By Harry Nilsson
The Coconut song
By Harry Nilsson
Released in 1972
– A story about turpentine and heartbreak
It sounds strange, but rarely did my parents say no to anything I wanted to do.
From the youngest age I could go out and do whatever I wanted at almost any time of day, so I always found it odd when I’d go to a friend’s house and their parents would say, “He can’t come out to play right now.”
Can’t come out to play, what does that mean? It made absolutely no sense to me.
This was the response I often got from Lenny’s mom.
Lenny lived in the apartment building across from me and Lenny would spend a lot of time at our apartment but I never spent any time at his. The only time I spent any time at his house was when he had his seventh birthday party. I remember playing Pin the Tail on the Donkey and I cheated. They put the blindfold on very poorly and I could clearly see where to pin the tail on the donkey, so that’s what I did, and I won. What a rotten seven-year-old I was.
Lenny lived on the second floor, and I remember one time, I think it was on a weekend, yelling up to his bedroom and telling him to come out and play and I remember him looking through the screen all depressed and saying he wasn’t allowed. I actually felt bad for Lenny sometimes.
The funny thing about the apartment complex I lived in was that the whole compound between the six apartments was made of a bleached white, rough concrete, and there was playground equipment on the concrete.
There was a merry-go-round, which I would get my friends to spin as fast as they could, and then I’d jump off. There were also monkey bars, and there were three or four brightly painted, three-foot high concrete circles we could run through and jump on, and then jump from one to the other. Unfortunately there were no swings.
But I remember people, it was mostly girls who would do this, hanging upside down from the monkey bars by the back of their knees and not worrying one little bit about falling headfirst onto the concrete.
I even remember one young fellow, Dino, who had to wear a helmet and wore crutches because his legs didn’t work properly. He would climb all over the monkey bars without a care in the world. Even adults would watch in amazement.
But back to Lenny. He would come to my house and we’d listen to the radio and play like kids do.
One song I loved to sing at the time was the Coconut song. I don’t know if I drove people crazy singing that song or not but I know I sang it a lot. Most people know it. The lyrics go, “She put the lime in the coconut, she drank them both up” then says, “Doctor, ain’t there nothin’ I can take. I say, Doctor, to relieve this belly ache?”
The song was actually used in the Quentin Tarantino movie Reservoir Dogs.
Anyway I don’t know if singing the song had some strange influence on Lenny but I remember one bright, spring morning during recess at school, this was in Grade 2, when a Grade fiver, who was a friend of ours and lived across the street from us, asked me and Lenny if we wanted to skip school for the rest of the morning.
I said no, and Lenny, despite all the rules imposed by his mom, said yes.
Well Lenny didn’t make it back to school in the afternoon.
Turns out he and the Grade fiver got into a lot more than some lime and some coconut, instead, they got into the grade fiver’s parents booze, and after that Lenny decided to take a few swigs of turpentine. The ambulance had to be called and Lenny’s stomach had to be pumped. I don’t know what Lenny’s mom thought of her son drinking turpentine, but I doubt she was impressed.
Anyway, Lenny and me liked the same girl at the time. Her name was Nancy. She was in Grade 2 as well. She had about 10 siblings and was the younger sister of the Grade fiver that turned Lenny into a Grade 2 boozer. (I remember helping Nancy carry her families groceries into their house a few times and always being amazed at the amount of food it took to feed, 10 or 12 kids, or however many there were. Box, after box, after box of food went through the doors of that house.)
The sad part of the story isn’t the fact Lenny got sick. It’s the fact that I was heartbroken. I knew Nancy liked me but I didn’t know she liked Lenny. Turns out she did. I remember seeing her crying on the playground at school when she got news of what happened to Lenny.
I remember wishing it was me who drank the turpentine so that she would be crying over me.
Anyway, Lenny came to school with one of those hospital bracelets on his wrist and I was jealous of that bracelet and wished it was me wearing the bracelet and getting all the attention.
Looking back on the incident, I’d hate to think it was the Coconut song that caused all this misery, but you never know.
Here is the song here.
(Gene Simmons, the blood-spewing, fire-breathing bassist and singer for the band KISS, says that the music boys listened to in their teens, or younger, is most often the music they will gravitate to for the rest of their lives.)