The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #34695   Message #469411
Posted By: Abby Sale
24-May-01 - 08:42 AM
Thread Name: Are folk lyrics ever 'wrong?'
Subject: RE: Are folk lyrics ever 'wrong?'
As has been sain in a recent Chantey thread, they don't have to make sense to "work" or be effective or satisfying to the singer/autitor. I want to know what everything I sing means but I'm not a source singer or a professional - it's an intellectual, not a visceral interest.

I'm minded on a story Ken Goldstein told lo these many years back. He'd been up collecting Lizzy Higgins and she sang a song with chorus, "Here comes a Russian Jew." That phrase was complete nonsense in the context of the song. Great Hamish (who'd given Goldstein her address, etc) had primed Goldstein to request this song and given Goldstein the probable back translation to Gaelic (I can't remember) which did makes sense. That is, the song had retained its Gaelic (sensable) chorus untranslated but as the Stewarts learned to, all they had was this 'Russian Jew' mondegreen.

Lizzy agreed with Goldstein that her phrase made no sense and that he was most likely right about the original. But, she hadn't the slightest interest in changing her song either to the Gaelic or in creating a Scots translation of it. (Hamish had told Goldstein what it meant, too.)

My point is that the way you learn it - "processed," mondegreened or 'wrong' is the way you learned it and thus the right way. Ask any child - they'll fight for the right to sing it the way they learned it.

Not me - I'll often go over to Olson's pages and find an oldest (not "Right") printed version for a line or a verse to collate when I'm not satisfied with a text. But I ain't a Folk, as I said.

Here's one. Most versions of "The Keeper" (filename[ KEEPERGO is one such) as we learned in primary school are heavily Bowdlerized & leave out the last verses. You know it's a bawdy song but you can't quite get it. "Better" versions often it ends simply with 'The last one then he stopped, he kissed / Where they are now they won't be missed."

But ref. to Olson gives us that an early version was "The Five Deers" and much better. I just picked a single line and am now much happier with my own singing:

The third doe, he shot at, he missed.
The last one then, he stopped, he kissed,
And laid her down where no man wist [had factual knowledge of]
Among the leaves so green-o.

But I don't think my third-grade teacher will be teaching me that. And many autitors will say that I am Wrong, that's not the way they heard it!