February 02, 2006

Eye-ko at the coop

Searching for a sure giveaway, in Boston, that you're from out of town? Look up at the name of the huge Harvard bookstore in Harvard Square and pronounce it as it should be pronounced. "Coop", it says, short for "Co-operative". So you say "co-op", right?

Well, try it and count the strange looks. Noooo! You have to call it "coop"! To rhyme with "hoop".

These Harvard guys are crazy.

Standing there one October morning a couple of years ago, I remembered a previous time outside the Coop: the evening the Gulf War started, in January 1991. Gang of us were roaming around in Harvard Square, getting into random heated arguments, including among ourselves, about the merits of the war. Through it all, at the entrance to the Coop, a man strummed a guitar and sang peace and protest songs from the '60s.

Then he broke into a rollicking version of the old Dr John favourite, "Iko Iko".

Talk about pronunciation! What do you do with "Iko Iko aan day/Jacki-mo feel-o aan dan day/Jacki-mo feel aan day"? What does it all mean? Nobody knew, and I doubt the singer did. But fittingly there at the entrance to the Coop-that-rhymes-with-soup, he gently reminded this ignorant Indian who asked: "It's not 'ee-ko', man, it's 'eye-ko!'"

Ah, I see. I still have no idea what it means, but it's "eye-ko." Well, that's a relief. Eye-ko outside the coop. I can live with that.

Speaking of guitar-men. Done with the Coop on this more recent visit, I climb down into Harvard Square station to take the T. (Another giveaway: it's not the "Metro", or the "Tube", or the "Underground". In Boston, it's the T. Take note). There on the platform, possibly the world's worst singer/guitarist is mauling what once might have been a recognizable tune.

Nobody pays him any attention.

He stops. The silence is deafening, so I look around. He's staring angrily at us all. "Are any of you going to give me any money?" he asks. No reaction. "All right!" he says. "That's it! I'm stopping. You guys are the worst skinflints I ever played for! I hope you rot in hell, each one of you!" Packs his stuff and stalks off.

Still no reaction. The train rolls in. We skinflints get on board and head for hell.


km said...

"Iko-Iko" is a bit like that other garage-band staple, "Louie Louie". No one is quite sure what the words mean, but it has to be one of the most reconizable chants in the American folk music tradition.

Anonymous said...

thanks for reminding about the coop which is pronouced like Soup:-) I spent many a day there in the summer of 2003 leafing through books and reading some of them. I will always look back on those three months with happiness.

Rahul Siddharthan said...

Neela -- Houston Street, NYC is older than Houston, Texas so we could accuse the Texans of being the weird ones. But the explanation is that they're named after different people -- William Houstoun, 1755-1813 (the NY street) vs Sam Houston, 1793-1863 (the Texas city) -- thus speaks the ever-reliable Wikipedia.

Dilip D'Souza said...

km, another famous tune whose words are impossible is Professor Longhair's terrific Tipitina. If you figure this one out, let me know!

Neela, you used to call the Harvard Coop "coop" at IIMC?

Rahul, I actually thought of you yesterday when I came across a whole glossy newpaper supplement on, what else, high end stereo stuff. Yep, including cables!

Saugato, send me email at dilip DOT fbk AT gmail DOT com.

Vikrum said...


Great article. It's nice to remember my favorite city! Hope you are well and see you soon.