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Hunting hidden meanings

MGM·Lion 17 Oct 12 - 06:09 AM
John MacKenzie 17 Oct 12 - 06:16 AM
MGM·Lion 17 Oct 12 - 06:55 AM
greg stephens 17 Oct 12 - 07:12 AM
greg stephens 17 Oct 12 - 07:18 AM
MGM·Lion 17 Oct 12 - 01:08 PM
GUEST,999 17 Oct 12 - 01:30 PM
Steve Gardham 17 Oct 12 - 02:56 PM
GUEST,999 17 Oct 12 - 02:57 PM
Steve Gardham 17 Oct 12 - 03:03 PM
Jim Carroll 17 Oct 12 - 03:31 PM
MGM·Lion 17 Oct 12 - 03:36 PM
GUEST,Blandiver 17 Oct 12 - 03:50 PM
Steve Gardham 17 Oct 12 - 06:38 PM
gnomad 17 Oct 12 - 07:04 PM
Elmore 17 Oct 12 - 07:54 PM
meself 18 Oct 12 - 01:06 AM
MGM·Lion 18 Oct 12 - 03:59 AM
Steve Gardham 18 Oct 12 - 01:34 PM
meself 18 Oct 12 - 02:08 PM
MGM·Lion 18 Oct 12 - 02:27 PM
Steve Gardham 18 Oct 12 - 05:34 PM
MGM·Lion 19 Oct 12 - 12:37 AM
GUEST,SteveT 19 Oct 12 - 09:25 AM
Steve Gardham 19 Oct 12 - 10:39 AM
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Subject: Hunting hidden meanings
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 17 Oct 12 - 06:09 AM

I had a bit of a passage of arms, now amicably settled, with Mike Yates and Steve Gardham on the current Foggy Dew thread, over their thinking I was fond of 'seeking hidden meanings' when I had only cited another fella {James Reeves} having done so.

It is not something I do in general, preferring to let the surface meaning do its work and tell the tale. But every now and then I confess I do feel that some interpretation could add interesting overtones.

One example: the quite widespread "Twenty eighteen sixteen fourteen" chorus always suggests to me magic and spells, notoriously often done with reversal of rituals like saying the Lord's Prayer backwards to cast a curse. So when the "20 18 ..." chorus occurs, I look to see if it is being used in the context of a song which might have some magic implications, or if it just fits the tune & got in because some singer during a song's development thought it would sound good there.

You get it in many versions of "Spanish Lady" and I have always preferred it to the simple alternative "Wack-fol" chorus. (See version on my youtube channel, which was included in last set of Mudcat records). I like it for its suggestion that the Spanish Lady might well be a witch casting her spell on the narrator. Entirely fanciful? I think not; seems to me one occasion where a hidden-meaning hunt might be appropriate.

Who agrees? Any other examples?

~Michael~


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Subject: RE: Hunting hidden meanings
From: John MacKenzie
Date: 17 Oct 12 - 06:16 AM

I always liked.

But what's it to any man whether or no
Whether I'm easy or whether I'm true
As I lifted her petticoat easy and slow.
And I rolled up me sleeve for to buckle her shoe.

and

Between the hours of twelve and two
The lock it opened and the key went through.

More prurient than supernatural, but fun nonetheless.


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Subject: RE: Hunting hidden meanings
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 17 Oct 12 - 06:55 AM

V nice agreed, John. But I think one had better maintain a distinction afap between symbolism and euphemism ~~ tho they will certainly frequently overlap.

~M~


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Subject: RE: Hunting hidden meanings
From: greg stephens
Date: 17 Oct 12 - 07:12 AM

John MacK: in your examples,I don't think the meanings were hidden very successfully!


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Subject: RE: Hunting hidden meanings
From: greg stephens
Date: 17 Oct 12 - 07:18 AM

OK, here's one to get your teeth into.
O where is St. George,
O, where is he O?
He is out in his long-boat all on the salt sea O.
Up flies the kite and down falls the lark O,
Aunt Ursula Birdhood she had an old ewe
And she died in her own Park O.

Whjat's that all about eh? A relic of an ancient hymn to the Great Earth Mother? The drunken ramblings of a Cornishman with an inadequate grasp of the English language? Something translated from the Serbo-Croat by a computer?


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Subject: RE: Hunting hidden meanings
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 17 Oct 12 - 01:08 PM

How about my other OP question, my perception of the 'backward-counting' chorus, even #s then odd, as deriving from some sort of traditional satanic or magic ritual? Anyone an opinion on that?

~M~


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Subject: RE: Hunting hidden meanings
From: GUEST,999
Date: 17 Oct 12 - 01:30 PM

abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz1234567890

There are lots of hidden messages in the above.


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Subject: RE: Hunting hidden meanings
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 17 Oct 12 - 02:56 PM

That was naughty, 999. Now if we were to turn you upside down you'd have much more symbolism.

Okay, Michael, as you would expect, here's my take. It's the equivalent of a tongue-twister to demonstrate that the singer can do something clever that everyone else can quickly pick up and be equally clever with. Hidden meaning? Come on!


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Subject: RE: Hunting hidden meanings
From: GUEST,999
Date: 17 Oct 12 - 02:57 PM

Steve, I'd have to move to Australia.


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Subject: RE: Hunting hidden meanings
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 17 Oct 12 - 03:03 PM

greg,
More likely than hidden meanings in this case is a whole series of mondegreens. St George might have been originally 'old George' a local fisherman. The line that is most likely a mondegreen and might have tied the rest together is 'Aunt Ursula Birdwood'. Without other more cohesive versions to compare with it's anybody's guess, but it could be fun trying.


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Subject: RE: Hunting hidden meanings
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 17 Oct 12 - 03:31 PM

Hunting hidden meanings can be fun - but it's a pastime that should come with a health warning, as shown by this piece of far-flung and elitist nonsense - a note by Phillips Barry to one of our most beautiful songs of 'domestic tragedy' - The Lakes of Coolfinn (or Col Fin in this version from The New Green Mountain Songster)
Jim Carroll

"From Lilith, the wild woman of perilous love, and Morgain la Fee, to the mood of a street ballad about one of the many Irish youths who have lost their lives in fresh water, is a long leap. But "The Lakes of Col Fin" takes it. Irish singers understand the lore of the ballad perfectly: Willie was not "drowned"; he was taken away to Tir fa Tonn, "Fairyland-under-wave," by a water woman who had fallen in love with him. Legends of similar content are frequent in Middle Irish literature and have survived into modern popular tradition. We may compare Motherwell's, "The Mermayden," whose "bower is biggit o' the gude ships' keels, and the banes o' the drowned at sea"—a grim picture of the supernatural woman's cruelty in love, which the poet nicely caught—and Leyden's "The Mermaid of Corrievrekan," with a happy ending wrought by a clever hero who inveigles the mermaid into taking him back to bid farewell to his former love, "the maid of Colonsay." Both poems were based on local traditions and legends.
Popular tradition, however, does not mean popular origin. In the case of our ballad, the underlying folklore is Irish de facto, but not de iure: the ballad is of Oriental and literary origin, and has sunk to the level of the "folk" which has the keeping of folklore. To put it in a single phrase, memory not invention, is the func¬tion of the folk.
"The Lakes of Col Fin" was first printed by Dr. P. W. Joyce in 1872, in a version, with the air, obtained from a County Limerick singer. A full history of the ballad and of the folk tradition pertaining to it is in FSSNE, Bulletin No. 8, pp. 9— 12.
Mrs. Flanders met this ballad as "The Lakes of Champlain" while talking about old songs with Mrs. Herbert Haley of Cuttingsville, Vermont. Mrs. Haley sang the words to the tune of "The Dying Cowboy" and had been told that the drowned boy was "Willie Lanard," well known to the person who gave her the song."


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Subject: RE: Hunting hidden meanings
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 17 Oct 12 - 03:36 PM

Ah, now Steve ~~ remember Thurber's moral: You might as well fall flat on your face as bend over too far backwards". There are traditions, as you are well aware, of spells and satanic rituals involving reversals of normal sequences: esp, but not exclusively, the Lord's Prayer and other prayers: referred to in Huckleberry Finn and Allan Quatermain in my instant recollection. Numbers are magic things sometimes. I think you might just be a bit over disingenuous here. I am not urging anything, but just postulating a possibility which strikes me as suggestive in the context of this particular song. What, to go a bit further, the significance of her being 'Spanish'? = Romany, maybe? Maybe refs the Armada, you might say: bit late for that. And "Just because it sez so in the song" would be a pathetic cop-out. Certainly undertones of something a bit outré and 'other' there, seems to me.

Remember also that tongue twisters can have deeper uses than mere amusement or ingenuity ~~ as shibboleths, for instance.

I accept the 'let's be clever' you suggest. But no law sez things have to be that simply univocal or unambiguous. Room for more than one meaning, you know.

~M~


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Subject: RE: Hunting hidden meanings
From: GUEST,Blandiver
Date: 17 Oct 12 - 03:50 PM

Shame Mudcat doesn't offer a Fakelore prefix.

Mind you, I'll accept Seeds of Love (etc.) is just a load of cunningly circumlocuted knob-gags to as to sing such smut in front a mixed family audience. But symbolic? Schymbollocks! Such thinking has blighted Folklore since The Golden Bough & forms the foundation of much Neo-Pagan thought to this day in which every natural thing is prescribed a symbolic meaning.

The notion that folkloric customs, ceremonies & songs consists of survivals of anything pagan / occult is part and parcel of a particularly bourgeois conceit that believes the gubby rustics who perpetuated it were entirely ignorant of its true significance. It's an odious notion, one that has been proved false time and time again.

Next you'll be telling us Ring a Roses is a reportage on the symptoms of the Black Death...


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Subject: RE: Hunting hidden meanings
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 17 Oct 12 - 06:38 PM

The 20-18 chorus very likely has attached itself to a very few versions of the song Ripest Apples, Roud 542, of which there are numerous versions, many many more without this chorus. The 18th century printed versions have no chorus and form a simple country dialogue, very likely from one of the 18th century pastoral operettas such as 'Love in a Village'


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Subject: RE: Hunting hidden meanings
From: gnomad
Date: 17 Oct 12 - 07:04 PM

Conjuring obscure meanings for old songs can be a fine mental exercise, and fun with it, but I doubt that one will stumble upon the truth very often.

Speculation is fine, but 'Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar'.


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Subject: RE: Hunting hidden meanings
From: Elmore
Date: 17 Oct 12 - 07:54 PM

How about Leonard Cohen's "giving me head on the unmade bed", from his song, "Chelsea Hotel" ? Is that line obscure enough?


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Subject: RE: Hunting hidden meanings
From: meself
Date: 18 Oct 12 - 01:06 AM

Archie Fisher recorded a song with the chorus:

19, 17, 15, 13,
11, 9, 7 and a 5, 3, 1,
20, 18, 16, 14,
12, 10, 8, 6, 4, 2, none;
Round & round go the wheels of fortune,
Round & round till they weary me;
Young women's hearts are so uncertain,
Sad experience teaches me.

No reference to anything Spanish in the song. In the notes, it was explained that the numbers in their arrangement were meant to suggest a 'wheel of fortune' that might be in a carnival game.


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Subject: RE: Hunting hidden meanings
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 18 Oct 12 - 03:59 AM

OK, meself and Steve; the formula doesn't bear the possible interpretation I put on it in the songs you mention. Who claimed it did?

"...when the "20 18 ..." chorus occurs, I look to see if it is being used in the context of a song which might have some magic implications, or if it just fits the tune & got in because some singer during a song's development thought it would sound good there",

was what I wrote in the OP; my point being, I thought I had made clear (what part of 'if' do you not understand?, as they say), that the chorus might have originated as some such formula as I suggest, but become adopted to other contexts where some singers have just liked the sound of it: or where it might have had a demonstrable appropriateness in another interpretation, which I have always assumed to be the case in the Wheel Of Fortune song.

This still seems to me a viable suggestion - no more; in no way excluding the probable existence in most cases of a cigar's univocality!

~M~


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Subject: RE: Hunting hidden meanings
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 18 Oct 12 - 01:34 PM

Absolutely, Michael. All I'm doing is trying to present examples from my angle. If you come up with some proof or even likelihood I'll be all ears.


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Subject: RE: Hunting hidden meanings
From: meself
Date: 18 Oct 12 - 02:08 PM

And I couldn't care less - I just thought you might be interested in an example of the numeric formula in a context with which you might be unfamiliar, and in an anonymous commentator's explanation of same. I seem to have been mistaken.


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Subject: RE: Hunting hidden meanings
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 18 Oct 12 - 02:27 PM

Likelihood: presence of such elements of witchcraft as backward recitation of standard formula; alchemical elements - "golden net"' "silver comb"; fascination* [in literal sense**] by exotic female figure. I should put these elements forward as at least presenting a possibility worth consideration. "Likelihood" perhaps liable to be in the eye of the beholder?
        
fascinate  [fas-uh-neyt]
Part of Speech:         verb
Definition:         captivate, **hold spellbound


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Subject: RE: Hunting hidden meanings
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 18 Oct 12 - 05:34 PM

Here's an example perhaps worthy of consideration, although if there is something like symbolism present it's possibly euphemism. How overt it might be is debatable and of its own time no doubt which would be early 19th century.

The Flowers of Maiden Lane
Printed and sold by J. Pitts 14, Great St Andrew street 7 dials

Bonnie lassie, will ye go? will ye go? will ye go?
Bonnie lassie? to the pinks of Maiden Lane
The sun does in the heaven lour
Imbibing from the earth the shower
That has fallen in the bower
Among the pinks of Maiden Lane!
         Bonnie lassie &c

The cloud that o'er the earth doth rise,
No longer o'er each flower flies
The brightest hue of nature lies
On the pinks of Maiden Lane.
         Bonnie lassie &c

The merry birds do now upspring
And in the waters wet the wing
At break of day they gaily sing
Among the pinks of Maiden Lane
         Bonnie lassie &c.

The old wife Joan the bell doth pull
To tell the drowsy maiden cull
Flowers besides a nosegay full
among the pinks of Maiden Lane
         Bonnie lassie &c.

The ruddy maiden now is gone,
To walk with joy upon the lawn
Flowers to cull, but ah, pluck the thorn,
Among the pinks of Maiden Lane
Bonnie lassie &c. do not go, do not go
To cull the pinks in Maiden Lane.

'Maiden Lane' 'pluck the thorn' hmmm!


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Subject: RE: Hunting hidden meanings
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 19 Oct 12 - 12:37 AM

Meself ~~ of course I was interested; I shouldn't have replied, appreciating your point [I thought], if I hadn't been. Many thanks for your contribution.

~M~


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Subject: RE: Hunting hidden meanings
From: GUEST,SteveT
Date: 19 Oct 12 - 09:25 AM

I too enjoy looking for these hidden meanings. I've recently re-acquired a new copy of Folklore in the English and Scottish Popular Ballads by Lowry Charles Wimberly – a book I had owned but loaned to someone in the late 60s and not seen since. It has some fascinating flights of fancy about hidden references to magic and myth in some of the Child ballads.

As for the counting down chorus though – I'm not convinced. Whilst the reversal of the Lord's Prayer is an oft-quoted part of a satanic mass, there is little evidence that I'm aware of that this ritual was ever practiced by "ordinary folk", rather than 18th Century drunken "intellectuals". I think you would need to look to folk-magic, the use of herbs such as practiced by wise-women/cunning-men and belief in an otherworld of spirits, rather than the high magic spells and incantations of the Crowleys and Dennis Wheatleys, to find examples embedded in folk song. Perhaps the mediaeval interest in riddles and tongue-twisters is a more profitable source of explanation for some of the more obscure choruses


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Subject: RE: Hunting hidden meanings
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 19 Oct 12 - 10:39 AM

Some useful points there, SteveT.


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