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'Doug' Gave Us The Beets, the Best Cartoon Rock Band of All Time

Show creator Jim Jinkins talks about music on 'Doug,' and, of course, KILLER TOFUUUUUU.

by Lawrence Burney
19 October 2017, 8:14pm

Popular 90s cartoon Doug was the first chance for many children to analyze the different types of personalities they needed to familiarize themselves with in order to maneuver life. There was Roger Klotz, a bully to the show's main character, who performed a type of hardness to mask some blaring insecurities. Patti Mayonnaise was the pretty girl you never gained the courage to try taking out. Skeeter was the day-one friend that you let in on all your innermost feelings. Mr. Dink was the well-meaning but crazy neighbor you'd rather avoid but they have the most fun functions at their house. And Doug Funnie, the show's main character, was a mild-mannered 11-year-old navigating through this world in a fictional town called Bluffington and documented each day's happenings in his journal before bed.

The show debuted on Nickelodeon in 1991 and would become a staple cartoon for kids growing up during that decade, being entertained by Doug's curiosity and nerdy blunders. But one of the show's biggest treats was its musical efforts, which promoted creativity and has kept it in the hearts of so many early fans.

"Bangin' on a Trash Can (Think Big)" is arguably Doug's biggest moment. It's when he, Skeeter, and other kids from school took the materials around them (trash cans, a banjo, street lights, plungers) and made a banger from pure imagination. In real life, that type of raw improvisation shows up in music like DC's native go go. Another musical element of the show that has outlived its short airtime is a fictional band called The Beets, which is considered to be one of TV's best cartoon acts.

The band was made in the likeness of British bands like The Beatles, The Who, and The Rolling Stones but had the colorful funkiness of acts in the 90s. Their biggest track, "Killer Tofu," featured melodic yodels and advocated for kids to take up clean eating, though that message probably flew over most children's heads at the time. Doug and friends had quite a few encounters with the band throughout the show's tenure, including meeting the band at a fast food spot after missing the show and miraculously ending up on stage with them. But for the most part, kids from Bluffington admired The Beets from a far, pretending to be them and rocking their merch. For me, it was the first time I witnessed what being a superfan was like, and the larger-than-life impressions musicians made on young children.

In a recent phone conversation, I was able to get a hold of show creator Jim Jinkins from his home in Georgia. When we first make contact, Jinkins laughs and mentions that "Bangin' on a Trashcan" is his phone's ringtone and his favorite song of all time. While on the phone, he tells me about the creation of Doug, what inspired The Beets and their music, and how the series changed once it shifted from Nickelodeon to Disney.

Noisey: The Beets are obviously inspired by The Beatles but were there any other sources used to create the band?
Jim Jinkins: In general, Doug is sort of a cartoony exaggerated version of my own childhood and I am Doug. I am not, by any stretch, anti-computer or video games or any of that, but I grew up before any of that exploded. So that put us outside just making up stuff, letting our imaginations figure out what do you do with a busted basketball and a hula hoop. Alongside that, back to the music, The Beatles arrived and were gonna make this appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964. So I am somewhere around a sixth grader which puts me right around Doug's age, which is 11. That was a time in music that I haven't seen before or since. They called it the British Invasion. The Beets are certainly inspired by The Beatles but it's also The Rolling Stones, The Who, and many other groups. If you notice, with the band, acrimony is at the very core of their being. So they're always having their break up last concert or reunion concert. And that's The Who. The Who just seemed like they broke up every year. Some of the ways they're drawn remind me of Robert Plant, Ringo Starr. Our drummer, Clyde Lipman, kind of talks like Ringo. It's a mixed bag of those exotic, British Invasion bands.

It's funny. I didn't notice that until revisiting "Killer Tofu" that it was promoting clean eating. I didn't even know what tofu was back then. It was just a catchy song.
We were a small little bullpen of writers. It was maybe, I don't know, five of us. I was telling them stories from childhood to spur them along and even though we were from all over the country, there was a sameness or a kindred spirit about how we grew up. In that particular case, an outside writer named Alan Silberberg came up with that and the primary thing about "Killer Tofu" is that it made us all laugh. More than healthy eating or anything, it just made us laugh. So we worked around it and gave it that notion of "Killer Tofu" to our music guys Fred Newman and Dan Sawyer who took it and turned it into a song. But it began with the genius of Alan who, not unlike our head writer Kenny Scarborough who is the one that wrote "Bangin' on a Trash Can," is great. I just think "Bangin' on a Trash Can" is the most genius song ever. There's something about everything that song represents that I just love.

Would you say "Bangin' on a Trash Can" harkens back to you talking about being a kid that grew up before the internet, going outside and making something out of whatever was around you?
Make your music. And remember, the hook was, "Think big." It was this whole idea of, even when you're a kid, you have your kid powers intact and you can do and dream anything. And you can accomplish anything. This one little voice can do this thing, if nowhere else, in your imagination. It starts with us hanging around in the backyard with sticks banging on a trash can.

How much of creating a cartoon is about finding a fluid way to speak to both children and adults? When I go back and watch cartoons from my childhood, I see that they were trying to get these big themes and ideas through to me that I wasn't necessarily catching. Or maybe those messages were for adults the whole time.
We thought about it a lot. And we talked about it a lot. We even argued about it a lot. To me, I was given a great opportunity with that show. I had worked on other people's children's shows but this was my shot and I wanted it to be funny and I wanted it to look cool. But behind all of that, I wanted it to be worth something. I wanted it to say something and to do that without getting caught preaching, because if it's preachy, who wants to hear that? If you can weave it into your story so that it's what drives the jeopardy then great. You see Doug. He made mistakes every story. He is far from perfect. He's very flawed. It's just that in the end, by trial-and-error, he keeps getting up and ultimately does the right thing.

We wrote this for families. We wanted everyone to laugh and get it. I told them—not because I'm some visionary—I want this show to be as relevant 30 years from now as it is now. We didn't put a whole lot of referential stuff of the time in there. There is some; some of the technology, like the wall phone with the curly chord—that's me in my childhood. I couldn't resist. What was awesome is when Nickelodeon put it on at 7 at night because a lot of people were using it as entertainment while eating dinner. I think that's when it really took off.

I'd actually forgotten that Doug had come back on Disney. It had a few changes here and there. What were the challenges in transitioning from one network to the next?
Nobody that's in the right mind would want to change networks. Its home, as you know, was on Nicktoons. But Nickelodeon was done with Doug. And I wasn't. I had so much more and we were just figuring out that world and they were moving on. I could see that and Disney came along and said, "We're interested." For me personally, it was survival. Doug was going to live on.

Once it went over to Disney, Doug was pretty much a hit. Disney said, "What do you wanna do?" and "How do you want it do it?" So it was a rare moment in my career to be given that much latitude. It's pretty typical that people say they prefer the Nicktoon Doug to the Disney Doug.

There are six songs from The Beets available on streaming platforms right now. How much unheard material is out there?
You just rocked my world. I didn't even know that was available. They certainly belong out there for kids and fans to grab a hold of. I just came back from speaking at Georgia Southern and we had a blast. So I'm wrapping it up, talking about where ideas for this came from and crossroads between me making Doug happen, but at the very end, I start talking about there's a place for everything. Or to quote The Beets, "I've got a place where I keep my face. It's my head, my head / Thank goodness we have a head where we can keep our face." That's the end of the scene. That's one of the songs that isn't released. I guess it's called "My Head."

Did you have any standout memories of sitting in on The Beets recording music?
When we were making a direct-to-video movie of Doug that we were assured would never see the big screen. That reflected in its budget, its schedule, the way we animated it. Then, we're almost done and about to deliver it and for whatever reason, Disney looked at the rough cut of this story and decided they were going to fly to New York. They came to tell me that my Doug movie was going to go theatrical. Of course, I fainted. When in my life did I ever think I'd be given that shot? Right behind that panic and fainting from that good news, was the notion of: how do we get it ready?

So, at the top of that, was the scoring. We rescored that movie and they brought in a guy named Mark Waters. So my partner David Campbell and I were in LA working on the edit. We went over to record and this was something I'd never seen before outside of behind-the-scenes documentaries: we walked into a place where there's an orchestra sitting there. And I'm hearing little talks about the Star Wars piece they just did the week before and the next gig. This is the working orchestra of the movie business. And there's a big giant screen and the conductor comes out and they're getting ready to do the Doug opening—you know, Fred Newman whistling and all that. The Disney melody. And all of a sudden, this 50-piece orchestra starts playing the Doug theme and I've got my phone in the air for my wife back in New York. We were in tears. It was an epic moment in life to hear that. It took me a while to recover. It was just magnificent.

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the beets
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