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Friday 24 February 2012

Sun Arise: The Great Burridge Typewriter

Sun arise, she bring in the morning.
Sun arise, bring in the morning, fluttering her skirts all around.
Sun arise, she come with the dawning.
Sun arise, come with the dawning, spreading all the light all around.
Sun arise, on the kangaroo paw.
Sun arise, on the kangaroo paw, glistening the dew all around.
Sun arise, filling all the hollows,
Sun arise, filling all the hollows, lighting up the hills all around.
Sun arise, come with the dawning,
Sun arise, she come every day.
Sun arise, bring in the morning,
Sun arise, every, every, every, every, day.
She drive away the darkness, every day,
Drive away the darkness,
Bringing back the warmth to the ground.
Just a bit of Australian "culture" there
If I thought having an image numbered “007” for a photograph of the “Goldfinger” typewriter was spooky enough, this was worse: I had just, yet again, researched Lee Spear Burridge, for a post on his Sun typewriter, when I picked up the latest copy of Time magazine. And there, on the inside back (where I always start reading my journals), was an interview with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, in which Kareem began by talking about his latest book, What Color is My World?, which is about inventors.
“I wanted to pick a subject that would really surprise people. Most people in the world, including black Americans, don’t think of black Americans as inventors of anything.”
Happily, Kareem didn’t go on to mention Lee Spear Burridge among African-American typewriter inventors. And let me be quite clear about this from the start: Burridge wasn’t an African-American. But we’ll get back to Burridge and his Sun.
A follower of this blog, in Seattle, asked me a few questions last week, one of which took me by complete surprise. Among those about the weather here and Royal Model 0s and Ps and displaying typewriters, came, “Also, what is the average reaction [in Australia] to the song Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport ?” This is not a question I get asked very often, about a song I think about even less often.
I have to say it’s a song which I didn’t mind back then, 53 years ago, and don’t really mind much now, on the very rare occasion on which I think about it. Most Australians didn’t mind it, either. It was a No 1 hit in this country in 1959. What they really minded was Pat Boone’s version of it, which was worse than his version of Speedy Gonzales, or his white man’s take on Little Richard’s Tutti Fruitti. Not that I minded Pat Boone, either, his ballads were beautiful.
But, having said all that, Australia was a deeply racist country when Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport was first released by Rolf Harris. Harris’s attitude towards Aboriginals changed after Horrie Dargie's cover version of Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport “pointedly deleted” a racist verse that had been included in Harris’s original. Thereafter, Harris took an explicitly anti-racist view. In 2006, he apologised for the offensive lines, but for 40 years he had consistently championed indigenous music and offered respect to Aboriginal culture.
The B-side of the George Martin recording of Sun Arise (1962) was Someone's Pinched Me Winkles, Harris's swipe at Charlie Drake's racist My Boomerang Won't Come Back. (Dargie also answered Drake: his quintet recorded My Boomerang Did Come Back. It wasn't a hit.)
What’s all this got to do with typewriters? I’m getting there. My Seattle friend’s question got me thinking about Rolf Harris and his weird music (remember Stairway to Heaven?). Without a doubt my favourite Harris song is the aforementioned Sun Arise, and that turned my attention to Burridge’s Sun typewriter arising.
Sun Arise was Harris' second charting hit, coming two years after Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport. Unlike many of his early songs, Sun Arise was not a comedy record, but came within the genre of world music with its didgeridoo-inspired music. The song was written with fellow Western Australian Harry Butler, a naturalist later known for his television show In the Wild. George Martin, of Beatles fame, recorded it using eight double basses to mimic the didgeridoo, which Harris could not play at the time.
By the way, Martin at first said Sun Arise was "boring" because it was repetitious. He obviously hadn't heard She Loves You at that stage! At least Sun Arise has more than six words.
The song was covered by Alice Cooper and Robert Plant and Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin performed it with Harris on TV in 1994 (as, no doubt, revenge for Harris recording Stairway to Heaven).
Harris said, “Butler and I wrote Sun Arise together, trying to capture the magic of Aboriginal music by reproducing the repetition of lyrics and music that make it so mesmerising.” As I said, I like it, and hope to introduce it to you (the Alice Cooper version is worth seeing on YouTube, too).
And so, finally, to the Sun typewriter and Burridge and the “touchy subject” (as an overseas typewriter-collecting friend called it) of Burridge’s ethnicity. It’s a mystery Paul Robert of the Virtual Typewriter Museum in Amsterdam and myself have been trying to unravel for some time now.
In May last year I tackled the question in my newspaper column - I was simply curious as to how the suggestion Burridge was African-American had come about and especially, if it was a fact, how that fact had been ignored in everything written about Burridge during his lifetime.
The impression I have is that if Burridge was African-American, the fact of it would have been highlighted in stories about his typewriter inventing and his many other pursuits in the wider world.
I got an immediate response from readers to my column. It seems to have been a case of mistaken identity, according to researchers who wrote to me. Lee Spear Burridge was listed on the 1880 and 1900 US census as white. His co-inventor Newman Marchman was listed in the 1880 census as white. Meanwhile, a Lee Burrage of almost exactly the same age as Lee Burridge was listed in the 1880 census as living in Mississippi, and he was an African-American.
Why this has all come back to me is that while digging for Burridge’s original patent for the Sun typewriter, I came across a card game patented by a Kathleen O. Johnson Prillerman of Philadelphia in 2002.
This game, which concentrates heavily on African-American inventors, states Burridge and Marchman were African-Americans. I’m now wondering if this is how the whole misconception first emerged. I’m also wondering whether Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has fallen for it in his new book.
Before anyone starts accusing me of being racist in raising this matter, they ought to look into my background a bit. This is, as I said, simply a case of curiosity. In truth, I think it would have been fantastic if Burridge had been a African-American. But my first allegiance is, as always, to the truth. And he wasn't. Yet the misconception has gained an awful lot of currency in the past 10 years.
And now, finally, let's concentrate solely on the Sun. It was a typewriter which relied for its inking on a small ink pod, which fed an ink pad, against which the typeslug rubbed. On mine, as you will see, it isn't quite working properly, although I have restored the elements. In these images from Paul Robert's website, you can see the idea:
It was called the No 2 model because of Burridge's 1888 Sun linear index typewriter.
The patents on the back of the Sun make it clear that Burridge started out in 1898 with the idea of a semi-circular keyboard. The next year he had worked out the typing action. The inking system came in 1900, followed by the body design taking shape in 1900, and the Sun was completed in 1902:

1 comment:

shordzi said...

Wonderful article, thanks a lot.