, Alex Ross at one point talks about how the music in Loony Tunes incorporated atonality and other leading edge concert music trends and practices in a way that exposed them to audiences that wouldn’t normally sit and listen to, say, Schoenberg.

I had another epiphany this week while listening to the first two of Bill Messenger’s lectures in the “Elements of Jazz” series: I have more familiarity and appreciation of at least some early forms of Jazz than I realized because that music was used so often in cartoons like Looney Tunes.

Of course, when you think about it, it shouldn’t be all that shocking, really. After all, how many of us first learned who Beethoven was (and that his birthday was December 16) because of Schroeder? I know the first time I heard (and fell in love with) Beethoven’s Pathétique was this sequence in A Boy Named Charlie Brown:

And as I’m starting to learn (and maybe understand) Jazz a bit more, I can defiantly say my first exposure to the Jazz practice of taking a familiar song and building off of it really came from The Vince Guaraldi Trio’s rendition of “O Tannenbaum” in “A Charlie Brown Christmas“:

This is all to say that all that time I was watching cartoons as a kid, I wasn’t just being entertained, I was learning music than I ever realized.