Cathy Hamilton: Tree Frog resonates in any language |

Cathy Hamilton: Tree Frog resonates in any language

Cathy Hamilton

My freshman year in college, I got an A in Latin. I’m talking five credit hours each semester, people! Sure, it was only Latin 101, but my scholastic accomplishment is worth noting because of my previously poor record in Spanish, my otherwise unimpressive grade point average and a band named Tree Frog.

Let me explain ab initio (from the beginning).

In 1973, there was a bar called the Mad Hatter at Seventh and New Hampshire streets. It was a smoky joint, dark and smallish, at least compared to the Borders store that sits there now.

“The Hatter” held ladies’ night on Thursdays, where “ladies” could drink 3.2 beer ad infinitum (without limit) or, more accurately, ad nauseum (to a disgusting extent), for no cover and 25 cents a draw. (I’m not sure memory serves correctly here because, again, draws were a quarter and it’s hard to know if memory serves exactly when one was frequently overserved.)

Tree Frog was the house band in those days. My girlfriends and I, et al. (and others), adored them. They specialized in those Crosby Stills Nash & Young twangy harmonies we loved. More important, they were cute as a bug’s ears, especially the drummer. Every Thursday night, we’d walk in and cry, “Ecce homo!” (Behold the man!)

Back then, college nightlife started about 9. Bands actually started playing at 10. This afforded my class/dormmate, Janet, and I ample time to prepare for our weekly Latin quiz Friday morning. After polishing off a delicious cafeteria meal of Mystery Meat and Casserole a la Repurposed Lunch, we’d scurry back to Janet’s room and practice verb conjugation aloud before we permitted ourselves to go out:

Amo, amare, amavi, amatum (to love or be fond of – as in, that darling drummer).

Once our academic objectives had been met, we would join a gaggle of girlfriends and spend the hours till closing time shoulder to shoulder on the Hatter’s parquet floor, smoking cigarettes, drinking quarter draws and joyously dancing up a storm, partners optional.

About midnight – maybe later – came the song we all waited for every week. It was Tree Frog’s magnum opus (great work) and our end-of-the-night anthem, the one the audience sang in unison in toto (entirely) at the top of our lungs. This was the chorus:

‘Cause I’m horny as a hoot owl,

And I don’t know what to do right now,

Wish I were with you right now,

Never thought a man could get this way

(I know, it was a tad unrefined. But heck, by today’s standards, it’s freakin’ Cole Porter!)

Somehow, on Friday mornings, after all that revelry, Janet and I managed to drag our sorry freshman behinds to Latin class. Miraculously, we aced every quiz put before us, ne plus ultra (the highest standard of excellence) proving that our modus operandi (manner of working) was amazingly effective or, more likely, brain cells took longer than overnight to die.

Last weekend, Tree Frog returned to Lawrence and played to a packed house of enthusiastic baby boomers at Liberty Hall.

Some things had changed, of course. The audience was grayer, softer around the middle. It cost $12 to get in the door. Beers were $3.25. Thankfully, no smoke hung in the air.

The band looked different, too. If it weren’t for a 1970s “then” group photo hanging above the stage, I wouldn’t have recognized any of them (except for that adorable drummer).

But some things remained the same: the rich, four-part harmonies and the shoulder-to-shoulder dancing, which hasn’t changed that much in 35 years. No better, but certainly no worse. Partners are still optional.

Then came the anthem:

Everyone sang it, word for word.

It made me joyful and amazed at what you can remember after 35 years.

Still, I wonder, ex post facto (retrospectively), if I can recall all the words to a song about a horny hoot owl, why can’t I remember any Latin without looking it up on Google?

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