‘Enjoy” isn’t the right word, so I didn’t get caught up in the brief national fever and desire last year to binge watch Wild Wild Country, the harrowing Netflix docuseries about the takeover of a small Oregon town by a cult-like religious group in the 1980s. That’s because I grew up in Oregon, in the ‘80s, and some of my earliest memories are being terrified of this group, followers of a charismatic guru named Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh. Among the things the more militant sector of the group did was wage biological warfare on its enemies by poisoning salad bars. I loved salad bars; it was the ’80s.
Some Oregonians channeled that palpable element of fear into “comedy.” The Bhagwan was from India, as was his personal assistant turned spokesperson and top lieutenant (and later, convicted attempted murderer), Ma Anand Sheela. At the time it was more than acceptable to make fun of foreigners and their “funny” accents, and that became the angle from which humor about this very frightening situation could spring
In 1984, Dan Clark and Dave Kanner — the “Morning Zoo” crew at Portland’s top pop radio station Z100 — recorded and released “Shut Up, Sheela.” A parody of Tommy Roe’s 1962 hit “Sheila,” the new lyrics wrote off Sheela not as a powerful woman capable of some dark, fearsome actions, but rather than as an annoying, talkative woman who needed to “take a silence vow.” The song also includes a woman imitating Sheela with a broad “Indian” accent, calling people “ignorant bigots.” The song got a ton of radio airplay for a short time in Portland, and countless 45s of the song were sold in local record stores.