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VINSON: ‘Hidden’ message in old Burma Shave ads

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When I was a young boy, late ‘50s-early ‘60s, life was much more simple and common-sense themed than now. 

For example, when I would accompany my parents on a trip to, say, Murfreesboro, Nashville or Chattanooga, it was, pretty much, the two-lane 70 S Highway all the way; there was no I-24, I-40, nor Highway 111 in existence.

Cruisin’ in our red, 1962 Ford Galaxie to one of the aforementioned destinations (generally to visit kin folk, or see a medical doctor), we didn’t worry about getting hit head-on by some driver texting on a cell phone. Instead, we listened to AM radio, visually took in the picturesque countryside, and, also, the variety of advertisement signs strategically placed here-and-there.

Back then, a very popular advertisement sign in Middle Tennessee was “See Rock City.” In fact, you still see Rock City signs, painted on barns/A-frames, between the ‘Boro and Chattanooga.

Another ad sign I fondly recall was for Donald Pascual’s walking horse stables, which was located between Woodbury and Readyville (on Highway 70 S). In those days, I was into Tennessee Walking Horses, and Mr. Pascual had trained several world champion walking horses, thus my recall of the sign.

Still, we had the ever-so-popular “Burma Shave” signs, an adept amalgam of shaving cream advertisement mixed with subliminal metaphors – set in rhyming poetic format – aimed, primarily, at “steering” motor vehicle operators toward driving more safely.

One of my favorite Burma Shave signs was:

Don’t lose your head
To gain a minute
You need your head
Your brains are in it

Burma Shave

I suppose the message, here, could be: Use the brain matter in your head to drive safely; otherwise, you won’t have a head, period, and it won’t matter . . . in essence, PAY ATTENTION, drivers!

Another good Burma Shave sign was:

Cautious rider
To her reckless dear
Let’s have less bull
And a little more steer

Burma Shave

Of course, the “bull” and the “steer” thing is creatively witty in a bovinish sort of way.  Simply put, I don’t want to hear your “bull” as I attempt to “steer” us through hectic, 4 p.m. Nashville traffic . . . and, please, cease yakking on that  cell phone – that is, if you want me to get us home alive! (Am I the only one with any sense around here, or what? Geez.)

Car in ditch
Driver in tree
The moon was full
And so was he.

Burma Shave

Ahhhh . . . my response to this one is:

Jack and Jill on a date
Sipping suds, out way too late
Rounded a curve at a 103
Got married for ETERNITY

Lesson learned: Don’t drink and drive.

Ads and signs with these subliminal messages, as were Burma Shave signs, do contribute to the overall safety of the traveling public because the signs not only resonate loudly, but they tend to stay with the observers long after the fact, due to the clever wording and rhyme schemes.

Remember the 1981 hit by Kim Carnes, “Betty Davis Eyes”? Well, a line from the chorus of that melodically haunting tune is: “She’s got Betty Davis eyes.”

For a while, back in the ‘80s, when the song still was huge, someone would run up to you, all excited, and ask: “Guess what?!” Caught off guard and puzzled, you’d answer with, “What?” With a Snidely-Whiplash grin, he/she would reply, “She’s got Betty Davis eyes.” In some places, it almost became an obsessive frenzy. Case-in-point: I remember it to this day.

In closing, I’d like to point out that a bit of “irony” and “conflict” surround the “drive safely” messages conveyed by the Burma Shave signs: You had to take your off the road and oncoming traffic to read the dang signs!

Mike Vinson can be contacted at mike_vinson56@yahoo.com.

Tagged under  Burma Shave, Mike Vinson, Voices

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