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When the American President Ronald Reagan (1911–2004) was a film actor, he pronounced his name ‘Reegan’. On abandoning the screen for politics (in 1966) he changed the pronunciation to ‘Raygen’. The spelling of the name remained the same for both roles.
During his presidency Reagan obtained the nickname: Bonzo, a name that became widespread through a song by the American punk rock band the Ramones: ‘Bonzo Goes to Bitburg’. The song is an emotionally charged protest against Reagan’s visit to a German cemetery, on May 5, 1985. The visit was part of a trip paying tribute to the victims of Nazism and celebrating West Germany's revival as a powerful, democratic U.S. ally. Reagan's plan to visit the Bitburg cemetery had been widely criticized in the United States, Europe, and Israel, among the approximate 2,000 German soldiers buried there were 49 members of the Waffen-SS, the combat arm of the Nazi SS. Among those vehemently opposed to the trip were Jewish and veterans' groups and both houses of the U.S. Congress. Before departing for Germany, Reagan ignited even more controversy when he expressed his belief that the soldiers buried at Bitburg ‘were victims, just as surely as the victims in the concentration camps.’
Protesters coined the phrase ‘Bonzo Goes to Bitburg’ in the weeks leading up to Reagan's trip. Employed as an epithet for Reagan, Bonzo is actually the name of the chimpanzee title character in ‘Bedtime for Bonzo’; Reagan was the top-billed actor in the 1951 film comedy. The phrase also echoes the title of the film's sequel, Bonzo Goes to College (1952), though Reagan did not appear in that picture.
Discussing the inspiration for the song, Ramones lead singer Joey Ramone, a Jew, explained that the president ‘sort of shit on everybody.’ Interviewed in 1986, he said:
‘We had watched Reagan going to visit the SS cemetery on TV and were disgusted. We're all good Americans, but Reagan's thing was like forgive and forget. How can you forget six million people being gassed and roasted?’ Or how he puts it in the lyrics: ‘Bonzo goes to Bitburg / then goes out for a cup of tea / As I watched it on TV / somehow it really bothered me’
Joey shares writing credit with Ramones bassist Dee Dee Ramone and Ramones producer and former Plasmatics bassist/keyboardist Jean Beauvoir.
See also Dee Dee Ramone and Joey Ramone.
Room, A. (1981), ‘Name Stories’, Naming Names, p.135
‘RAMONES LYRICS – My Brain is Hanging Upside Down (Bonzo Goes To Bitburg)’, AZLyrics, retrieved 10 May 2014
‘Bonzo Goes to Bitburg’, Wikipedia, retrieved 10 May 2014
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