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Murray Wiggle wears red and plays the guitar

by Brian Clarey

The most famous person I’ve ever interviewed is humble and self-effacing. He stumbles over sentences and at times seems apologetic for the enormous success he and his bandmates have enjoyed since they started this thing back in the early ’90s. He’s repentant, in particular, for one of the group’s biggest hits, a number which I admit to him is absolutely and irrevocably stuck in my head. Probably forever.

It’s called “Dorothy the Dinosaur.” Rump-ump a chump.

“Yeah,” he says over the phone from Sydney, Australia. “Sorry about that.”

Most of my friends were unimpressed when I told them I was going to interview Murray Wiggle.

“Who?”

“Murray! From ‘The Wiggles’! The one who likes to play the guitar. Red shirt?”

“Whatever, dude.”

But my friends with young children were slightly awed.

“Really? What are you going to ask him?”

Because Murray Wiggle is indeed famous. World famous. He and the other Wiggles – Anthony, Greg and Jeff – created a global sensation when they donned their colored shirts and started carrying on like drunken uncles on camera: singing (simplistically), dancing (poorly) and acting (barely). But the former pub-rock musicians (and pre-school teachers, don’t forget that) struck a chord with the diaper set and now, 15 years later, they’re the highest-grossing entertainment act in all of Australia and shepherds to a global flock of 1- to 3-year-olds, a demographic that is constantly turning over yet is consistently fascinated by the antics of these four goofballs.

It wasn’t always thus.

They started out playing AC/DC tunes in bars along Australia’s East Coast.

“The bar circuit in Australia in the eighties was really big,” says Murray Wiggle, who was known as Murray Cook when he played bass for Finger Guns. “Sort of anyone could get a gig. It was a great time to be playing in a rock band. Touring in Australia is different than in the US because all the cities are around the coast.”

And now he and the guys tour all over the English-speaking world, a journey which will include a stop at the Greensboro Coliseum Aug. 26.

I know I’ll be there. And I’ll be bringing Babygirl who, on the cusp of her terrible twos, is smack in the center of the Wiggles’ fan base.

She knows the characters, the songs and the dances. She runs into the living room when she hears their music and sits and stares like meat during the skits.

She loves it like applesauce.

“Sometimes it surprises us how young the children are who like it,” he says. “Sometimes children’s performers get bogged down in, you know, ‘We’ve got to teach these kids.’ Sometimes they expect kids to take on too much. Sometimes we want our children to be old too quickly. [The Wiggles] just try to let them be kids, enjoy their fantasy world, jump around and all of that.”

The world they’ve created is populated with surreal characters like the aforementioned Dorothy the Dinosaur, who likes to eat roses; Wags the Dog, who likes to dance the tango; and Captain Feathersword, perhaps the biggest freak of them all, played with spastic aplomb by Australian character actor Paul Paddick.

“He’s a trained actor,” Murray says. “He’s done a lot of improv stuff. He’s been with us for a long time now so we’ve probably ruined him.”

The characters of the Wiggles themselves are communicated chiefly by the colored shirts they wear and in what they like to do: Anthony, in blue, likes to eat; Greg wears yellow and likes to perform magic or drive the Big Red Car; Jeff, purple, likes to sleep.

Jeff Fatt is the only Wiggle without educational training. He got the gig because he was the keyboardist for the Cockroaches. He’s also the only member never to have missed a gig.

“The thing with Jeff is that because he doesn’t have the training we have he probably felt less comfortable onstage talking to the children. And they love waking Jeff up. It gives them that power.”

And because their celebrity personalities are so simplistic and inextricably tied to the colored shirts they wear (and because his fans are all under three feet tall), the most famous musician I’ve ever interviewed can walk around in public without paparazzi or stampedes of fans following him around.

He can even play his guitar in bar bands like he used to. When he’s in Sydney he’ll sometimes take the stage with Bang Shang a Lang, a pub band still making the rounds.

“You sometimes get guys in the bars that we play,” Murray says, “during the break he’ll say, ‘Settle a bet. I bet twenty bucks that you’re the guy from the Wiggles.’

“It’s pretty good fun, let me tell you.”

To comment on this column, email Brian Clarey at editor@yesweekly.com.

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