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Is Lyric Creep a Sin?

JedMarum 30 Aug 99 - 10:23 AM
MMario 30 Aug 99 - 10:32 AM
JedMarum 30 Aug 99 - 10:36 AM
Frank Hamilton 30 Aug 99 - 10:52 AM
catspaw49 30 Aug 99 - 10:52 AM
Art Thieme 30 Aug 99 - 10:58 AM
Barbara 30 Aug 99 - 11:11 AM
Barbara 30 Aug 99 - 11:17 AM
JedMarum 30 Aug 99 - 11:23 AM
30 Aug 99 - 11:24 AM
Jeri 30 Aug 99 - 11:45 AM
Frank Hamilton 30 Aug 99 - 12:02 PM
Bert 30 Aug 99 - 12:25 PM
Peter T. 30 Aug 99 - 12:44 PM
Margo 30 Aug 99 - 12:55 PM
Allan C. 30 Aug 99 - 03:03 PM
Margo 30 Aug 99 - 07:21 PM
Sandy Paton 30 Aug 99 - 08:33 PM
Bev and Jerry 30 Aug 99 - 09:03 PM
Roger in Baltimore 30 Aug 99 - 10:10 PM
Joe Offer 30 Aug 99 - 11:44 PM
Rick Fielding 30 Aug 99 - 11:53 PM
Barbara 31 Aug 99 - 12:43 AM
rich r 31 Aug 99 - 01:20 AM
Rick Fielding 31 Aug 99 - 01:29 AM
Sandy Paton 31 Aug 99 - 01:44 AM
Bugsy 31 Aug 99 - 02:16 AM
Lorne Brown 31 Aug 99 - 09:39 AM
Liam's Brother 31 Aug 99 - 10:55 AM
JedMarum 31 Aug 99 - 11:29 AM
Art Thieme 31 Aug 99 - 11:29 AM
Rick Fielding 31 Aug 99 - 12:27 PM
KathWestra 31 Aug 99 - 12:54 PM
Tiger 31 Aug 99 - 01:35 PM
Roger in Baltimore 31 Aug 99 - 03:02 PM
Liam's Brother 31 Aug 99 - 03:30 PM
Barbara 31 Aug 99 - 03:32 PM
JedMarum 31 Aug 99 - 06:00 PM
Bill D 31 Aug 99 - 07:37 PM
Charlie Baum 01 Sep 99 - 12:45 AM
Rick Fielding 01 Sep 99 - 01:32 AM
Barbara 01 Sep 99 - 12:08 PM
Bat Goddess 01 Sep 99 - 12:33 PM
Rick Fielding 02 Sep 99 - 02:06 AM
Pete Peterson 02 Sep 99 - 11:15 AM
Don Firth 02 Sep 99 - 04:21 PM
Bert 02 Sep 99 - 05:31 PM
Bev and Jerry 02 Sep 99 - 11:44 PM
Roger the zimmer 03 Sep 99 - 08:49 AM
dick greenhaus 03 Sep 99 - 08:58 AM
catspaw49 03 Sep 99 - 09:26 AM
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Subject: Is Lyric Creep a Sin?
From: JedMarum
Date: 30 Aug 99 - 10:23 AM

After reading the lyrics posted for many of the songs I have been singing over the years, I am forced to face the fact that I have frequently changed lyrics to suit my tastes. It's not that I wasn't aware of the odd time or two when I couldn't find the verses and I made up one or more to go with the old - or when I just plain old made up verses to add my own thoughts - it's that I have 'evolved' songs over the years to fit my emphasis or phrasing and until I re-read the originals, was blissfully unaware of my changes!

Please tell me this is why we call it folk music, and that I do not have to reveal this old habit in my next confession!


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Subject: RE: Is Lyric Creep a Sin?
From: MMario
Date: 30 Aug 99 - 10:32 AM

Is lyric creep a sin? That would depend on the person with whom you are conversing. I know people that would tell you that to change ONE word will condemn you to the hottest and highest fires for eternity...longer if possible.

And others who couldn't care the slightest....


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Subject: RE: Is Lyric Creep a Sin?
From: JedMarum
Date: 30 Aug 99 - 10:36 AM

chuckle@MMario.

I guess I am one of the former!


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Subject: RE: Is Lyric Creep a Sin?
From: Frank Hamilton
Date: 30 Aug 99 - 10:52 AM

Lyric creep? Changing lyrics is an essential part of the folk process. I would call it furthuring the tradition. I believe that all songs should have the option of being changed if someone feels disposed to do so. Folk songs were never carved in granite and I bring back Sam Hinton's reference to an evocative picture painted by Charles Seeger (eminent musicologist and Pete's dad) that a folk song on the page or on recording is like a photograph of a bird in flight. This might also be said for a single live performance as well.

Frank Hamilton


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Subject: RE: Is Lyric Creep a Sin?
From: catspaw49
Date: 30 Aug 99 - 10:52 AM

I would have to say that to me it is all a part of the "folk process" but anything more than a word of phrase is sin if it completely changes the meaning of the song and MUST be confessed to Father Joebro at the "Mudcat Shrine to the Holy Lyric" on Tuesdays from 6-9 PM (PST). The confessional is also open from 11 PM (PST) til dawn on Saturday night/Sunday morning.

For those of us committing sins of Creep, Sarcasm, Bad Punning, and the like, Father Joebro will also take confession at our other parish cathedral, the "Mudcat Church of Our Lady of the Unadulterated Crappola" on Thursdays from 3 PM til Midnight, as there is usually quite a line.

Spaw


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Subject: RE: Is Lyric Creep a Sin?
From: Art Thieme
Date: 30 Aug 99 - 10:58 AM

I'm one of the latter. No sin at all. Just happens. Much like life. Words--tune--change the lock--stock...:It's the same old gun.

Art


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Subject: RE: Is Lyric Creep a Sin?
From: Barbara
Date: 30 Aug 99 - 11:11 AM

It's funny, I've been pondering that same question, Liam. It certainly is "folk process". But is it right? (and it happens to the tune equally)
I've recently inherited the job of co-editing a newsletter songpage, and we started out with this goal of publishing the song as the author wrote it. [Of course!] But as we go along, I am discovering over and over that 1. I have not heard the original version of the song; 2.the song and tune have changed substantially over time, and 3. I like the changed version better.
I'm pretty sure it IS human nature to like the version of the song one hears first. Most of the time, anyway.
I guess I'd like us to publish both versions, the processed and unprocessed, but space is a concern, and then sometimes the song gets processed in several different ways.
Take the trad song "Going to the West" (can be found here with a forum search). Peggy Seeger popularized it, and I believe she is the person who changed the person leaving from male to female. ("You say you will not go with me/you turn your face away....)The song sat in someone's archives until for more than 100 years, and then surfaced. It's a tricky tune, too. It alternates between 2/4 and 3/4, and I imagine that, by now, someone has evened that out. Early on, grace notes were added and the first line pickup was made more accessable. Did that improve it? Good question.
I thank Bruce Olsen for making the original available to me, and he performs an invaluable service by collecting these.
I think it's kind of like heirloom seeds. We don't want to lose the original stock, but a lot of times the hybrids are much tastier. (And sometimes they are just pretty and bland and easier to market).

But there's another part of singing a song, and that is making it speak. The songs that I sing best are the ones that move me, and that is because they tell something that matters to me personally. So as I sing them, I put them into my language, sometimes without even realizing it.

A long time back, I heard Michael Cooney differentiate between 'performers' and 'storytellers' -- performers being more interested in the dynamics of the song and its presentation, and 'storytellers' being more interested in telling the story. He said he was one of the latter, as am I. Telling it right gets me that silence at the end, and a sigh maybe, before people applaud, or even move. Performers get ovations, cheers.

And finally, tunes and words change based on our ability. Should you not sing a song because it is too hard? Try it anyway? Should you simplify it? Do what you can remember?
I'd say, all of the above... depending on your audience.
Blessings,
Barbara


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Subject: RE: Is Lyric Creep a Sin?
From: Barbara
Date: 30 Aug 99 - 11:17 AM

And, 'spaw, I don't think your confessing your sins of omission and comission to Joebro is going to do you much good, based on what I heard happen to "The Key of R" when he got ahold of it....(grin)

It'd be sort of:
"Thank God the leak is in your end of the boat".


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Subject: RE: Is Lyric Creep a Sin?
From: JedMarum
Date: 30 Aug 99 - 11:23 AM

Barbara - I like your comments. Maybe the answer to the question "what stage in the evolution of this song do I write down?" is simply answered by selecting the version you like best (or want to record for one reason or another) and attribute the folk song version with an 'as sung by ...' sort of description, rather than trying to capture the pure original.


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Subject: RE: Is Lyric Creep a Sin?
From:
Date: 30 Aug 99 - 11:24 AM

I have two recordings, by successive generations of the Copper Family and on the later version of Warlike Seamen, the "younger" generation use the words "For us to cruise, and confuse against a daring foe," while the "older" lads sang "For us to cruise, and not refuse .."

The older version just made more sense both lyrically, and comported with naval orders ...

So my vote is at least make sense when you change the words (or know what you are singing about).

Of course out here in the desert, I am trying to make sense of a number of Geordie songs (before I even attempt to mouth the words).

Allahamdalla, Cheers, Brian


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Subject: RE: Is Lyric Creep a Sin?
From: Jeri
Date: 30 Aug 99 - 11:45 AM

This is a toughie for me. There are some folklorists who would have us put a halt to the folk process. People who study the various versions of a song and write them down in a book so no one may ever again change them and possibly start the process of creating a new variant. I've never run into one of these people in real life - only encountered them on the internet.

One thing that does bother me is when people intentionally change a song simply to put their stamp on it. They don't make it any better, and their purpose seems simply to say "I Am." Please note, this isn't the same thing as changing a word to make more sense or adding something that seems to be missing - people do that for the sake of the song, not their egos. No matter how irritated, insulted, or downright indignant I or anywone else gets, in the end, the only thing that matters is what people sing. The more choices there are, the more chance a song has for survival.

If the song doesn't ever change, it ain't oral tradition.


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Subject: RE: Is Lyric Creep a Sin?
From: Frank Hamilton
Date: 30 Aug 99 - 12:02 PM

One of my favorite versions of Barbara Allen has her "walking the highway home". That wasn't found in earlier versions. I won't sing a song I can't change in some way. Not because I have to do it for ego reasons, but more because I have to understand it better. I would try to avoid taking out specific references, though, that give the folk song it's special meaning. If I don't know what they are, I'll look them up, ask somebody or wait and not sing it until I know what they are. Some of the best traditional variants of folk song have come about through "lyric creep". The song adapts to new environments.

Frank Hamilton


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Subject: RE: Is Lyric Creep a Sin?
From: Bert
Date: 30 Aug 99 - 12:25 PM

I agree with Art on this one. It's just the way things are. You have to sing a song in a way that fits your style and personality and point of view.
Frank, I love that quote about 'a photograph of a bird in flight'.

Jeri, I guess that IS putting one's own stamp on it, but it shouldn't be a deliberate thing. It just happens that way. I made some changes when I sang Kat's song "That's not my Colorado". It wasn't to say that I didn't like the way she wrote it, it sounds just right for her when she sings it. It just didn't 'feel' right to me when I was singing it. A song can sound awkward and stilted if the words don't fit you. You have to tweak words here and there to fit your own heritage.

Bert.


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Subject: RE: Is Lyric Creep a Sin?
From: Peter T.
Date: 30 Aug 99 - 12:44 PM

I suppose this is all in the range of deep heresy, but an interesting similar question is whether or how you should change traditional folk songs to "clear them up" a bit, or is their slightly loose quality part of the the charm? I give two famous examples, in wonderful songs.
"Black is the Colour" of my true love's hair -- In some versions, this song repeats to not very good effect the lines "I love the ground on which she stands", and some of the later lines seem to me to be sort of filler. I wouldn't object to some snazzy new lines, especially in the 3rd, 4th verses.

"Lakes of Ponchartrain" -- This song is of course wonderful, but the story of the travels up to the point of meeting the Creole girl is more or less a mess. I have heard various mixes, but never one that cleanly gets the whole thing straight. For instance, the alligators get mentioned too early in some versions; in others, the trajectory across the swamps and railways doesn't make sense, and so on. It would be nice to have that part of the story work as well as the last few verses.
But this may all be mere bourgeous tidiness.
yours, Peter T.


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Subject: RE: Is Lyric Creep a Sin?
From: Margo
Date: 30 Aug 99 - 12:55 PM

Ah yes! Change is good! Here is why I added a couple of lines to an old sea song: The aged singer on the CD left out two lines either due to memory loss on someone's part somewhere along the way, or what have you. The entire song has four line stanzas. There is one stanza of two lines, and it sounds incomplete. So, I inserted words to complete the meter. My lines had to make sense as well. It was hard. :o)

It seems to me that some very good reasons are given above to change lyrics:

To have them make sense

To have the sex of the singer compatible with the lyrics (so she isn't singing about losing her)

Along the lines of making sense, I defiantly sing "ROLL" in the song "ROW BULLIES ROW", since I read that it is thought that the song collector misunderstood the word Roll for Row. After all, the ship pitches and rolls, nobody rows.

Another good reason to change lyrics is to consider your audience. There are words collected for the song "Hog Eye Man" that are "A big buck nigger with his sea boots on". Where would you feel comfortable singing that?

Yeah, change em, but let folks know about it. I love reading the sleeve notes in a CD where the artist reveals his sources and talks about such issues in songs.

Margarita


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Subject: RE: Is Lyric Creep a Sin?
From: Allan C.
Date: 30 Aug 99 - 03:03 PM

I have discovered that I can be looking right at the words - directly from the DT or wherever - and not sing what is written. This is not a new thing with me so I can't really write it off as symptomatic of my advancing age. I have no idea if it is because an alien suddenly takes over my body or what. All I know is that the words coming out of my mouth are usually recognizably similar to the written lyrics - but not quite the same. This doesn't always happen, but when it does, the "new" words always seem to make sense. So, for the most part, it doesn't bother me. But it sure irritates the hell out of whoever is trying to sing along with me! Maybe the forces within me want to hasten the folk process a bit. Or maybe it is just brain creep.


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Subject: RE: Is Lyric Creep a Sin?
From: Margo
Date: 30 Aug 99 - 07:21 PM

Definately brain creep. Mine does it all the time. Drives my husband crazy.

Margarita


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Subject: RE: Is Lyric Creep a Sin?
From: Sandy Paton
Date: 30 Aug 99 - 08:33 PM

I very rarely change a text deliberately, but I'm often shocked to go back after singing a song "as I learned it" for about thirty or forty years to discover how often it diverges from my source. Some changes occur, of course, simply because they allow the song to sing more easily for me, others have occurred through faulty memory alone, or because I read music even more poorly than I proof-read my Mudcat contributions.

Mea culpa, but innocently!

Sandy


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Subject: RE: Is Lyric Creep a Sin?
From: Bev and Jerry
Date: 30 Aug 99 - 09:03 PM

"A folksong in a book is like a picture of a bird in mid-flight printed in a bird book. The bird was moving before the picture was taken, and continued flying afterward. It is valuable for a scientific record to know when and where the picture was taken, but no one is so foolish as to think that the picture is the bird.

Thus also, the folk song in the book was changing for many generations before it was collected, and will keep on changing for many generations more, we trust. It is valuable for a scientific record to know when and where it was collected, but the picture of the song is not the song itself."

Pete Seeger, The Incompleat Folksinger (New York, Simon and Schuster, 1972) p145

Also, how about this:

"...the mass of a people participate in folk song's growth forever reweaving old materials to create new versions, much as an old lady creates a new quilt out of an old by adding, year by year, new scraps and patches. So folk song grows in small steps, with every slight change tested for audience reaction, thereby achieving a permanence in man's affection matched only by the greatest art. This art lives upon the lips of the multitude and is transmitted by the grapevine, surviving sometimes for centuries because it reflects so well the deepest emotional convictions of the common man. This is a truly democratic art, painting a portrait of the people unmatched for honesty and validity in any other record."

Alan Lomax, Folk Song USA (New York, The New American Library, 1947), viii.


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Subject: RE: Is Lyric Creep a Sin?
From: Roger in Baltimore
Date: 30 Aug 99 - 10:10 PM

That Pete Seeger. He sure knows something about folk music. Liam, lyric creep occurs. Just as the picture of the bird is not representative of the bird today, it does in some way represent the bird at the time of the picture. There are times when the singer may want to take the audience back to that time, to understand better the life the original singer led. Then the singer will want to adhere to the "original" lyrics as much as is humanly possible.

This could mean that you might include "nigger" in a song. However, I would think it would be more educational and less insulting if you explained your purpose in doing so. I don't think society should easily forget how easily such epithet could roll off the tongue and be accepted by so many. Songs can remind us of that.

Like Sandy, I am often amazed at the major changes I make in songs over the years when I think I am doing "picture perfect" renditions.

Liam, I think you have no chance of doing it exactly right, so do it the best you can do.

Roger in Baltimore


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Subject: RE: Is Lyric Creep a Sin?
From: Joe Offer
Date: 30 Aug 99 - 11:44 PM

I'm usually the one who defends the Rise Up Singing songbook, but I have to say that some of the lyrics changes in early editions of the songbook get me really angry. When first published, the book had all sorts of changes to make songs more politically correct. The more recent editions have done away with most of those changes, and I understand that Sing Out! will not allow any such changes in the second volume of the book, which will be published next year.
I do think that there are times when it's proper to change offensive lyrics, but there oughta be a darn good reason for making the change. But changing the lyrics to fit the singer is another matter - how else can the singer make the song his own?

...and it is my opinion that I did a wonderful job of making the "Key of R" my own...
Harumpf!!!!
-Joe Offer-


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Subject: RE: Is Lyric Creep a Sin?
From: Rick Fielding
Date: 30 Aug 99 - 11:53 PM

I am probably as guilty of "lyric creep" as anyone alive, and sometimes it amazes me just how FAR they creep over the passage of time. Virtually every ballad I learned when I was in my teens came from pretty repectable sources (I stayed away from things like "The Brothers' Four Big Book of Cool Old Folksongs") if not the actual Child collections themself. But as Sandy says, "faulty memory" started taking over immediately. I can put up with the flack of a trad. person telling me "I'm doin' it wrong", but where it becomes a trifle embarrasing is when I've inadvertantly completely changed a modern song (with it's author still breathing). Perhaps the most insane thing is when I was asked by my friend Cheryl why I had changed my OWN song from the way I'd recorded it! Same answer. Not by design, just bad memory. (but an ability to quickly make up a line and replace the one that was temporarily forgotten) If I don't re-learn the song immediately after the accidental change, then the new line probably will stay. It's a hell of a way to run a railroad!

Rick


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Subject: RE: Is Lyric Creep a Sin?
From: Barbara
Date: 31 Aug 99 - 12:43 AM

Rick, you just hit the nail on the head. Along with the ability to memorize things that rhyme, many of us have the ability to punt when that line evaporates just as you sing the one before it. Can't think how many times I plugged in something close that rhymes, and then failed to return to the original.

Pete's words about the snapshot of a bird in flight not being the bird... Seems to me that songs are onlysongs when they are sung... just for that length of time that they are carried from the voice to the ear. The flytracks on the stripes on the paper -- that's shorthand to aid the memory, but it isn't the sound.

Did I say it was BAD, Joe??? I don't think so. I just said it had moved a ways from the version I heard. It is, after all, about making a song your own. I just said that Catspaw shouldn't be asking absolution from another sinner as bad as he.
(Let he without sin among us cast the first shoe.)
Blessings,
Barbara


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Subject: RE: Is Lyric Creep a Sin?
From: rich r
Date: 31 Aug 99 - 01:20 AM

Rick's difficulty remembering his own songs brings up a fact that has always puzzled me. That is the discrepency between the lyrics sung on an album and the printed lyrics enclosed with the album. Sometimes it's just a word, but sometimes it is whole lines. Often the singer who is singing one set of words is the writer who wrote the other set. This cannot be attributed to a quick ad lib as the verses are galloping through the mind at a different speed from the song, because these are invariably studio recordings with multiple takes and ample time to get the two sets of lyrics in agreement.

rich r


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Subject: RE: Is Lyric Creep a Sin?
From: Rick Fielding
Date: 31 Aug 99 - 01:29 AM

Barbara, one night I was singing Leonard Cohen's "Suzanne" and my evil twin took over. It went something like:
Suzanne takes you down to her place by the river,
and she's wearing orange pyjamas that come all the way from Memphis,
And she feeds you muck and garbage with her fingers in a toaster,
And the sea pours down like honey from our lady in the drawer,
And she...etc.etc. Some in the audience (it was a bar) stared quizzically, but I think a few just thought it was Cohen's missing verse or something.
I'm thinking of crediting everything I do as: arranged by R.F. Even the ones I've written!


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Subject: RE: Is Lyric Creep a Sin?
From: Sandy Paton
Date: 31 Aug 99 - 01:44 AM

Gordon Bok almost always suggested that we include a disclaimer in the booklets that accompanied his records. Something to the effect of: "The words printed here are the ones I intended to sing. If they differ from those that are sung here, use the ones in the booklet."

Boy! Ask Rick how I can inadvertently change a song! I got a call from him after he had recorded a song he learned from me, a song by a well-known, living songmaker that I had learned (or thought I had learned) from one of the sopngmaker's very early recordings. Rick found the song in a songbook and tells me he wouldn't have recognized it! I knew that I had added one verse to give the song a locale, but I thought I was doing the rest of it pretty much the way I first heard it. Wrong! So when Rick gets sued for abusing the composer's artistry, I'm probably gonna have to make a bloody confession to get poor Rick off of the hook!

Anybody know how to bake a file into a cake?

Sandy (sweatin' it out)


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Subject: RE: Is Lyric Creep a Sin?
From: Bugsy
Date: 31 Aug 99 - 02:16 AM

Were it not for "Lyric Creep" there would be precious few "Folk Songs"

At least that's my humble view.

Bugsy


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Subject: RE: Is Lyric Creep a Sin?
From: Lorne Brown
Date: 31 Aug 99 - 09:39 AM

Ed McCurdy once told me, "Lorne, the folk process is another name for faulty memory." Lorne Brown


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Subject: RE: Is Lyric Creep a Sin?
From: Liam's Brother
Date: 31 Aug 99 - 10:55 AM

Hi Liam!

I wrote somewhere else a while ago that...

"Singers come in 3 categories: those who tell the tale precisely as they heard it, those who would only occasionally alter certain details to clarify the message, and those very individualistic singers who stamp much of their repetoire with their own trademark."

If you look through the great collections of folk songs, you will see evidence of the above. It's particularly noticeable when you look at North American variants of songs that migrated from Britain and Ireland. Some, for example, place names changed to American locales and others corrupted place names. John Moulden wrote here in a thread about The Greenfields of Canada here not long ago that Paddy Tunney had contributed quite a few phrases to certain of his songs. Another great, the late Joe Heaney, did not do that.

All the best,
Dan Milner


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Subject: RE: Is Lyric Creep a Sin?
From: JedMarum
Date: 31 Aug 99 - 11:29 AM

Liam's brother - as several others here have noted, and as part of my original comment in this thread, some of the evolution of songs I have been singing for years, while thinking I was singing the song faithful to its original lyrics have changed over time, unintentionally. I know sometimes I have changed a word here or there to fit my phrasing, or the odd change to suit my audiences frame of reference (like placenames in your comment) ... but I must say part of my original comment was driven by some of my more recent work.

I have been fitting some old songs to appropriate melodic and rhythym changes - and some of these changes have required lyric changes to make them fit. Perhaps I was feeling a bit guilty about the changes (though I believe they retain the character and intent of the originals).

I have heard some very distinct versions of old folk songs, and I believe this is the way they evolve - that is with particualr singers making significant modifications, on purpose. For example, I had learned a very different version indeed of the House of the Rising Sun, before the pop version hit the streets (which I am not sure is an improvement, but has become the defacto standard) - likewise for songs like Big Rock Candy Mountain, Wabash Cannonball, Green Grow the Lilacs ... the list goes on and on.

I had evolved my version of Stagolee over the years, thinking I was being true the version I learned as a child from Jerry Silverman book - and when I began to find two or three versions listed here (and elsewhere) with words I had never heard, and with meter that no longer fit my version ... I began to realize just how quickly a song can evolve, even when you are not trying! So in this case an accidental evolution has forced me purposely modify lyrics - if I want to add a verse or two from older versions. This seems to reasonable thing to do, and one which is commonly practiced.

And if a little 'creep' is OK, when accommodating accidental changes, maybe more purposefull changes are OK too. So when I though about mutating Rye Whiskey into a killer, driving finger picked 12 bar blues ... well, I guess I was looking for absolution before I sinned!


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Subject: Lyr Add: LAKES OF PONTCHARTRAIN
From: Art Thieme
Date: 31 Aug 99 - 11:29 AM

I'd sung "LAKES OF PONTCHARTRAIN" this way for a long time when I realized that the 3rd of January was our anniversary and it was now in the song.

This is sung to the tune of: "Come All You Tramps And Hawkers" (another change I guess).

It was on the third of January, I bid Cairo* town adieu,
Traveled down the river road my fortune to pursue.
No money in my pocket, no credit could I gain,
And my heart it turned with longing toward the Lakes of Pontchartrain.

I swung on board of an old boxcar just as the day did dawn.
I rode the rods from sun to sun, and I lit down again;
And as the shades of evening fell, the low ground I did gain,
And there I met the Creole girl on the banks of Pontchartrain.

I said, "My lovely Creole girl, my money does me no good.
If it were not for the alligators, I'd sleep out in the woods."
"You are welcome here, kind stranger, though our cottage is quite plain.
We never turn a stranger out to the wilds of Pontchartrain."

She took me into her mother's house, and she treated me right well.
Her hair hung down in ringlets and on her shoulders fell.
I tried to paint her beauty, but alas, it was in vain,
So handsome was my Creole girl on the banks of Pontchartrain.

I asked her if she would marry me, and she said that it never could be.
She said that she had a lover dear and he was out to sea.
She said that she had a lover dear, and there she would remain;
So I bid farewell to the Creole girl on the banks of Pontchartrain.

So adieu to you, my Creole girl, who I ne'er shall see no more;
But I'll ne'er forget your kind caress in that cottage by the shore.
And at each social gathering, a flowing bowl I'll drain,
And I'll drink a health to the Creole girl on the banks of Pontchartrain.
___________________________________________________
(Cairo is pronounced "KAY-RO" or sometimes "CARE-O" in Illinois. That town, at the southern tip of the state, is where the Ohio River joins the Mississippi River.)
_________________________________________________
Fleming Brown, who Frank mentioned earlier, had the worst association with words I ever saw. He was singing "THE GOLDEN VANITY"--back in '59. It's the great ballad about the warship that's threatened by another ship and the cabin boy swims over and sinks it by drilling holes under the water line. When he swims back, his own Captain won't take him on board---leaves him in the sea to drown. At one point, the cabin boy asks the captain what he'll give him to go over and sink the other ship. Fleming got as far as the line:

The Captain looked down, and the Captain he did lie,
5000 pounds and my daughter for your bride

At that point he sang one word wrong and made up a great line that did rhyme:

The Captain he looked down, and the Captain he did smile,
5000 pounds and my daughter for a while!

Fleming liked it so much he left it that way.

Art Thieme


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Subject: RE: Is Lyric Creep a Sin?
From: Rick Fielding
Date: 31 Aug 99 - 12:27 PM

If I had to list what I feel are the finest recently composed non-rock songs I'd be sure to include the magnificent "Mon Pays" (Mon Payee) by Quebec songwriter Gilles Vigneault. It is (to me) mindboggling in it's beauty. Music and lyrics describe the huge physical size and latent energy of Quebec so well. The song has been a rallying point for Quebec separatism (which I'm iffy on..but IT AIN'T MY CALL!) and if any Mudcatters can lay their hands on Vigneault's recording, I promise, you will be amazed.

In the late seventies, the most insipid English lyrics immaginable were written to this noble tune. It was called "From New York To L.A." and became a huge DISCO hit for Patsy Gallant.

If I ever had any doubts that the vast majority of the music business (including the folk music business) was fuelled by "money at all cost", they were dispelled when I heard that. Vigneault was first livid, then appeared totally crushed (despite the millions that would have come his way for the tune). He never again wrote anything that good.

Rick


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Subject: RE: Is Lyric Creep a Sin?
From: KathWestra
Date: 31 Aug 99 - 12:54 PM

I love the ideas that are spilling out in this thread -- thanks everybody! I very occasionally change a word or two(usually not more) in a song to make it easier to sing. When I do, particularly if it's a song whose author is known and living, I try to tell listeners what I've done so they have a choice of learning it the original way or my way. An example is the song "Total Strangers" by English songwriter Alan Bell. I learned the song from David Jones, who sings the last line of the chorus the way Bell wrote it: "Our time apart will be short, and pass." That "short, comma, and pass" is absolute hell to sing, although it reads just fine. My friend Bob Clayton suggested I change the line to: "Our time apart will be sure to pass." It's a great improvement in the chorus's singability (and a fine chorus it is!), so I've done it -- always crediting Bob with the suggestion, and Alan Bell with the original.

Other lyric creep (and there is much in the songs I sing) is attributable mostly to middle age, not intention.


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Subject: RE: Is Lyric Creep a Sin?
From: Tiger
Date: 31 Aug 99 - 01:35 PM

Even the original authors may vary the words or sequences (with their OWN stuff) from performance to performance. Notable examples in my collection (where several versions are available): Paul Simon, Leadbelly, Dave Van Ronk.


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Subject: RE: Is Lyric Creep a Sin?
From: Roger in Baltimore
Date: 31 Aug 99 - 03:02 PM

Lead Belly is a great example of lyric creep. His personal tradition was an oral one. I have seen no mention in his biography of his writing songs down. He just sang 'em and sang 'em. Being as human as the rest of us, his lyrics changed over time.

It is clear from his biography that Lead Belly would make lyric changes to would endear himself to a particular audience or to fit their expectations. I bet some of the changes remained when they were particularly well-received.

There are many Lead Belly songs which were recorded numerous times, and yet each is different. Therefore there is seldom a "definitive" version of a Lead Belly song. Of course, Lomax put out that Lead Belly song book, but it only represents that "snap shot of the bird in flight", so to speak.

If you listen to Lomax's other collections and then read the lyrics he provided, it is clear he (or his transcriptionist) "got it wrong" many times. Makes you wonder if Child "got it wrong" sometimes also.

It seems that most agree that a song is a living breathing thing and each person will in some way change it as it passes through them.

Roger in Baltimore


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Subject: RE: Is Lyric Creep a Sin?
From: Liam's Brother
Date: 31 Aug 99 - 03:30 PM

Lyric creep is not a sin. Purposeful changes are not a sin... provided the song is not RUINED (read 'ruined' not 'altered') in the process.

All the best,
Dan


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Subject: RE: Is Lyric Creep a Sin?
From: Barbara
Date: 31 Aug 99 - 03:32 PM

When I look at some of the sites that have the "original" as collected by someone, I often wonder about that person's ability to transcribe a tune. Like the archived text provided by Bruce O on "Going to the West". Taken from Folksongs of Alabama, it begins: "me-so-so-me" as a pickup to the higher "do", and my ear has trouble with that. Here's the blue clicky thing if you want to have a look. The first line sure doesn't make musical sense to me, and apparently it doesn't to others either, since it's about the first thing that was changed when people started performing it.
I've also got to say that my recent experience as a transcriber has added to my doubts about other's abilities. I'm working on one of Helen Kivnick's songs right now and I keep getting stuck on questions like "was that a dotted quarter, an eighth and a quarter, or was it a half note and two eighths?"
I used to be a news reporter. I'd identify myself as a writer and when people would ask: "Fiction or non-fiction?", I'd reply, "Non-fiction, if you believe in the difference".

I'm starting to suspect transcribing songs is a bit that way, too. You never get what the person sang, just what I heard.
Blessings,
Barbara


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Subject: RE: Is Lyric Creep a Sin?
From: JedMarum
Date: 31 Aug 99 - 06:00 PM

WOW - What a life of its own this thread has developed! Great thoughts, great comments. I'm glad I asked the question! Thanks, y'all!


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Subject: RE: Is Lyric Creep a Sin?
From: Bill D
Date: 31 Aug 99 - 07:37 PM

as a certified 'folk facist', *grin*, I find I am not nearly so reactionary as I thought I was....I like 'folk/trad' music precisely BECAUSE of certain styles, tunes, concepts, language, stories, etc...so, for me gratuitous change defeats the purpose. Yet, even I will change a word here & there when it just seems to make more sense..(sometimes, it doesn't make sense because MY source had messed it up...and I find I am unconciously heading BACK toward the way it was written!)......I believe firmly that, much as Kathy Westra said above, one should strive to KNOW as much as possible about how a song 'was'...even if you feel a need to 'make it your own' or simply make it easier to sing. On the other hand, I have little tolerance for those who feel a personal 'need' to 'mess' with every song they sing, so as to 'stamp' it with their arrangement. This seems to be a particular problem with some who make records-they feel that they MUST have an identifiable version of a song...be it new or 'trad'...and this is one of the major sources of SERIOUS lyric and tune creep...if a reasonably famous artist records a song, there will be those who have NO clue how it used to be, no matter whether it is better or really screwed up...and forever after you get...("well, gosh,..that ain't the way I heard Joan Baez do it"). Bluegrass is especailly bad about this...they would double-time "Lorena"...with banjo breaks!...I know, I know...there ain't no law agin' it...still.....

all that being said, yes..even I do 'touch up' a song a bit...that IS the folk process...what I dislike is when the 'folk processor' is set on 'puree'....


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Subject: RE: Is Lyric Creep a Sin?
From: Charlie Baum
Date: 01 Sep 99 - 12:45 AM

It seems to me that deliberate changes are okay, as long as you admit to them. That's taking a folk song and making it your own, which is what folk music is about.

Accidental changes are okay, too. That's the folk process, where songs get changed unwittingly for reasons that provide folklorists and other scholars with material to study.

And preserving the song accurately has a virtue when your aim is to present the song "[insert title here]" as [insert performer(s) or informant(s) here] sang it. Some of us will try to perform songs the old way, essentially as a museum-like demonstration, and that is the only context under which lyric creep is truly to be avoided.

And Barbara (Blessings)--I'd like to disagree with your quote from Michael Cooney above; I've discovered that I can use all of my performer skills, paying attention to dynamics and tempo and voicings and whatnot, to hone a presentation so it becomes a story that's told. All the skills of the performer need to be there to tell the story. It's just that the focus needs to stay on the song and not the singer.

--Charlie Baum


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Subject: RE: Is Lyric Creep a Sin?
From: Rick Fielding
Date: 01 Sep 99 - 01:32 AM

Bravo Charlie. To me the key thing either live or on a recording is to acknowledge your source, and indicate whether you've changed things substantially. Oddly enough, although I find it a bit silly when someone makes a point of telling someone else that they've sung a "wrong" line or word, I get totally pissed-off when someone with an "in your face" attitude wrongly credits a song, simply because they've never taken the time to dig beneath the surface. Everyday of my life since I first heard a "folk" song has been a learning experience, and I expect to keep learning till I croak.

Rick


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Subject: RE: Is Lyric Creep a Sin?
From: Barbara
Date: 01 Sep 99 - 12:08 PM

Maybe I didn't use the right words, Charlie, because I certainly agree with what you said. "Telling the story" isn't just sitting down and rattling it off -- it involves a lot of performance skill. Perhaps it whether one does it with heart?

What you said also is making me think that I might be confusing some of my personal prejudices with "good taste" in general(Just like a lot of those English philosopher types like Berkeley and Hume and Locke). Let me think about this.

Blessings,
Barbara


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Subject: RE: Is Lyric Creep a Sin?
From: Bat Goddess
Date: 01 Sep 99 - 12:33 PM

For me mostly it's brain creep. I'm constantly amazed when I give someone else the words to a song I do (and it's the same set I learned from) that I no longer sing it exactly the same way. The synapses synapsed and this was the result. It's "mostly harmless." It's unintentional and the meaning of the song hasn't changed.

Occasionally it's necessary to change a referance or wording to avoid a wrong interpretation or term that is no longer acceptable to politically correct ears, but the change is minor. I've also tweaked content to change the gender of the singer, but not often as it usually isn't appropriate or necessary. I sing plenty of songs from a male point of view.

Linn


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Subject: RE: Is Lyric Creep a Sin?
From: Rick Fielding
Date: 02 Sep 99 - 02:06 AM

Linn, for whatever reason I've never changed the gender in some of the songs I do. Lots of times I'm not even sure from who's perspective the story is coming from. The most obvious one that comes to mind is The Animals changing "House of the Rising Sun" to a male perspective when it (and it's noble antecedants) were always from the female point of view. They learned it from Bob Dylan, who learned it from Dave Van Ronk, but changed "poor girl" to "poor boy". Hell of a Farfisa organ part though!

Rick


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Subject: RE: Is Lyric Creep a Sin?
From: Pete Peterson
Date: 02 Sep 99 - 11:15 AM

Great thread! My own way of doing things-- When I have learned a song from a particular source I try to do it as close as I can to the way I heard that recording (or memory) -- this leads to discussions with fellow Carter Family fans whether in Little Moses the Jews "safely crossed" or "stepped across" and with Charlie Poole freaks whether the Gypsy Girl's husband led her to a pleasant quiet shore, a pleasant white shore, or a pleasant (quite) shore! But when what I have learned is a generic version I don't think I ever sing it the same way twice. John Henry is longer or shorter depending on how detailed you want the story to be. OTOH the Big Bend Gal always does the same things (except for bowlderization from the original Shelor Family)


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Subject: RE: Is Lyric Creep a Sin?
From: Don Firth
Date: 02 Sep 99 - 04:21 PM

I'm just new online, and I'm finding all kinds of great stuff. Terrific discussion! Thought I'd put my two-bits in for what it's worth. I first got interested in folk music in about 1952 or so (Sandy Paton was in Seattle at the time and that's where I met him -- Hi, Sandy!!). In 1958 at the University of Washington I took English 401: "The Popular Ballad" from Prof. David C. Fowler, an avid ballad scholar. Turned out there were a couple of other folksingers in the class besides me, and the classes sometimes developed into songfests. At the end of the quarter, one of the singers hosted a party for the class in her home. Those who had musical instruments brought them, goodies were served, and we spent most of the evening singing songs and ballads. Dr. Fowler asked if anyone there knew a version of "The Gypsy Laddie"--Child #200. I responded that I did, and proceeded to sing "The Wraggle-Taggle Gypsies," which I had learned a few years before from one of Susan Reed's records. As a rule, I try to sing songs and ballads as I learned them. But (subject of this discussion), for whatever reason, lyric creep does occur. In this case I had made a deliberate change in the words. I had been singing it--with the change--for a couple of years and that's the way I sang it that evening, forgetting that the ending I used was not the traditional one. Dr. Fowler's eyebrows went up. "Where did you learn that version?" he asked. Uh oh, I thought. There goes my standing as a singer of traditional ballads. I confessed that a friend of mine and I had--uh--made a small change in Susan Reed's version. One evening, shortly after I'd learned the song, a friend (Dick Landberg) and I sat in the Coffee Corral and went over the words. Dick and I both agreed that, dramatic as the song was, it lacked a certain punch at the end. The second to last verse, from the viewpoint of the woman, goes

"Last night I slept in a goosefeather bed "With the sheets turned down so bravely-oh. "Tonight I'll sleep in a cold open field "Along with the wraggle-taggle gypsies-oh."

Then the last verse repeats the exact same words from the narrator's viewpoint--in the third person and without quotes. The ending struck us as a bit lame. Why repeat the verse at all? But if. . . . I don't recall which of us came up with the idea. As we brainstormed, I think it hit us both at once. We changed one word in the repeated verse. Now, it went

"Last night she slept in a goosefeather bed "With the sheets turned down so bravely-oh. "Tonight she sleeps in a cold open *grave* "Along with the wraggle-taggle gypsies-oh."

Cold chills. That, we concurred, rounds off the story with the dramatic punch we felt was missing. And that sort of ending is characteristic of many ballads. It was a traditional ballad at least a couple hundred years old--and Dick and I had changed the words. I threw myself on Dr. Fowler's mercy and awaited judgment. "I like it," he said. "I don't know, but there may be versions already in existence that end that way. It makes sense dramatically and it does lend impact to the ending." "But I'm not sure that I should be making changes in traditional ballads," I said. "I don't believe field collectors and scholars should make changes," he said, "even though some of the early ones did, thinking they were 'improving' them. Poor scholarship, really. But performers--now, I think that's different. Changes should not be made indiscriminately, but if you have a good reason for it, then why not, if it makes a better story? Minstrel's prerogative. Minstrels and traditional folksingers often altered words for the very same reason you did." I knew that what Dr. Fowler said was true. I felt guilty and vindicated at the same time. Just thought I'd pass that along.

Cheers, Don Firth


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Subject: RE: Is Lyric Creep a Sin?
From: Bert
Date: 02 Sep 99 - 05:31 PM

Hi Don Firth, Welcome to Mudcat. That's a great story.

"Minstrel's prerogative" - Hmmm, does that give me an excuse to steal that phrase?

Ber.


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Subject: RE: Is Lyric Creep a Sin?
From: Bev and Jerry
Date: 02 Sep 99 - 11:44 PM

Don:

What a coincidence! Last night we were rehearsing The Wraggle Taggle Gypsies for the first time in several months (at least) and got stuck on the words. We went to our written version to refresh our ever-diminishing minds and came across that same verse. We looked at each other and said "goosefeather bed"? We've been singing (incorrectly) "warm feather bed" for so long that "goosefeather" didn't even look familiar.

Talk about your lyric creep. This is creepy.

Bev and Jerry


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Subject: RE: Is Lyric Creep a Sin?
From: Roger the zimmer
Date: 03 Sep 99 - 08:49 AM

Coincidentally I was reading the foreword to Michael Raven's latest book of songs and settings (Land of lost Content 1999 isbn 0 906114322). He says:"...readers should feel free to alter anything in a song with which they feel uncomfortable. Use completely different tunes, change words or leave out verses, if you please. This is how some of our most beautiful folk songs have been created."


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Subject: RE: Is Lyric Creep a Sin?
From: dick greenhaus
Date: 03 Sep 99 - 08:58 AM

Tradition is entered in a very simple way; changes are thrown against the wall, and whatever sticks, becomes part of tradition.


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Subject: RE: Is Lyric Creep a Sin?
From: catspaw49
Date: 03 Sep 99 - 09:26 AM

This thread has gone far better than many of our others of this ilk I must admit. The other night it occurred to me how much we talk about everything and can define nothing. I think it was on the "Contra-Country Dance " thread where I sugggested we combine the "works" and have "Reel Folk," "Contra-Traditional" and "Morris the Songwriter." But this thread may have moved into new territory.

Welcome Don Firth, and thanks for your story! Dr. Fowler made much sense, as do Sandy, Dick and others, but it was a refreshing way to hear it. And I'm with Bert. Well not literally, who in the hell could stand that? But I too love that phrase and intend, like Bert, to steal it in the best folk tradition! Stick around the 'Cat Don, contribute whenever and wherever you can. This is a great bunch of folks and we're happy to have you in the Village.

Spaw


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