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Saturday, October 24, 2015

Kilroy Was Here

When I was a kid, the cartoon image and phrase "Kilroy Was Here" was something I knew about, and something I, myself, would draw onto things--sadly to say I defaced a few books that way.

But who or what was Kilroy, and why was he 'here' or there, as it were? Strangely enough, I never thought to question anyone on that until this past Thursday.

When I was around 18 or so, a music group utilized Kilroy at the end of one of their songs, and while it confused me, it didn't intrigue me. I just figured it was something to do with my snooty friend of the past.

As you can see from the image above, it's a clever image of what looks like a man peering over a wall.

It turns out that "Kilroy Was Here", owes it origins to the Allies of WWII, with the signage appearing in both the European and Pacific theaters when they fought the Nazis and Imperialist Japanese forces.

But who did it and and why - well, it's unconfirmed, but the story seems plausible.

It begins in a shipyard in Quincy, Massachusetts, U.S. of  A.

When the U.S. got involved in WWII after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, along with the scores of fighting men it offered up, it also began producing equipment, bombs, ships, planes, tanks, hand weapons and vehicles of all kinds to combat the spread of the enemy.

Over at the Quincy shipyard, a man named James K. Kilroy worked as a rivet inspector. Guys in that position were paid per the number of rivets they checked and recorded in their work... and they were all supposed to check off the machinery with a real check mark via white chalk.

To avoid other rivet checkers from erasing his marks, Kilroy began writing "Kilroy Was Here" on the machinery. Because the machinery was needed quickly, the machines were sent over unpainted to points overseas - ergo, the marks and images were not covered up.

Since the equipment was often sent overseas before the arrival of the fighting personnel... plus the fact that it was found in some very strange and hard-to-reach spots, people were a little confused... as in how the heck did that get there?

Soon seeing the notation of "Kilroy Was Here" was seen as something cool, that the equipment had been well-checked, and thus anyone using it would be well-protected against the enemy.

Everyone could use some luck in a war, and soon GIs were tagging "Kilroy Was Here" on places THEY visited, as a means to confound the enemy. (Did you know that GI stands for General Issue? I always thought it meant General Infantry!)

Apparently Japanese troops were so mystified by a "Kilroy Was Here" painted on a bombed out tank on the Pacific island of Guadalcanal, that they reported the find to their senior intelligence officers.

The Germans began to wonder if Kilroy was some sort of "super GI"...

After the war, a 1946 radio contest searched for the original artist of  "Kilroy Was Here", and learned or uncovered the story of James Kilroy.

Apparently nowadays, Quincy still honors Kilroy with some 'pin-the-nose-on-Kilroy' competitions.  

Now, I mentioned a music group using Kilroy in one of their songs - well, that was in the 1983 Styx album: Kilroy Was Here, that featured their huge hit, Mr. Roboto. You know... Domo arigato, Mr. Roboto.

I always kind of liked the robotic voice in the song Mr. Roboto, as well as the grandiose rock opera of the album, but I wasn't a huge fan of Styx (sorry), as I preferred my music to have a bit more of a kick-in-the-teeth edge to it.

But I did like this song. It was odd. The song's last lines have the singer screaming out: "I'm Kilroy! Kilroy! I'm Kilroy...", and while I always knew what Kilroy was, I never understood what the hell it meant within this song, which was actually a small part of a rock opera. 

Some of the lyrics are in Japanese. The first few lines translate to "Thank you very much Mr. Roboto, until we meet again, thank you very much Mr. Roboto, I want to know your secret." (Man, I am learning so much with this blog today!)

"Kilroy" is the main character of the album. He is a famous rock star who is sent to prison by a group called The Majority For Musical Morality. In jail, workers have been replaced by robots, and Kilroy escapes inside a robot costume (thus, Mr. Roboto). This song is about his escape from jail, and makes a statement about the dehumanizing of the working class.

By the way... this song became the one song Styx hated to perform because it was too popular and not truly representative of the music they had become famous for. Hell... that's what happens when you create a rock opera album that is outside your usual comfort zone.

For fun... listen to this Japanese rock group Polysics, who do provide a very excellent version of Mr. Roboto. The video certainly kicks butt!:

Andrew Joseph Was Here.

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