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Off Your Rocker?

By Ashleylister @ashleylister
I've taken my usual oblique sidle up to this week's theme of  rocking chair , so what you're about to read is mostly disambiguation. I've very little to say about rocking chairs themselves (except that I did buy one for the nursery when my first daughter was born, so my wife could sit and rock while feeding the baby).

"Are you off your rocker?" is a well-known exclamation and there is a common belief that it's an implied metaphor, a falling out of one's rocking chair, aimed at someone who's done or said something a bit mad. However, it's much more likely to have another derivation closely allied to being "off your trolley", which is also frequently used to imply the same leaving of one's senses - and both phrases can be traced back to the bygone age of trolley buses.

Off Your Rocker?

a London trolley bus

Those vehicles, common in many British towns and cities from broadly the mid-1920s to the 1960s, ran on electricity which was supplied at 600 volts DC via a network of dual overhead cables that lined their routes (see above). The original use of the word trolley dated further back to the dual cable system first designed by an American, Leo Daft, at the end of the 19th century, in which he had a little four-wheeled device at the top end of the poles, "trolling" i.e. running along the cables behind the vehicle (possibly the first use of the word in its modern usage). Although configurations changed over the decades, the principle remained unchanged, with the result that the device that kept the top of the poles in contact with the cables was called a trolley, the poles were known as trolley poles and the vehicles themselves  trolley buses.
However, there was also another word used for this device that kept the poles in contact with the cables and that word was rocker (synonymous with trolley). If contact was broken, as sometimes happened, the vehicle, suddenly deprived of power, would soon come to a standstill. It was then said to be "off its rocker" or "off its trolley" - i.e. not functioning properly - and the conductor would have to re-connect the rocker/trolley device to the cables by means of a long wooden pole (like the ones used for opening and closing out of reach windows).
So that's it. "Off your rocker" has nothing really to do with rocking chairs.. except that during my diligent research for this blog I did come across what I thought was an intriguing upcycling project as well as a convenient visual pun on theme. Someone has been taking the seats out of scrapped trolley buses and actually converting them in to two-person rocking chairs (see below). 

Off Your Rocker?

a trolley bus seat upcycled as a rocking chair 

They are not the most attractive items, it must be said, and quite where they find a use, I'm not sure. One doesn't want to rock in a pub or cafe while trying to eat and drink. A waiting room maybe? Restful but tricky if you have to share with a stranger. Maybe the person who devised them was a bus enthusiast, or simply off his/her rocker.
If you thought all of that was stretching the theme this week, I'm not done yet. Here comes the latest poem from the imaginarium and it's all about Arthur Lee and me. Arthur was the charismatic leader of the American rock group Love, whose  third LP, the 1967 opus 'Forever Changes ' is still ranked as one of the finest of all time. (It's been inducted into both the Grammy Hall of Fame and the American National Recording Registry. If you've never heard it, do yourselves a favour.) 
After Love suffered what was effectively a heroin death in the 1970s, Arthur Lee forged on as a solo artist. However, despite being a cult figure, fabulous rock musician and lyricist (it helped to be born in Memphis, Tennessee), Lee's career took a bit of a downturn. In his own words: "I was gone for a decade. I went back to my old neighbourhood to take care of my father, who was dying of cancer. I was tired of signing autographs...tired of being bullshitted out of my money...I just got tired."

Lee re-emerged in the 1990s, finding that European fans remembered him more fondly than those of his homeland. He recorded new songs, he toyed with the idea of reforming Love, he played well-received gigs in Paris, London and Liverpool with pick-up bands. I came, I saw, I reviewed. Then in 1996 he was tried for "negligent discharge of a firearm" and because this was a third offense (the previous two being arson and assault), under California's 'three strikes' law, he was sentenced to 12 years in prison. He protested his innocence of the charge, but many just thought he was off his rocker and the lyric of one of his songs was coming back to haunt him: "They're locking them up today, they're throwing away the key, I wonder who it will be tomorrow - you or me? "

Off Your Rocker?

Arthur Lee

While Arthur Lee was incarcerated, his fellow band members from Love died, meaning there would be no wished-for reunion of the original line-up. Then 5 years into his jail sentence the real culprit confessed to the gun crime, the state prosecutor was found guilty of misconduct, Lee was formally declared innocent of the firearms offense and was released after serving 5 years in prison.
My Little Black Book*there I am enjoying a chippy teawith Arthur Lee and he lowers his shades and sayspass it to me so I slide itreluctantly across the formica getting ketchup on the coverand he hovers over lines I've written ideas for songsabout searching and being smittenhow LOVE is the holy grailand TRUTH always winsand he grins and saysI like your positivity keep going sonand I smile gratefullyas I take it back wipe it cleanand we finish our chipsand drink our tea though of course that's all before he heads backacross the sea and the gunand they lock him up in jailand throw away the key* titled in an affectionate nod towards one of Arthur Lee's own songs, 'My Little Red Book '.Thanks for reading, S ;-) Email ThisBlogThis!Share to TwitterShare to Facebook

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