The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #120379   Message #2620284
Posted By: Jack Blandiver
28-Apr-09 - 05:15 AM
Thread Name: Riddle Songs??
Subject: RE: Riddle Songs??
You've kinda lost me on that Birdy tangent Sinister.

Sorry about that, CS - your earlier comment about repetition dismantling meaning coincided with a new episode of Family Guy which reminded me of The Trashmen's 1963 cult classic Surfin' Bird which fit the dismantling of meaning perfectly. Seeking out Surfin' Bird on YouTube led me to The Rivingtons, by way of genuine cultural provenance and some very beautiful music to boot. As a rule I don't listen to folk music for pleasure, but I do have a passion for Doo Wop and Surf Music, the rougher the better, and have often speculated upon a connection between the rhythmic nonsensical vocables of Doo Wop (Papa Oom Mow Mow being a classic example) and those found in the choruses & refrains of traditional songs & ballads.


Lots of Mudcat discussion on Bedlam Boys over the years which is worth checking out; it seems to enter the Folk Consciousness via Nic Jones, who had a hand in writing the tune we're now familiar with, and which is now believed to be somehow traditional - as a YouTube search will rather depressingly reveal. The original tune given in Pills to Purge Melancholy is much better. Here it is sung by Catharine Bott:


I'm reminded of Purcell's setting of the anonymous Bess of Bedlam, circa 1682, which is maybe worth a look in this context, although Bedlam, I believe, was an all male institution...

From silent shades and the Elysian groves
Where sad departed spirits mourn their loves
From crystal streams and from that country where
Jove crowns the fields with flowers all the year,
Poor senseless Bess, cloth'd in her rags and folly,
Is come to cure her lovesick melancholy.

"Bright Cynthia kept her revels late
While Mab, the Fairy Queen, did dance,
And Oberon did sit in state
When Mars at Venus ran his lance.

In yonder cowslip lies my dear,
Entomb'd in liquid gems of dew;
Each day I'll water it with a tear,
Its fading blossom to renew.

For since my love is dead and all my joys are gone,
Poor Bess for his sake
A garland will make,
My music shall be a groan.

I'll lay me down and die within some hollow tree,
The rav'n and cat,
The owl and bat
Shall warble forth my elegy.

Did you not see my love as he pass'd by you?
His two flaming eyes, if he comes nigh you,
They will scorch up your hearts: Ladies beware ye,
Les he should dart a glance that may ensnare ye!

Hark! Hark! I hear old Charon bawl,
His boat he will no longer stay,
And furies lash their whips and call:
Come, come away, come, come away.

Poor Bess will return to the place whence she came,
Since the world is so mad she can hope for no cure.
For love's grown a bubble, a shadow, a name,
Which fools do admire and wise men endure.

Cold and hungry am I grown.
Ambrosia will I feed upon,
Drink Nectar still and sing."
Who is content,
Does all sorrow prevent?
And Bess in her straw,
Whilst free from the law,
In her thoughts is as great, great as a king.