Sunday, 18 March 2012

WALLY: Why Wally?

Legend has it that at the 1969 Isle of Wight Festival, Bob Dylan lost his dog. The dog's name was 'Wally', and a distraught member of the festival organisational team, who was probably worse the wear for chemicals clambered on the stage between acts and started shouting "WALLLEEEEE!" over the PA. The crowd took up the chant, and a neologism for 'someone stupid' was born.

Like most legends this is probably 90% apocryphal. There are too many holes in it. Why would a rock star (who had flown from Heathrow to John Lennon's Surrey mansion by helicopter, have his dog with him? Even the most star-struck of custom's officers would have stopped 'The Big Zim' from bringing it into the country. A variant of the story goes that Dylan adopted a stray dog that was wandering about the festival ground and named it 'Wally', but again this seems unlikely. But by 1974 the term had entered the hippy venacular.

A disparate group of freaks who may or may not have been led by one Phil Russell (aka Wally Hope) adopted 'Wally' as a group name a-la 'Luther Blisset' or 'Emmet Grogan' when they were busted after the first Stonehenge Festival, in 1974. And the next year when Hope died under mysterious and sorded circumstances, the name 'Wally' was part of our shared culture.

By the end of the decade it had entered the mainstream and the rest is linguistic history.

What I am wondering, is where the group got their moniker from? Has it anything to do with the events described above? Or is it a coincidence?

A dear friend of mine (the one responsible for all the pictures of sky clad witches trying to raise the Loch Ness Monster) claims that there is no such thing as a coincidence! Ha!

I have been working as a maverick zoologist and writer for the past two decades and I haven't done a pop music interview in nearly as long. My technique is probably a little rusty. But I will be talking to Wally soon, and I bet you can guess what my first question is going to be...

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