Via a request to define the long debated meaning of chooglin, here is LA musician and artist Ami Tallman's essay on the matter, which recently landed in my inbox. Enjoy.
Let's begin with the train noises "choo-choo" + "chug" (and let's take a mental note of the chugging of beer while we're at it). Now say the word choogle out loud. Say it slower. Enunciate. Think about what your mouth does when you say it. Don't forget to think about all the parts: the lips, the tongue, teeth -- with that rich and full oooo sound passing through all their various configurations over the lifespan of the utterance. I'm going to throw in the words chew, ogle, bugle, boogie, fugue, and wiggle for added contextual sparkle.
For our first choogle-specific historical reference, we'll draw on the Creedence Clearwater Revival song "Keep on Chooglin" (site of the second documented usage of the term):
She gonna CHOOGLE tonight.
Pleasure is central to the prevalent understanding of choogle, as is propulsion. So let's say that so far we're working with a bangin' good time wrapped around the moment you've just had with both the oral and aural dimensions of the word (as an object of sorts).
Perhaps you are already aware that John Fogerty is credited with the word's invention. He's also credited with the phrase "ramble tamble," but you'll have to ask someone else about that. And maybe you didn't track this, but the train I mentioned before should probably be the one that Casey Jones was driving, perhaps after it got a mind of its own when Casey got a little too strung out to stop it from doing its own thing. Here's Mr. Fogerty's train, from "Born on the Bayou", the first documented public utterance of choogle:
Wishing I were a fast freight train
Just CHOOGLING on down to New Orleans
Now that we've found ourselves in the company of a musician, let me introduce a couple of generally uncontroversial examples of musical choogling (we don't want you to lose the beat, after all):
Austin Chronicle journalist Christopher Gray's essay on the subject says that both the T Rex songs "Jeepster" and "Get It On (Bang a Gong)" choogle. Let's give him the benefit of the doubt on that, and call it a foundational shared assumption. After all, it was probably verified by a person whose job title is "fact-checker."
Let's also consider the mind behind the word, its inventor, who defined the word outright in song:
Maybe you don't understand it,
But if you're a natural man
You got to ball and have a good time
And that's what I call CHOOGLING."
Ok, so maybe that isn't quite as illuminating as your favorite definitions are, but Robert Christgau (formerly of the Village Voice) has a theory:
"The energy implied by coinages like 'choogle' and 'ramble tamble' has more to do with vigor than with potency, more to do with simple activity than with sexuality. That distinction has its parallel in Fogerty’s politics, which are less apocalyptic (and revolutionary) than activist (and liberal) - the politics of agape rather than the politics of Eros."
If he's right, I'm concluding that the ballin' done by the "natural man" way back in 1969 was perhaps not so natural as to exclude birth control. And maybe sometimes it was more like touch football than fucking. But let's think about this more carefully: 1969's the moment the WORD emerged, and early in the year at that -- they say February on the linguistics listserve. I'll bet Fogie was doing loads of choogling in the years before the term itself emerged. This is, after all, an everyday, human kind of genesis, the sort wherein experiences precede the language to describe them all the time. Let's give him a whole decade to choogle before the word makes itself known to him and see where it takes us.
Now is probably a good moment to ask you to picture John F. Kennedy. Forget the back injury, forget the Vietnam War and don't even start with the Bay of Pigs. Focus: black and white photographs of young men in rugby shirts running about on a lawn, with a football made of real leather, and lots of big toothy smiling.
Keep that image running in your peripheral vision, but make a little room in the middle.
Now straight ahead, visualize Marilyn Monroe's ass the first time we see her in "Some Like it Hot," its movements from side to side are, you may recall, punctuated by a steady succession of snare hits (and those are leaping up from beneath a sax line being played with a scandalously sloppy ligature). And then there's that geyser of steam which shoots in from the side. It breaks her languid, bouncing strut into a run -- like birds beat out of brush with a stick. You see, she's suddenly been reminded that she's Choogling to catch a Train.
Let's pull out the optical printer, and we'll need to introduce a few new cuts here.
You still had the Kennedy boys off in your peripheral vision, right? They're still suspended, midair, in a friendly game of catch. But take that soft newspaper image and brighten it up a bit. Slip in the nearest frame you can find from the newsreel footage, now here's your first overlay: set John running for the ball...and into that train station. He's running the same direction as Sugar (because that's Marilyn's character name, of course), but he's running faster than she is. Her pills slow her down in those heels, while his injections speed him up.
I know you probably think I've lost the plot at this point, but let's test it with an analogy. Take the jangly guitar from the Rolling Stones' "Walking the Dog". Name it "John". Call the bass line "Sugar". See? Can we get back to our choogling historic heartthrobs now?
But you've made me forget to punch in the football, and poor JFK's diving for it, just as they're both about to reach the edge of the platform, and her foot is hitting the first step to board that train, and the chug chug chug of the engine is beginning, and the choo is coming in now, cause that whistle's blowing, and what on Earth is he gonna catch as he dives for that missing ball? (if the first time they met, he were grasping at air, would she still go on to perform that rendition of happy birthday, the only verifiable percussion-free musical choogle?)
I think we need to perform one of those cuts I mentioned earlier. We should be able to find an object for him to close that outstretched hand around somewhere...
Why of course, it's the flask that's flown out from under her dress, sprung from its garter hideaway by her quick step onto the train. That will work fine. They'll have a nice choogle together after an introduction like that.
Our scenario was designed to create a narrative diagram of what it might look like if all the potential aspects of the choogle were to collide, at approximately the right time for John Fogerty to begin his pre-linguistic choogling.
But you're probably asking yourself, after all this opulence, "Isn't choogling reserved for the downtrodden?" If you only got through the first half of "Keep on Chooglin," you could easily believe that. JFK certainly doesn't work in the sewer, but the aboriginal, definitional CCR song contains this evocative verse in its second half:
Yall be chooglin tonight.
Go on, take your pick, right from the git go,
You gotta choogle tonight.
What it means, amongst other things, is that this chooglin thing is democratic, and democracy doesn't just favor the working man, it extends to the blessed as well. It's driven by an internal mechanism so propulsive it can't help but be egalitarian. That's what's so damned American about choogling: it's powered by a dopamine stream generated by inexplicably persistent ambition.
This "yay for the USA" component of the choogle is probably what makes it easy to mistake the choogle for a mere aesthetic designation like: "while rollicking, it must be twangy and country and 'down home.'" But what's necessary isn't the popularly accepted aesthetic of the jingoistic -- all that's required for choogling is a hood ornament in the form of a bare fist on a "vehicle" comprised of pure, thrusting, optimism; it's just another aspect of the world made possible by the stubborn persistence of that mental trick which kept people from becoming communists during the depression, and convinced ex-hippies to elect Ronald Reagan president -- it's the little voice in the little man's head that doesn't want to structurally fuck the rich man too badly, cause he's still convinced he's gonna make it big himself soon enough.
(Now don't worry too much that outside of CCR a majority of our musical examples so far have been English. They've been an American colony since the Marshall Plan at least, and their only substantive philosophical rebellions since mid-century having taken the forms of universal health care and the TV tax. Can you name a single successful British rockstar who hasn't written a song bitching about taxes? Then tell me they haven't swallowed the sparkly lure, and its hook.)
Surely this half-blind headfirst rush towards a poorly-if-at-all defined success is what led Dave Thorvald Olson to claim of the choogle: "it’s more of a rhythm than anything else: fluid, organic, undulating. Though the tempo varies, all choogle carries an insistent drive that just won’t quit. "
While Mr. Fogerty's contribution to our language was considerable, and he's made some sterling musical and lyrical choices over the years, the aforementioned inceptive song itself, in which he "defines" the term, is close to unbearable. Sometimes addressing a thing directly saps it of all life and power, and that may have been the case with chooglin. If anything is likely to confirm the Copenhagen interpretation of the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, it may be John Fogerty's chooglin. Though Mark Bolan's chooglin suffers from the same limitations (try to sing the thoroughly unmemorable "Chariot Choogle" to yourself, for example). Certainly Creedence can be said to have choogled often, and well: with Green River, with Bad Moon Rising, and ever so very much with Susie Q. And I hope you haven't changed your mind about letting the Texan have his way with "Bang a Gong."
Let's take a little break to list a few (somewhat arbitrary & tentatively proposed) historic musical choogles which spring to mind from various eras, some perhaps preceding the term itself:
- "Down Home Girl," The Rolling Stones
- "Bacon Fat," Andre Williams
- "The Changeling," The Doors
- "No Fun," Iggy Pop
- "Magic Man," Heart
- "Diamond Dogs," David Bowie
- "Brass in Pocket," The Pretenders
Surely it's safe to say that the Cramps choogled often enough to have counted out the number of times Mr. Fogerty commanded them to do so and at least met (but likely exceeded) his demands to "keep on"
I'm tempted to say that the entirety of the Stones' album "Some Girls" choogles, if at times its musical expression is executed rather lazily.
But don't forget, the performer who's brought the word into existence is demanding that you, his listener, choogle. This strongly suggests that the choogle is not merely something to be executed musically, but something a mere man might do, and in fact, as Fogerty himself revealed first in "Born on the Bayou," a train can do it. To choogle is always, in addition to whatever else it might entail: to go, to drive, to progress, to continue, to persist, to keep on the move, to remain in motion.
The thing I love best about the choogle is its fundamental logical impossibility: for while it is en-choogle, it is definitionally unstoppable. But it will stop, though until the moment it does, it will have been impossible that it should. Yet this is perfectly suitable, for the ambition which set the choogle in motion to begin with was also impossible, for it is an ambition whose attainment can only be reached through the accomplishment of something the choogler couldn't even have imagined -- still can't, in fact, even at the moment of impact with success. The choogler who choogles to the absolute must rely entirely on his or her senses to even perceive the accomplishment, for absent from the choogler's mind is any abstract frame of reference with which to fill in those aspects of the experience that might have been taken for granted.
There are two things of which you have assuredly had experience that are directly comparable to these things so eluding an effective description. The first, you probably don't remember, but try to form a concept of the space of time between the moment your umbilical cord was cut and the first time you consumed sustenance of some kind with your mouth. What was the effect of hunger during that period? Did it have an intellectual component? I would propose that if you did anything at all in response to hunger before you'd experienced feeding, in addition to whatever description you might supply of your physical movements, or the sounds you made, it would be reasonable to say that you were also choogling at the time -- striving for that for which you had no means to hope.
The other you are experiencing even now (that is, assuming you haven't died reading this). For surely what the heart does, what we call beating, is also choogling.
If you'd like a thorough and straightforward overview and assessment of the most credible competing definitions of chooglin, Ken Greenwald, Retired Physicist (and apparently avid linguistic investigator), proves an excellent resource.