I’m fascinated by people who try to be respectful but end up being offensive. This is probably because I assume that I do it all the time. Thus it is that I have an uneasy love for the Johnny Preston hit song “Running Bear.” The story in the song sounds like it could be an actual Native American folk story. It’s basically the Indian Romeo and Juliet. Unfortunately, it has this horrible “uga uga” chanting under the verses. It also has embarrassing phrases like “happy hunting ground.”
On the positive side, it presents Native Americans as regular people who — oppressed by unjust societies — act foolishly the way young lovers do everywhere. And it’s a compelling story. And it was written by The Big Bopper. This is the man known for “Chantilly Lace” — a song that is somehow offensive to women and men of all races and creeds. So I think “Running Bear” should be given a pass.
And let’s face it: at this point, it’s charming. At the time, with the depiction of Indians on the television and in movies, it was more sketchy. Regardless, it’s fun to watch Johnny Preston do such a terrible job of lip-syncing: