If you’re new to Shake Stir Muddle, welcome to the party pal.
To bring you up to speed, back in 2015 I started working my way through the International Bartenders’ Association’s Official Cocktail list, shaking them up and sharing some thoughts.
Sometimes we come to praise these cocktails, and sometimes we come to bury them.
Most of the ones we bury have come from the mostly-execrable offerings that make up their New Era Drinks list and I take no pleasure in dipping into them.
But last week I heard the news that Caroll Spinney is hanging up his big orange feet. If you don’t know Caroll, you’ll certainly know the 8’2” costume he’s occupied as Big Bird since November 10 in the same year that I made my international debut, 1969.
Nearly 50 years on Sesame Street.
Sesame Street is an amazing show, so ahead of its time in its positive representation of diversity, its ambitions of educating children in the pre-school years rather than treating them like morons who couldn’t learn until they pulled on a school uniform, and even in helping kids understand death. Like this moving scene where Big Bird’s friends help him understand that Mr Hooper has died (grab a tissue).
So there will be no better time ever than to shake up an IBA New Era Cocktail, the Yellow Bird.
Like many famous cocktails, there are variations.
And typically, the official IBA recipe isn’t the best one.
It calls for
Galliano (that golden, anise-flavoured Italian liqueur in the tall bottle)
Look, it’s ok.
Because I don’t – and to be honest, probably won’t – own a bottle of Galliano, I took this Cocktail Shakedown to the professionals and ordered one high above Hong Kong Harbour at The Peninsula.
The better Yellow Bird – unphotographed, because sometimes life is like that when you inject yourself into a flock of birds, yellow or otherwise (just ask Tippi Hedren) – contains equal parts of white and dark rum and lime juice (30 mLs each), fresh orange juice (60 mLs) and a small dash of the Jamaican coffee liqueur Tia Maria.
The Yellow Bird is a very tropical drink. It’s a bit too sweet for my liking but does feel like holidays and that’s always good. Possibly even a holiday in Jamaica but I wouldn’t know (although a friendly reminder that Fiji was shit).
Most of what I know about Jamaica comes from Cool Runnings, the Olympics and music. Apparently Bob Marley is pipped as most famous Jamaican by Usain Bolt (let’s ask that question again in 10 years though), but coming in at number 5 on this list is a guy who reworked the lyrics to a song called Yellow Bird in 1957, Mr Harry Belafonte.
You’d know Harry, but in a perfect world he’d be better known as a social activist than as the Banana Boat guy. He’s done about a million amazing things for the Civil Rights movement, but the two things he’s done that are likely to be of most interest to the Shake, Stir, Muddle audience, he was responsible for 1985’s We Are the World and was the Honorary Co-Chair of the Women’s March in 2017.
BTW, 1985 was also the year that the adults in Sesame Street finally acknowledged Mr Snuffleupagus existed and stopped gaslighting poor Big Bird.
Part of Shake, Stir, Muddle’s brief is to prove each edition how superior the 1980s were to pretty much this entire Millennium so far. We have cited George Michael, Elton John, Sheena Easton and many other famous philosophers as proof of this concept, but We Are the World offers a chance to land the killer blow and silence dissenters.
So you don’t have to, I have watched the March 7, 1985 version and then the 2010 version. Repeatedly.
There is zero doubt that the earlier version is superior. Consider Cyndi Lauper KILLING it at 2:50 into the 1985 version and then see the same bars in the 2010 version sung by someone who, yes, can definitely sing, but…Celine Dion? Really? Guys?
There are many things in the 2010 version that are truly cringe-worthy, mostly by the white people in the room and let’s take a moment to remember Chris Martin from Coldplay trying to match it with Bruno Mars and Beyoncé at the Super Bowl in 2015. I like Coldplay, I really do and Chris Martin was a great sport about it afterwards, but man, that was awkward, right? (In his defence, no man on the planet is going to be able to stand next to Queen Bey and look like an equal).
But back to us all being the World; the 2010 version may indeed have been better (something you will definitely be skeptical about as you who’s singing the first few bars, and that Michael Jackson thing is super-cheesy, and a real Ray Charles is definitely better than an actor-one, and we’ve already addressed the Celine elephant in the room, and…yep, just bear with me).
Counting the solos in the 1985 version, there were 26. Five of those were by women and one, Kim Carnes, was precisely two words long. Even if you only count up to the point they allowed non-singers – Bob Dylan – to have a solo, it was just 25% women.
That’s even less than the Australian Parliament (although more than the Liberal Party).
Fast forward 25 years and the solos total 43 (their version was much longer and more self-indulgent in my view), 21 one of which were by women. In fact, up until Barbra Streisand brings her excellent Broadway diction to her solo at 2:34, it was sitting at 60% female solos before bouncing back to the nearly-half that it finishes at.
So maybe some things are better this century (up until November 2016 of course when everything went to shit even worse than a Celine Dion television interview).
What neither version gave me was a Belafonte solo. In 1985, he’s up the back (next to Dan Ackroyd – ?) and looking like the most joyful guy on the planet.
We need more of that.
But what about Caroll Spinney (he’s kind of become the Chris Martin headliner of this Cocktail Shakedown, but Belafonte is doing a total Beyoncé)?
Well Yellow Bird singer Belafonte sang at Jim Henson’s 1990 Memorial after the 53 year old creator of the Muppets and Sesame Street died of a Strep throat. A bloody strep throat.
Harry sang “Turn the World Around”, the song he debuted on The Muppets in 1977, the clip to which Henson reportedly considered some of his best work.
Another songbird at the Memorial was Caroll Spinney as Big Bird, singing “It’s Not Easy Being Green”, in a tribute to Henson and Kermit the Frog who Henson had voiced.
Well Caroll Spinney, I raise my Yellow Bird (and a Martini, which is a higher compliment) to you in gratitude for some damned fine work that’s been a part of my life as long as I can remember.