"Simple Simon is my turtle / That's all he'll ever be. / But even though he's just a turtle, / He means much more to me."
Dennis Knick first got the idea to write songs for animals when he saw Jaws. "Remember that music for the shark?" he asks. "it was sinister, and I didn't think he deserved it. He wasn't doing anything nasty -- he was just doing what sharks do. I thought he should have his own song." Knick wrote "The Shark Song" then, but it wasnt until he was laid off from his job as a technical writer two and a half years ago that he began custom writing songs for pets.
Knick had been moonlighting as a stand-up comic and sometime musician: he started performing at age five on the accordion and has picked up lots of other instruments along the way. "My music kept me sane," he claims. Now, at age 37, he also plays banjo, guitar, piano, organ, saxophone, tuba, drams, and keyboard, and he does his own singing and backup music for his specialty songwriting business called SongCo.
Custom songwriting was a natural outgrowth of his stage stints, where he used to make up songs on the spot, about anyone, from data given him by the audience. One time someone requested a song about a pet, and the commercial application gelled. "It just seemed like a salable idea," he grins, "and besides, I knew at age 35 I was never going to be a big rock star." PetSong offers pet owners the opportunity to have their pets' personalities put into song. Each song becomes "a unique, personalized composition," incorporating tricks, traits, quirks, and moods and whatever else owners find intriguing or lovable about their pets.
All a music-loving pet owner has to do is fill out the "pet profile" that Knick sends out, describing the pet and requesting a style of music. He can do tangos, folk, country . . . "I've written all kinds of songs for pets," Knick says.
"I even wrote a polka once."
Who was the polka for?
"Uh, I wrote a polka for a chicken."
A polka for a chicken?
"Yeah, but that's nothing. I once wrote a heavy metal song for eight lizards."
It's obviously not a lyricist's dream trying to work in both pet idiosyncracies and names like Precious Gentleman, Revelation, Amazing Grace, and Madonna. Those are four of the eight cats belonging to one owner who commissioned a song for each of them. "She ordered them over a space of about two and a half years," Knick says. "By the time I was working on the eighth, the first one was dead!"
Knick has branched out, forming KidSong (which began as BabySong --personalized lullabies -- but now includes "musical time frames capturing any part of any child's life"), LoveSong (designed as a way for people to express feelings for each other via song, at weddings, anniversaries, birthdays, graduations, and, in one instance, for a mother to tell her son to finish college), PetSong Sing-Along (a collection of eight of Knick's PetSongs and a booklet about the animals commemorated, giving the lyrics so owner and pet can "sing along together"), PetSong Playtime/Lullaby (customized pet lullabies, with playtime music on the flip side to encourage owner and pet to exercise together), and ThankSong (for generating a little more fun at retirement parties than the traditional awarding of a gold watch).
Knick's latest spinoff is CheapShots -- insult songs of which "Here's to You, Boss!" and "Since You've Left (I've Never Felt So Right)" are notable examples.
Knick's songs come in various forms. The basic product is a combination pet-exercise and lullaby tape -- one on each side -- that sells for $17.50. These songs are not personalized but do include your pet's name. For custom tapes, prices range from $35, for a three-to-four-minute PetSong tape and lyric sheet, to $150 for the No. 3 Wedding and Anniversary Songs package, which includes tunes for the five years following marriage and a lullaby for the first-born child. Knick has sold some 425 of these songs. And, not overlooking a bet, he has retained all copyrights.
Knick admits things get a little weird sometimes. Once he wrote a "rather bluesy" tune for a Mississippi lady whose granddaughter insisted the family's Doberman talked to her. She was so happy with her tune she called a town meeting and played it for the entire populace.
"Some others have been pretty unusual to write about, too," says Knick. He tells about the Doberman that rides an electric tricycle, another dog that does its own inimitable version of break dancing ("Duke's Night Out"), another that "speaks" with a lisp, a cat that "purrs like a machine gun," a Nova Scotian alpine goat that loves riding in canoes, and an armadillo that, conversely, doesn't do much of anything. "And that was the hard one to do," says Knick.
Not all the pets are exceptional creatures. Knick writes songs for regular animals too, like the one for a Welsh corgi named Brickie: "A little ice cream and some yogurt / Makes Brickie feel OK. / Then she takes a nap, / Lying on her back. / And when she's up, it's time to play. / There's some hair on the couch and some on our friends, / So Brickie has been visiting today. / No one really minds her shedding coat, / We all love her anyway."
You can reach Dennis Knick at 635-7664 or write to him at PO Box 63, Des Plaines, IL 60016.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Jon Randolph.