Dan Sankowsky: from the inside
art | writing | teaching
Swedith in Tina
A little history is called for. This CD, Swedith in Tina (rhymes with China), is a remastering and reissue of a record for children of all ages, that I co-created back in the late sixties with my good friend, Marcia Hutchinson, when we lived in Berkeley, California. The stories on the album were culled from the best of 36 weeks of a children's radio show material we produced for KPFA, a Pacifica station in Berkeley.
The material it contains is timeless: stories of a utopian world populated by unique, eccentric, and lovable characters; stories that contain wisdom, creativity, kindness, humor, cooperation, questing, and pure absurdity.
Swedith in Tina originated from a bowl of Del Monte fruit cocktail. One afternoon, Marcia and another roommate were sitting around in our apartment eating fruit cocktail. At the time I was a graduate student in Mathematics, and Marcia, a graduate student in Anthropology at U. C. Berkeley. For some reason, from some surprising part of her being, Marcia began making up stories about each of the fruits in the cocktail and about their respective hierarchical positions in the fruit cocktail universe.
Each fruit had its own voice, character, and accompanying silly facial expression. She was met with such amusement from her cohorts that she kept playing the characters around the house, and they evolved as her skills developed. Very soon I began participating in the process. We approached the KPFA Pacifica radio station and they offered us the opportunity to have a weekly children's show. And so Swedith in Tina was born, with Marcia as performer and me as writer.
For 36 weeks we had a cult following of kids and hip adults in the Berkeley area until we were kicked off the air for our program of Christmas carols sung by all the animals. We later moved to Boston where the material was turned into a record-- by the-now-defunct Riverboat Records-- that, even with nonexistent promotion attracted a cult following who, to this day, go out of their way to find us.
The Residents of Tina, the stars of Swedith in Tina
Each of the enchanting creatures on the Utopian island of Tina brings something distinctive to the fabric of daily life, complementing the cooperative and good-natured spirit embraced by all. Encouraged to express their individuality, at the same time, everyone looks to the well being of the collective, partly by inspiring others. To expand on this theme, let’s examine the development of the main characters.
SWEDITH: Swedith (rhymes with Edith) is the personification of infectious, unfettered joy at just being alive. Swedith takes life as it comes. She does for herself, can be fine by herself, but also fully engages in social interchange, good naturedly doing for others and well as satisfying her own needs.
Take cleaning for example. Swedith is a Zen sweeper. She loves the art of wielding a "cleanin’ broom" in magical and creative ways. She sweeps to get rid of the mess, but equally to have a unified mind-body experience that transports her to a new level of physical and mental consciousness. So, she is happy to help out and clean up after the other animals, always looking for opportunities to fine-tune her craft.
She has a mischievous streak that especially surfaces with Goose, whom she prods and kids. Lina, the hippo, has a bit of that also, so the two play off one another. Swedith helped Lina learn how to laugh by modeling her famous chuckle, which the hippo eventually imitated with a throatier, deeper sound.
Swedith tells jokes that no one gets, but that doesn’t even slow her down. She is, like Tink, a problem solver for others, but does so with no sense of pressure. She loves to sing and get everybody together. She calls everyone, "Old buddy," even if she never met them before. Like Goose, Swedith expresses herself in quaint colloquial terms. Like Tink, she loves to soak her feet in Beanbag Pond, the center of cultural life on Tina.
TINK: Originally an elephant who relied on his strength and endurance to do much of the farming on the island, providing food for all, Tink began to grow in other directions when Swedith and Goose arrived on Tina. Always possessing a boundless optimism, Tink expanded his repertoire first to include practical problem solving and later, philosophical/poetic musings. He became an inventor of ingenious artifacts to make life easier on Tina.
Tink often looks after Snee, the rabbit, who needs a protector and helper, and Lina, the hippo, who needed a pachydermal playmate. Tink would regularly bring carrots back to the little rabbit and also provide solace during his moments of angst.
But it was when Goose and Lina fought over Goose's buntin (a puffy blanket filled with the feathers of her ancestors) that Tink began to emerge as a negotiator. Without rushing to make everything right, and overcoming an impulse to project onto Goose his selflessness, Tink demonstrated an ability to hear both sides of a dilemma and then to resolve it. Soon, he combined his newfound general problem-solving ability and his practical physically-based bent to take on the role of Mr. Fix-It, the first all-purpose handyman on the island.
Always of a philosophical turn of mind, Tink developed a way of expressing himself that could be characterized as both profound and bizarre. He found words fascinating in this philosophical pursuit and began to string them together in odd combinations (not unlike my Sonic Poetry). Thus, he had become both a thinker and a poet.
In addition, Tink found Goose an endless source of inspiration with her tales of life back in Gooseville. He asked questions, reflected on the answers, and looked for parallels on Tina. Some of her references to the material world of Gooseville inspired him to invent Tinese versions of the same products, as he used his ingenuity and cleverness to advantage.
In Swedith, Tink found a soul mate, someone of the same openness and caring for others. Inspired by her infectious spirit, Tink became even more upbeat and energetic than before.
LINA: An ever-evolving creature herself, Lina, the hippo, has moved from being rather primal and immediate in her demands to actually serving others from time to time. Mostly, this hippo is perfectly content to just sit and get fat, reveling in her own pink beauty. She has experienced some angst on occasion, once prompting her to go on a (spiritual) quest.
Influenced by Goose and Swedith, Lina developed a sly sense of humor and an infectious belly laugh. In a recent turn, Tink convinced Lina to become a morning "service derm" and bring beverages to the pond for the first communal foot-soaking of the day.
Lina is a hippo of few words: she leaves the chatter to Tink, Goose, and Swedith. She enjoys basking in the sun and her pool. Fundamentally – and unlike Tink – Lina has no need to do anything. She just grooves on being and hanging out. She can go solo and she enjoys company. She has a penchant for eating, beets in particular to maintain her pink skin color, and for resting. While the other animals soak their feet in the pond, Lina immerses her entire self in it. She goes her own way, but she is so relaxed about it and comfortable with who she is, that no one questions her.
J. P. GOOSE (Just Plain Goose): Full of human foibles and weaknesses, Goose proclaims herself nonetheless to be the perfect being. She entertains everyone with stories of life "back in Gooseville." Some of the famous gooses J.P. has introduced are Sigmund Goose of psychoanalysis fame; Pigooso, El Gooso, and Van Goose in the fine arts; Goosehoven, Piatagooski, and Degoosy in classical music; The Rolling Gooses, Fleetwood Goose, and Pink Goose in popular music; Arnold Gooseneggar in body building; NYPD Goose, Law and Gooses, Emergency Goose as dramatic goosevision shows; Babe Goose, Joe DiGoosio, and Lefty Goose in gooseball; and Sugar Ray Robingoose and Muhammad Goosi in goose-butting.
Goose is proud, haughty, defensive, possessive, and self-aggrandizing. She is a perfect foil for Swedith’s humor and Tink’s intellectual prowess. Swedith gently deflates her, poking fun at her veneer of self-importance, while Tink relentlessly questions her about life on Gooseville, occasionally pointing out inconsistencies in her "goose philosophy."
Goose often refers to herself and other "gooses" with reverence, pointing out when something isn’t "fittin’ and proper," "don’t y’know." And she adds "thank you" to her polemics and diatribes for emphasis: "We don’t do that, thank you." She also has pat cliches which she generously lavishes upon everyone: "Six" (six of one, half dozen of the other), "if that don’t beat all," "for cryin’ out," and "You just never" (know).
But under all this, she secretly wishes for acceptance and is somewhat brittle and insecure. Goose anticipates ridicule and postures mightily to avoid it. The others on Tina take her for who she is, and after a while, she starts to relax and let her hair, that is, her feathers down! Tink is a good influence as is Swedith. And Lina in her own way is too. A reflection of Goose’s own self-absorbed approach to life, the hippo is more direct and at peace with this attitude.
SNEE: Snee, the rabbit, is the personification of timidity and vulnerability. He has a genuinely good nature and cares very much about others. He is easy for most young children to identify with.
OTHERS: Jowels, the pig, Safflower Oil, the baboon, Sunyat, the seal, Alfred, the orange ball-shaped elf, and Mr. Dugong, the fish are some of the creatures who inhabit the island. The others’ roles are limited to occasional grunts and supporting gestures.More information about the Swedith in Tina CD