To Animals, Dennis Knick Is Johann Sebastian Bark, Maybe Even Moo-Zart
11/02/1987 at 01:00 AM EST
Composer Dennis Knick would be flattered to hear that his music is fit for pigs. Catcalls would be a compliment, and horselaughs music to his ears. Even a hiss, from the right source, would be high praise. Knick's seeming imperviousness to criticism stems not from insensitivity but from his unusual subject matter: The 38-year-old composer writes personalized songs about people's pets. Although his tunes often celebrate man's best friend, Knick has also found inspiration in man's best feline, goat, lizard, turtle, chicken, python, macaw and armadillo.
In the three and a half years that his one-man company, PetSong, has been in business, Knick has copyrighted some 450 beastly ditties, including an Irish jig for a golden retriever named Isaac, a reggae-flavored tune for a Labrador retriever named Goombay and a polka dedicated to a Wisconsin chicken. Of course Knick wouldn't write reggae for a retriever or bossa nova for a boxer just on a whim. Customers, who pay $35 per song and receive a cassette and lyric sheet, must first fill out a questionnaire about their pet's personality and musical tastes. "Sometimes they write as if they were talking about their children, husbands or boyfriends," says Knick, who works out of his Des Plaines, III., home and advertises in such magazines as Cat Fancy and Dog Fancy ("They have a dog-of-the-month foldout—really"). Sometimes his tunes leave customers panting for more: One Indiana woman commissioned melodies for each of her eight cats.
Typically, Knick's compositions are long on sincerity and less so on lyrical sophistication. "Snowy, you know how I feel about you," begins his spirited tribute to one beloved feline. "I love to watch you chase the sun from room to room/ Early every morning you wake me with a meow/ I have to get out of bed and feed you right now." The tune about a favorite tortoise has an appropriately slower beat: "Simple Simon is my turtle/ That's all he'll ever be/ But even though he's just a turtle/ He means much more to me."
"I've always been a serious songwriter and still am, but I'm trying to earn a living too," says Knick, who recently quit a job writing computer instruction manuals to devote himself full-time to PetSong.
Knick, who plays the guitar, accordion, tuba, piano, organ, saxophone and drums, started PetSong while temporarily laid off from a computer job in 1983. While watching Jaws on TV one night, Knick concluded that the shark was getting a bad reputation largely because of the sinister cello music that signaled his approach. "I didn't think he deserved it," says Knick, who tried to redress the imbalance with The Shark's Song, a cheerful number that looked at things from Jaws's point of view: "I am a shark, a great white shark swimming after you/ I wish I could walk across the land/ Then I'd eat your grandmother too."
"After that, friends told me that everyone should have a song for their pet," says Knick. "And I thought that wasn't such a bad idea."
Goaded by success, Knick has put together a greatest-hits cassette, PetSong Sing-along, as well as something called the PetSong Lullaby/ Exercise Tape (one side encourages you and your pet to jump around, the other is supposed to lull Fido to sleep). Knick has even moved up the evolutionary ladder with LoveSong, KidSong and ThankSong, customized special occasion tapes by and about human beings.
But his forte, so far, is fauna. Knick, who is married and the father of two boys, notes with only slight dismay that although he wrote a customized song for his son Peter, 4, the boy's favorite composition is Duke's Night Out—a rock 'n' roll salute to a break-dancing Doberman.