"Purple Toupee" as written by and John S./flansburgh Linnell....
I remember the year I went to camp
I heard about some lady named Selma and some blacks
Somebody put their fingers in the President's ears
It wasn't too much later they came out with Johnson's wax
I remember the book depository where they crowned the king of Cuba
Now that's all I can think of, but I'm sure there's something else
Way down inside me I can feel it coming back

Purple toupee will show the way when summer brings you down
(Purple toupee when summer brings you down)
Purple toupee and gold lame will turn your brain around
(Purple toupee and gold lame)

Chinese people were fighting in the park
We tried to help them fight, no one appreciated that
Martin X was mad when they outlawed bell bottoms
Ten years later they were sharing the same cell
I shouted out, "Free the Expo '67"
Till they stepped on my hair, and they told me I was fat
Now I'm very big, I'm a big important man
And the only thing that's different is underneath my hat

Purple toupee will show the way when summer brings you down
(Purple toupee when summer brings you down)
Purple toupee and gold lame will turn your brain around
(Purple toupee and gold lame)

Purple toupee is here to stay after the hair has gone away
The purple brigade is marching from the grave

We're on some kind of mission
We have an obligation
We have to wear toupees


Lyrics submitted by qshapadooy

"Purple Toupee" as written by John Linnell John Flansburgh

Lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc.

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Purple Toupee song meanings
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13 Comments

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  • +2
    General CommentThis is a song about a stupid guy who barely remembers any of the history of the 60's, despite the fact that he grew up in the decade.

    All sorts of famous events are sort of mushed together and remebered incorrectly. Like he refers to "Selma and some blacks" obviously a confused memory of the famed civil rights march in Selma, Alabama.

    Other things he mentions: Johnson's wax, which was a brand of glue, and not the ear wax of President Lyndon Johnson. The book depository, the place from where Oswald allegedly shot President Kennedy. There is no "King of Cuba" but there is President-for-life Castro, who came to power around the same time.

    Chinese people fighting in the park is probably a reference to the riots in the "People's Park" in California, which has a sort of Communist-sounding name. Martin X is obviously supposed to be Malcom X, a guy who was concerned with black power, not bell bottoms.

    And the Expo 67 was a horrible fair they had in Canada, not some sort of rebel group, like the Chicago Seven.

    I am not quite sure what purple toupee means, though...
    J.J.on April 10, 2004   Link
  • +1
    General Comment
    I agree with J.J. that the song is about mixed up memories of the Sixties, but I think it's about a kid's memories. The first line: "I remember the year I went to camp" probably refers to a summer camp that kids went to. John and John would have been kids around that time, so this seems to fit. I would guess it's what they perceived was going on in the world back when they were kids. Now that they are older, they thought back on that time and realized how funny it was. So why not make that into a song?

    This is similar to those song lyrics you never really understood so you put in words you knew. Then "bad moon on the rise" became "bathroom on the right", and "Don't it make my brown eyes, blue" became "Donuts make my brown eyes, blue", etc. I'm sure you can think of more examples and how silly you felt after you realized what the real lyrics were.

    I'm waiting for the mis-heard lyrics song. ;-)
    asb2on July 21, 2009   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI think everyone is on point about the song being sung from someone who doesn't have a very clear memory of the 60's. But is there any chance the "purple toupee and gold lame" might be connecting the two eras through homosexuality? Perhaps that is farfetched, but one of the critical issues of the 60's was race (along with war). In the late 80's racial issues were still big, but discrimination against homosexuality (especially after AIDS started becoming prevalent) was an even bigger equality issue.

    The irony is the narrator doesn't have a strong knowledge of the previous related movements (race equality, hippies). The final line is about the fight for equality continuing.

    But I also think the angle of the narrator going from hippie to yuppie is a strong possibility.
    hornytheclownon October 27, 2012   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI think it is a statement about rivisionist history and how events that are very important and significant to one generation becomes just a bunch of disconnected facts to that generations children.
    yamwriteon April 13, 2005   Link
  • 0
    General CommentAdditionally I think the purple toupee and gold lame referrence is to the selling out of the progressive 60 movements to modern consumerism and fashion obsession.
    yamwriteon April 13, 2005   Link
  • 0
    General CommentIt seems to have an undertone of uninformed activism.
    HadjiQueston April 17, 2005   Link
  • 0
    General CommentGood points, all.

    Other things, interesting: Chinese People Fighting in the Park is probably a reference to Vietnam, "we tried to help them out, no one appreciated that." I heard somewhere that it could also be a reference to Tai Chi -- the meditative stretching exercises, that kind of look like martial arts. Obviously, anyone trying to "help out" someone doing Tai Chi is going to upset them.

    The King of Cuba could be a reference to the theories that Castro put the hit out on Kennedy -- after Kennedy had tried to assassinate Castro a couple times. That action cemented Castro in his leadership roll - ie. crowned him the King (as opposed to President -- a president leaves office, whereas a king stays until he's dead).

    Could "the camp" in the first line be Boot Camp? A reference to the draft?

    I think the Purple Toupee and Gold Lame is a ref. to styles -- the whole "hippy" culture, be free, conform to our non-conformity. To support this, "we're on some kind of mission," almost sounds like the author has no idea why he's protesting or dressing up - its just "some kind of mission," but whatever the reason, he's obligated to do so.

    On second thought, I think maybe those last three lines sum up the song. Its about a former 60's protestor who is so burnt out, that he has no idea why he was even protesting at all -- and he can't even get the events right. But it was a mission...
    Sir_Larrikinon July 27, 2005   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI think the lyrics in this song are ingenious. The speaker seems to be a Boomer who sold out in the eighties and isn't really clear on what his generation was all about. I love the befuddled understatements referring to life-shattering events ("Martin X was mad," "Chinese people were fighting," etc). My favorite is the Kennedy line: "Someone put their finger in the president's ear..." I get the mental picture of Oswald playing a child's game with a thumb and index finger: "bang, you're dead."
    maddsurgeonon October 03, 2005   Link
  • 0
    General Commentthe purple toupee is NOT a hippie style. back in the 60's there was a group of people called the "purple beret" group (believe they were war veterans i don't really remember) and they were wearing purple berets not toupees. another ref to J.J. it is about a guy who doesn't remember the sixties very much.
    triplejumpbumpon September 22, 2008   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI love "Martin X was mad when they outlawed bell bottoms." When I was little I got MLK and Malcolm X mixed up as well XD
    Miss Wildeon January 26, 2009   Link

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