|Geese Farts On A Muggy Day?|
Warning: if you are easily offended by free and open talk of flatulence, or if you are a big fan of Jim Carrey or Adam Sandler, perhaps it would be best if you read no further. I neither intend to occur the wrath of people who prefer bathroom-references to remain in the bathroom, nor do I wish to provoke juvenile guffaws from people whose sense of humour gravitates to the scatalogical. This is serious business here!
"Geese farts on a muggy day" is Leo Kottke's infamous metaphor for the sound of his baritone singing voice. A catchy little phrase, first coined by Leo in the liner notes of his first Takoma recording, 6 and 12 String Guitar, and sometimes attributed to John Fahey, it has followed Leo throughout most of his career -- for more than 20 years in fact. In many reviews of Leo's work, the comparison has leaked forth from the critic's pen like...well, like...uh...how can I put this?...like a goose fart on a muggy day.
Artist's conception of a goose fart
On behalf of Leo, who I am sure would take an opportunity to dispel this myth if he wasn't so busy playing guitar, I think it's high time that we finally clear the air. Both the fields of physics and biology suggest the foolishness of comparing the sound generated by the vocal cords of a human being to that of gas escaping from the rear orifice of a waterfowl. It's true that I'm no physicist or biologist, but there appear to me to be a number of overwhelming common-sense arguments to refute the comparison. I've described these arguments below.
Why I Believe Leo's Voice Does Not Sound Like Moist Geese Farts
It is true that geese consume large quantities of grain and similar vegetable matter and that this material, upon digestion, will produce methane gas. However, the pertinent question here is not whether geese fart, but rather whether they fart loudly enough to approximate the sound of a human voice. A secondary question is whether the moistness of the fart has any bearing on its timbre one way or the other.
Unless somebody sends me a documented recording of an average goose fart (and don't take this as a sign of encouragement), I think we can safely conclude that it would sound nothing at all like Leo's singing voice. Of course, ostriches are an entirely different matter, and had Leo compared his singing voice to "ostrich farts on a muggy day," I may not have been so quick to leap to his defence. But now that the goose-fart stigma surrounding Leo's voice has been so utterly dispelled, we can breathe a collective sigh of relief and get on with making a productive contribution to society (this of course does not fall into that category).
- The Low-Pressure Argument: Even if it had a diet fibrous enough to qualify as spokesbird for All-Bran, a goose could not build up the pressure of gas within its digestive system that would be required, upon release, to approximate the decibel level of a human being's voice in song. The small size of their digestive tracts means that birds do not break wind loudly, which is probably altogether a positive evolutionary development.
- The Dampening-Effect Argument. I believe that extremely humid conditions -- denoting a high water content in the air -- would have a dampening effect on any gas escaping from the back-end of a goose. Water molecules in the air would reduce the kinetic energy of each released methane molecule, thereby moderating the amplitude of the sound wave as the methane emission interacts with the ambient atmosphere. In laybird's terms, a humidified goose poot would be quieter than usual (whatever usual may be).
- The Aquarium Argument. Geese, as waterfaring birds, would sometimes be in a position where they would be breaking wind below the water line, rather than directly into the air. As anyone of us can validate in our own bathtubs, the release of underwater gas produces a bubbling sound, not unlike the gentle gurgling of an aquarium. Without data from real-life observations, it is impossible to estimate the percentage of goose farts that are released below the water line. However, any submarinous goose gas that is released would likely not be audible to the human ear, unless at close range.
- The Anthropological Argument. The mythology and common conversational repetoires of most cultures have a striking lack of references to geese farting, even in regions where geese proliferate. We could assume that, were goose farts audible to the human ear, they would be commonplace in history and myth, and a culture might have developed a number of different words in its language to describe the sound and odour of a goose fart (e.g., as the Inuit have developed a number of different words to describe different types of snow -- crisp, soft, icy, powdery, packed, etc.) I am by no means an expert in the area of Native American tongues, but to my knowledge no native language has a special word for "goose fart," humidified or otherwise.
- The Orthonological Argument. In researching this topic, I reviewed a wide range of bird books that provide in-depth information on the different species of geese, their mating habits, their feeding habits, and so on. None of these books made any reference to geese farts. I would assume that, had geese a predilection towards substantive audible farting behaviour, orthonologists would have noted this, especially when observing large gaggles of geese.
- The High-Frequency Argument. Not that I'm speaking from any personal experience in the area, but it seems to me that the opening through which the goose would relieve its gaseous pressures is simply too small and tight to produce the lower frequencies of a baritone. Although this has yet to be tested through observation -- and I would welcome the efforts of any scientists courageous enough to validate my assertions through experiment -- I assume that even the most robust goose would, when breaking wind, only manage to produce, at most, a series of small squeaks, not unlike air being released from a balloon. A goose farting would probably sound something like this.
Geese-fart cross references (you got here from one of them):
6 & 12 String Guitar (1969)
Rolling Stone (Oct. 29/70)
Billboard (Nov. 18/72)
Fat Angel (1973)
Rolling Stone (Aug. 29/74)
Melody Maker (Jan. 29/77)
Rolling Stone (Nov. 2/78)
Melody Maker (Jan. 16/79)
Sweet Potato (Jul. 8-22, 1981)
Billboard (Feb. 9/85)
Guitar Player (Jan./91)
The Leo Kottke Anthology (1997)
Arizona Republic (Jan. 21/99)
Champaign News-Gazette (Apr. 2/99)
Iowa State Daily (Apr. 7/99)
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