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held together by spit and coffee
Ma fin est mon commencement
Guillaume de Machaut


Ma fin est mon commencement
Et mon commencement ma fin
Et teneure vraiement.
Ma fin est mon commencement
Mes tiers chans .iii. fois seulement
Se retrograde et einsi fin.
Ma fin est mon commencement
Et mon commencement ma fin.

[trans. A. Butterfield]

My end is my beginning
And my beginning truly
my end and tenor.
My end is my beginning.
My third melody only recapitulates itself
three times and thus ends.
My end is my beginning
And my beginning my end.

Guillaume de Machaut (1300-1377) was a medieval French poet who critics have called the 'last great poet who was also a composer'.  Wildly prolific, his work was admired well into the 15th century, and we count among his fans people like Geoffrey Chaucer, Jean Froissart and Christine de Pizan.
This little rondeau, seemingly simple, is actually one of Machaut's most ingenious constructions.  It is a canon cancrizan written for three voices, the tenor, cantus and triplum.  The refrain, 'My end is my beginning and my beginning my end', refers to the palindromic musical line of the song.  The tenor sings this palindromic line, creating a musical symmetry across a double axis.  The lines of the cantus and triplum are in fact mirror images of each other; in the original source, one singer simply reads the notes left to right while the other reads them right to left.  The whole effect is that the music creates and recreates itself in an infinite loop, even as the words move forward in a linear fashion.  BAM.  PARADOX.  Machaut: what a genius.

Here is a good cover on YouTube, though it doesn't say by what artists.
 
 
held together by spit and coffee
24 October 2013 @ 11:27 pm
Lazarus
Anon.

Well the high sheriff, he told his deputy
He said, you go out and bring me Lazarus
Well the high sheriff, he told his deputy
I want you go out and bring me Lazarus
Bring him dead or alive, oh Lord,
Bring him dead or alive

And the deputy began to wonder
Just where in the world they could find him
And the deputy began to wonder
Just where in the world they could find him
Well I don't know, oh Lord,
Well I just don't know

And they found poor Lazarus,
They found him up between two mountains
And they found poor Lazarus,
They found him up between two mountains
And they blowed him down, oh Lord,
And they blowed him down

And what they, they used
What they used was a great big number
And what they, what they used
What they used was a great big number
A number forty-four, oh Lord,
A number forty-four

And they took poor Lazarus,
Took him down to the commissary counter
And they took poor Lazarus,
Took him down to the commissary counter
And they lowered him down, oh Lord,
And they lowered him down

And Lazarus's poor mother
Well she couldn't go to the funeral
And Lazarus's poor mother
Well she couldn't go to the funeral
She didn't have no shoes, oh Lord,
Didn't have no shoes

I tell you, high sheriff
One day all your men are gonna leave you
I tell you, high sheriff
I tell you all your men are gonna leave you
On next payday, oh Lord,
Come next payday



'Lazarus' is an African-American blues work song of unknown origin.  One theory, according to folk music collector Alan Lomax, is that Lazarus was a worker at a levy camp 'where you worked from can to can't and maybe you got paid and maybe you didn't'.  One day Lazarus got tired of 'meat in his greens', or worms in his salad, and 'walked the table' - stood up on the table and stomped on everyone's plates.  Knowing he would be whipped for the act, he robbed the pay window and ran for the mountains.

'Lazarus' has been covered in vastly differing variations by singers such as Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan, but the most famous version by far is the one sung by Mississippi sharecropper James Carter while he was in prison in 1959.  Carter led a group of prisoners in the song while they chopped wood, and was recorded by Lomax and his team.  The recording was later used in the 2000 chart-topping soundtrack to O Brother, Where Art Thou?; Lomax's daughter hunted down Carter, then 76, and gave him a royalty check for $20,000.  As the other prisoners have never been identified, the official credit for the song is 'James Carter and the Prisoners'.

The version I use above is that sung by Buffy Sainte-Marie (b. 1941), Canadian Cree singer-songwriter, social activist and founder of the Cradleboard Teaching Project, an educational curriculum devoted to better understanding of Native Americans.
 
 
held together by spit and coffee
23 October 2013 @ 05:20 pm
Erlkönig
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (trans. Hyde Flippo)

German originalCollapse )

Who rides so late through night and wind?
It is the father with his child;
He holds the boy in the crook of his arm,
He holds him safe, he keeps him warm.

"My son, what makes you hide your face in fear?"
"Father, don't you see the Erlking?
"The Erlking with crown and flowing robe?"
"My son, it's a wisp of fog."

"You lovely child, come, go with me!
Such beautiful games I'll play with you;
Many colourful flowers are on the shore,
My mother has many a golden robe."

"My father, my father, and do you not hear
What the Erlking promises me so softly?"
"Be quiet, stay quiet, my child;
In the dry leaves the wind is rustling."

"Won't you come along with me, my fine boy?
My daughters shall attend to you so nicely.
My daughters do their nightly dance,
And they'll rock you and dance you and sing you to sleep."

"My father, my father, and do you not see over there
The Erlking's daughters in that dark place?"
"My son, my son, I see it most definitely"
It's the willow trees looking so grey."

"I love you; I'm charmed by your beautiful form;
And if you're not willing, then I'll use force."
"My father, my father, he's grabbing me now!
The Erlking has done me harm!"

The father shudders, he rides swiftly,
He holds in his arms the moaning child.
He reaches the farmhouse with effort and urgency.
In his arms the child was dead.


The Erlking is a malevolent creature of German legend that haunts forests and carries off travellers.  The name is thought to be an 18th-century mis-translation of the Danish elverkonge, 'elf-king'.  It is famously the antagonist of the poem by the German literary giant Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832), of the Weimar Classicists.  Goethe composed it in 1782 as part of a singspiel (a kind of German music-drama) called Die Flescherin.

The poem has been adapted into numerous lieder (songs for voice and piano), of which Franz Schubert's Opus 1 (D. 328) is the best known. Here it is performed by bass-baritone Philippe Sly and pianist Maria Fuller.
 
 
held together by spit and coffee
22 October 2013 @ 11:20 pm
Chelsea Hotel #2
Leonard Cohen

I remember you well in the Chelsea Hotel
You were talking so brave and so sweet
Giving me head on the unmade bed
While the limousines wait in the street
Those were the reasons and that was New York
we were running for the money and the flesh
And that was called love for the workers in song
Probably still is, for those of them left.

Ah, but you got away, didn't you, babe
You just turned your back on the crowd
You got away, I never once heard you say
I need you, I don't need you
I need you, I don't need you
And all of that jiving around

I remember you well in the Chelsea Hotel
You were famous, your heart was a legend
You told me again you preferred handsome men
But for me you would make an exception
And clenching your fist for the ones like us
Who are oppressed by the figures of beauty
You fixed yourself, you said, "Well, never mind,
We are ugly but we have the music."

And you got away, didn't you, babe,
You just turned your back on the crowd
You got away, I never once heard you say,
I need you, I don't need you
I need you, I don't need you
And all of that jiving around

I don't mean to suggest that I loved you the best
I can't keep track of each fallen robin
I remember you well in the Chelsea Hotel
That's all. I don't even think of you that often.


The Chelsea Hotel in New York City is perhaps the most famous real hotel in American music.  Bob Dylan wrote 'Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands' for his wife-to-be Sara in room 211.  Dylan Thomas reputedly went into a fatal coma there after drinking 18 whiskies in a row.  Nancy Spungen, the girlfriend of Sex Pistols bassist Sid Vicious, was found stabbed to death in room 100.  Arthur Miller, who lived there for six years after his divorce from Marilyn Monroe, recalls in his memoir how you could get high from the marijuana smoke in the elevators.  "This hotel does not belong to America," he wrote. "There are no vacuum cleaners, no rules and shame."

Canadian singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen (b. 1934) wrote 'Chelsea Hotel #2' about a sexual encounter he had with Janis Joplin, who he met in the elevator at 3am: "I think she was looking for Kris Kristofferson. And I wasn't looking for her. I was looking for…Brigitte Bardot."  He has since said he regrets linking her name to the song, calling it the 'sole indiscretion' of his professional" life.  Joplin, for her part, implied in an interview that Cohen was not great in bed; however, she died of a drug overdose before she could do a Joni Mitchell and write a song back at him.

Here is Cohen performing 'Chelsea Hotel #2' with footage from the 1983 short film I Am A Hotel, which he co-wrote.
 
 
held together by spit and coffee
21 October 2013 @ 05:15 pm
Song
John Donne

Go and catch a falling star,
Get with child a mandrake root,
Tell me where all past years are,
Or who cleft the devil's foot,
Teach me to hear mermaids singing,
Or to keep off envy's stinging,
    And find
    What wind
Serves to advance an honest mind.

If thou be'st born to strange sights,
Things invisible to see,
Ride ten thousand days and nights,
Till age snow white hairs on thee,
Thou, when thou return'st, wilt tell me,
All strange wonders that befell thee,
    And swear,
    No where
Lives a woman true, and fair.


If thou find'st one, let me know,
Such a pilgrimage were sweet;
Yet do not, I would not go,
Though at next door we might meet;
Though she were true, when you met her,
And last, till you write your letter,
    Yet she
    Will be
False, ere I come, to two, or three.




Today we are bringing you John Donne (1572-1631), that rock star of the Renaissance, that dashing dean of divinity, that absolute stud of a preacher man.  In the old days before he took the pulpit at St. Paul's Cathedral, he was a great favourite with the women, though sometimes he was not so hot about them and it is in these moods that he wrote poetry like the above 'Song', bemoaning the fidelity of women.  Doubtless a double standard, Donne.  I believe he genuinely loved his wife Ann More though, which is more than can be said for pretty much the rest of the Renaissance men.  I haven't been involved with the Metaphysicals for years now, but I'll always have a thing for that John Donne.  Mmm.
 
 
 
held together by spit and coffee
The House of the Rising Sun
Anon.

There is a house in New Orleans
They call the Rising Sun
And it's been the ruin of many a poor girl
And God, I know I'm one

My mother was a tailor
She sewed my new blue jeans
My sweetheart was a gambling man
Down in New Orleans

Now the only thing a gambler needs
Is a suitcase and trunk
And the only time he's satisfied
Is when he's on a drunk

Oh, mother, tell my baby sisters
Not to do what I have done
And shun that house in New Orleans
They call the Rising Sun

I've one foot on the platform
The other's on the train
I'm going back to New Orleans
To wear that ball and chain



'The House of the Rising Sun' is a traditional folk song that was made famous by English rock group The Animals in 1964, but is thought to date back to the 18th century.  The oldest known recording is by Appalachian artists Clarence 'Tom' Ashley and Gwen Foster in 1934.

There are two main variations on this song, the Gambler and the Whore.  (The above version blends elements of both.)  The Gambler, who is of indeterminate sex but probably masculine, is the version sung by the Animals and presents the House of the Rising Sun straightforwardly as a gambling den.  The Whore, which seems to pre-date the Gambler, relates the story of a girl who either follows her gambler sweetheart to New Orleans, or escapes there after killing her father, an alcoholic gambler who was beating her mother.  In New Orleans, she ends up working as a prostitute. In this version, the House is either a brothel, or a place where prostitutes were detained for syphilis treatment.  This is the version performed by artists like Bob Dylan, Dave van Ronk and Joan Baez. Here is Baez's cover (accompanied by an extremely beautiful video that seems to have been shot...by people I know.  Hm.)

Some versions prefer to blend elements of the Gambler and Whore. Lauren O'Connell's recent cover is sung from the Whore's perspective but uses most of the Gambler's verses.  I am also so obsessed with this cover it is not even funny, it actually haunts my dreams. Last night I dreamt I choreographed a dance solo to it and then I woke up and you know what? I'm choreographing a dance solo to it.
 
 
held together by spit and coffee
19 October 2013 @ 06:16 pm
Pōkarekare Ana
Anon.

Pōkarekare ana
ngā wai o Waiapu,
Whiti atu koe hine
marino ana e.

E hine e
hoki mai ra.
Ka mate ahau
I te aroha e.

Tuhituhi taku reta
tuku atu taku rīngi,
Kia kite tō iwi
raru raru ana e.

Whati whati taku pene
ka pau aku pepa,
Ko taku aroha
mau tonu ana e.

E kore te aroha
e maroke i te rā,
Mākūkū tonu i
aku roimata e.

[translation from New Zealand Folk Songs]

They are agitated
the waters of Waiapu,
But when you cross over, girl
they will be calm.

Oh, girl
return to me.
I could die
of love for you.

I have written my letter
I have sent my ring,
so that your people can see
that I am troubled.

My pen is shattered,
I have no more paper
But my love
is still steadfast.

My love will never
be dried by the sun,
It will be forever moistened
by my tears.


'Pōkarekare Ana' is a Maori love song thought to have been communally written north of Auckland during World War I.  It was re-worked at one point by East Coast composer Paraire Tomoana, who used the words in a love letter while courting 18-year-old Kuini Ripeka Raerena.  It has since become one of New Zealand's most famous love songs.  Earlier this year, it was sung in the parliament of New Zealand when the house passed the bill legalising same-sex marriage.

Here is Hayley Westenra's cover from her debut album Pure.
 
 
held together by spit and coffee
Heaven Will Protect The Working Girl
Edgar Smith (words) and Alfred Baldwin Sloane (music)

A village maid was leaving home
With tears her eyes were wet.
Her mother dear was standing near the spot
She says to her, "Neuralgia dear,
I hope you won't forget
That I'm the only mother you have got.

"The city is a wicked place,
As anyone can see,
And cruel dangers 'round your path may hurl;
So ev'ry week you'd better
Send your wages back to me,
For Heaven will protect a working girl."

"You are going far away
But remember what I say
When you are in the city's giddy whirl
From temptations, crimes, and follies,
Villains, taxicabs and trolleys,
Oh! Heaven will protect a working girl."

Her dear old mother's words proved true
For soon the poor girl met
A man who on her ruin was intent
He treated her respectful
As those villains always do,
And she supposed he was a perfect gent.

But she found diff'rent when one night
She went with him to dine
Into a table d'hôte so blithe and gay,
And he says to her, "After this
We'll have a demitasse!"
Then, to him these brave words the girl did say:

"Stand back, villain! Go your way!
Here I will no longer stay,
Although you were a marquis or an earl
You may tempt the upper classes
With your villainous demitasses,
But Heaven will protect a working girl."


'Heaven Will Protect The Working Girl' is a New York burlesque ballad that shot to fame in 1909 when performed by Marie Dressler on Broadway.  The expression 'working girl' first came into use during the Civil War to name a new class of women entering the industrial and commerical workforces, often leaving homes in the countryside to come to the big city.  'Working girl' did not become an euphemism for 'prostitute' till the 1960s.

A 'demitasse', today's dictionaries inform me, is a small cup used to serve espresso or Turkish coffee.  Whether it ever meant anything less innocent, nobody knows.
 
 
held together by spit and coffee
Rock n' Roll Suicide
David Bowie

Time takes a cigarette, puts it in your mouth
You pull on your finger
Then another finger, then your cigarette
The wall-to-wall is calling, it lingers, then you forget
Oh, you're a rock n' roll suicide
You're too old to lose it, too young to choose it
And the clocks waits so patiently on your song
You walk past a cafe
But you don't eat when you've lived too long
Oh no no no, you're a rock 'n' roll suicide

Shift brakes are snarling as you stumble across the road
But the day breaks instead so you hurry home
Don't let the sun blast your shadow
Don't let the milk float ride your mind
They're so natural
Religiously unkind

Oh no, love, you're not alone
You're watching yourself but you're too unfair
You got your head all tangled up
But if I could only make you care
Oh no, love, you're not alone
No matter what or who you've been
No matter when or where you've seen
All the knives seem to lacerate your brain
I've had my share, I'll help you with the pain
You're not alone

Just turn on with me and you're not alone
Let's turn on with me and you're not alone
Let's turn on and be not alone
Give me your hands 'cause you're wonderful
Give me your hands 'cause you're wonderful
Oh give me your hands.


David Bowie (b. 1947) has described 'Rock n' Roll Suicide' as being in the tradition of the 'French chanson', drawing on Baudelaire, Machado and Jacques Brel.  It was released in 1974 as the closing track of The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust.
 
 
held together by spit and coffee
16 October 2013 @ 06:24 pm
Today I was walking down Canongate while drinking coffee and reading Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own, and there was too much o' a coincidence there to not come back and post this song.  I've done it before here, but it's my favourite ballad and I will do it again.

Mary Hamilton
Anon.

Word's gane to the kitchen,
And word's gane to the ha',
That Marie Hamilton gangs wi' bairn
To the hichest Stewart of a'.

He's courted her in the kitchen,
He's courted her in the ha,
He's courted her in the laigh cellar,
And that was warst of a'.

She's tyed it in her apron
And she's thrown it in the sea;
Says, 'Sink ye, swim ye, bonny wee babe!
You'll ne'er get mair o' me.'

Down them cam the auld queen,
Goud tassels tying her hair:
'O Marie, where's the bonny wee babe
That I heard greet sae sair?'

'There never was a babe intill my room,
As little designs to be;
It was but a touch o' my sair side,
Come o'er my fair bodie.’

'O Marie, put on your robes o' black,
Or else your robes o' brown,
For ye maun gang wi' me the night,
To see fair Edinbro town.'

'I winna put on my robes o' black,
Nor yet my robes o' brown;
But I'll put on my robes o' white,
To shine through Edinbro town.'

When she gaed up the Cannogate,
She laughd loud laughters three;
But whan she cam down the Cannogate
The tear blinded her ee.

When she gaed up the Parliament stair,
The heel cam aff her shee;
And lang or she cam down again
She was condemn'd to dee.

When she cam down the Cannogate,
The Cannogate sae free,
Many a ladie look'd o'er her window,
Weeping for this ladie.

'Ye need nae weep for me,' she says,
'Ye need nae weep for me;
For had I not slain mine own sweet babe,
This death I wadna dee.

'Bring me a bottle of wine,' she says,
'The best that e'er ye hae,
That I may drink to my well-wishers,
And they may drink to me.

'Here's a health to the jolly sailors,
That sail upon the main;
Let them never let on to my father and mother
But what I'm coming hame.

'Here's a health to the jolly sailors,
That sail upon the sea;
Let them never let on to my father and mother
That I cam here to dee.

'Oh little did my mother think,
The day she cradled me,
What lands I was to travel through,
What death I was to dee.

'Oh little did my father think,
The day he held up me,
What lands I was to travel through,
What death I was to dee.

'Last night I wash'd the queen's feet,
And gently laid her down;
And a' the thanks I've gotten the nicht
To be hang'd in Edinbro town!

'Last nicht there was four Maries,
The nicht there'll be but three;
There was Marie Seton, and Marie Beton,
And Marie Carmichael, and me.'


Read more...Collapse )

The version above is Child Ballad 173A.  Today, the most well-known cover is Joan Baez's, which draws on both 173A and 173B, and sets the hanging in Glasgow.