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origins: The Dutchman (Michael Smith): meanings?

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DEAD EGYPTIAN BLUES
I DIG SEX
THE DUTCHMAN
VAMPIRE


Related threads:
Lyr/Chords: Wonderful World of Sex (Michael Smith) (14)
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Lyr Req: The Princess & the Frog (Michael Smith) (7)
Lyr Req: Crazy Mary (Michael Smith) (12)
Lyr Req: Spoon River (Michael Smith) (24)
Chords Req: The Dutchman (Michael Smith) (14)
Chord Req: Crazy Mary (Michael Smith) (4)
Chord Req: Michael K. Smith's 'Last Day In Pompeii (8)
Lyr/Chords Req: Elizabeth Dark (Michael Smith) (15)
New Michael Smith (2)
Michael Peter Smith from Chicago. (27)
Lyr Req: zuider zee (The Dutchman) (14)
Michael Smith concert... (16)
Lyr Req: Dead Egyptian Blues (Michael Smith) (9)
Chorus: Let us go to the banks of the ocean (3) (closed)
Song Title Req: Irish, contains 'Zuyder Zee' (4) (closed)


Blackcatter 16 Jan 04 - 11:03 PM
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Arkie 17 Jan 04 - 09:53 PM
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Blackcatter 17 Jan 04 - 11:46 PM
Joe Offer 18 Jan 04 - 03:23 AM
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McGrath of Harlow 18 Jan 04 - 05:39 PM
Barbara 18 Jan 04 - 07:24 PM
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curmudgeon 18 Jan 04 - 08:21 PM
Big Mick 18 Jan 04 - 08:28 PM
Susanne (skw) 18 Jan 04 - 09:20 PM
Joe Offer 18 Jan 04 - 09:33 PM
Blackcatter 18 Jan 04 - 10:26 PM
McGrath of Harlow 19 Jan 04 - 11:12 AM
Sandy Mc Lean 19 Jan 04 - 11:58 AM
Amos 19 Jan 04 - 01:52 PM
Bill Hahn//\\ 19 Jan 04 - 07:14 PM
Joe Offer 19 Jan 04 - 07:36 PM
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Melani 20 Jan 04 - 12:23 AM
GUEST,Andrea 27 Feb 04 - 04:42 PM
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Subject: The Dutchman (M. Smith): meanings?
From: Blackcatter
Date: 16 Jan 04 - 11:03 PM

Hello all,

My music partner and I were recently working on Michael Smith's The Dutchman and we were wondering what the true story was behind the song. We get the jist (as another Mudcatter said on an earlier thread: "This song, The Dutchman, is about enduring love. In the song, Margaret is the loving care giver to her husband who appears to be suffering from madness or dementia or Alzhemier's disease, one or the other and of the moments when there is a glimpse of recognition to their history."

Anyone know the real story?

Thanks in advance.


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Subject: RE: The Dutchman (M. Smith): meanings?
From: Blackcatter
Date: 16 Jan 04 - 11:13 PM

Sorry - the quote above was from Ellen in a previous Dutchman thread.


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Subject: RE: The Dutchman (M. Smith): meanings?
From: Arkie
Date: 17 Jan 04 - 09:53 PM

I would have expected quite a few responses to this. It has been discussed here before and you might locate that thread. I consider this an excellent song and it has long been a favorite of mine. When I first heard the Dutchman I had not heard of Mudcat and asked other folk who were pretty knowledgable about contemporary music and the best I can remember there is no real story behind the song. Surely something inspired it though.

Good luck.


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Subject: RE: The Dutchman (M. Smith): meanings?
From: Arkie
Date: 17 Jan 04 - 09:55 PM

Since all the related threads are listed above, surely you have checked them out.


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Subject: RE: The Dutchman (M. Smith): meanings?
From: Blackcatter
Date: 17 Jan 04 - 11:46 PM

Thanks Arkie

I've looked through the threads - read most of them when they were current most likely too. I thought someone would know the real story. Michael Smith has a website, maybe I'll email him and ask.


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Subject: RE: The Dutchman (M. Smith): meanings?
From: Joe Offer
Date: 18 Jan 04 - 03:23 AM

I've always liked this song, but I hadn't heard it in a while until somebody sang it at Camp Harmony earlier this month. It really hit me this time, because my mom has dementia now, and my dad is really struggling to take care of her.
It always was a good song, but now it brings tears to my eyes and I can't sing it.
-Joe Offer-


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Subject: RE: The Dutchman (M. Smith): meanings?
From: Mudlark
Date: 18 Jan 04 - 03:18 PM

Seems likely there is some story behind it. Most of Michael Smith's songs have a very personal story telling feel to them--I Play Piano in Altoona, for instance. His renditions of his songs are very personal, as well.


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Subject: RE: The Dutchman (M. Smith): meanings?
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 18 Jan 04 - 05:39 PM

The feeling I get is that he might have written it after reading a short story, or maybe seeing a film. But this is the kind of question that doesn't call for speculation, but for somebody who could ask Michael Smith, or who has asked him.

There are a few interesting articles about Michael Smith on the net, and interviews, but none that I've come across that touch on this.

Nearest I found is where Michael says he was about 26 when he wrote it, and that he was a bit pissed off at first with Steve Goodman when he started singing it years later, but always getting the words wrong when he sang it, and blurring his images. But he forgave him, obviously.


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Subject: RE: The Dutchman (M. Smith): meanings?
From: Barbara
Date: 18 Jan 04 - 07:24 PM

Michael Smith often writes about songs that have other sources (like Spoon River Anthology) and I have often wondered if this song is about the grandfather in the children's book "Hans Brinker or The Silver Skates".
It was a long time ago that I read it, but as I recall the grandfather has some kind of brain damage and the book's conflict centers around Hans winning the silver skates to pay for some piece of surgery that his grandfather must have. But I think maybe it was that he was going blind, not demented. Does anyone remember, or have the book to hand?
Blessings,
Barbara


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Subject: RE: The Dutchman (M. Smith): meanings?
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 18 Jan 04 - 08:05 PM

Here's the Project Gutenberg online version of Hans Brinker. (A bit difficult to read, but easy enough to search.)

Ah, the marvels of the Internet...


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Subject: RE: The Dutchman (M. Smith): meanings?
From: curmudgeon
Date: 18 Jan 04 - 08:21 PM

From deep within my RAM many years back when my friend Bill Madison was performing this song and I'd worked out a nice concertina bit, comes the distant memory that Margaret and the Dutchman were two children, whose adult appearance or mannerisms gave rise to the song -- Tom


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Subject: RE: The Dutchman (M. Smith): meanings?
From: Big Mick
Date: 18 Jan 04 - 08:28 PM

Interesting thread. I will see Michael on Feb. 6 and see if I can get his take on this. This is a song that I have sung almost more than any other. To me it is one of the greatest love songs ever written. It is about pure love and caring, the type of love that blossoms from the seeds of passion we plant in our youth. As the love grows from these seeds, we reap a harvest of genuinely felt, and deeply rooted caring. The song seems to capture that for me.

Mick


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Subject: RE: The Dutchman (M. Smith): meanings?
From: Susanne (skw)
Date: 18 Jan 04 - 09:20 PM

A reply garnered from rec.music.folk:
[1999:] I have a friend who had the opportunity to ask Smith about the song, but Smith didn't give a very satisfying answer. It may be that the song did not have a definable inspiration or it may be that Smith just didn't feel up to an explanation at that time or maybe it was something else. (Harold Hedberg, rec.music.folk, 1 July)


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Subject: RE: The Dutchman (M. Smith): meanings?
From: Joe Offer
Date: 18 Jan 04 - 09:33 PM

I guess I wouldn't say that Hans Brinker is a source for "The Dutchman"; or that Spoon River Anthology is a source for the song "Spoon River." I think I'd call them "literary references, but not sources.

The "Spooniad" appears to be an attempt by Masters to tie together all the poems of the Anthology, and I hate it. The song does a lot better job of tying the spirit of the poems together. I love the poems, but I really do hate the "Spooniad."

I can't say I see any hidden meanings in "Dutchman," but I guess it is open to many interpretations, speaking to many visions of reality. It seems the guy is demented for some reason, and lives in his real or imagined past in Holland. Margaret has been with him many years, and keeps herself going by seeing glimpses of their loving past, when she dreamed of bearing his children.

Poetry is sometimes best left unexplained, because explanation limits imagination.

-Joe Offer-


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Subject: RE: The Dutchman (M. Smith): meanings?
From: Blackcatter
Date: 18 Jan 04 - 10:26 PM

You're probably right Joe - it is poetry of the highest sort and allows the reader or listener to add whatever "back story" she or he wishes. We were just thinking that it had a personal experience as it's inspiration.

Thanks everyone for the comments. I'll look forward to seeing if Michael Smith can clear it up a bit if Mick talks to him.

Once again, this proves to me that Mudcat is one of the best sites on the 'Net and it's members (and many guests) are some of the best people out there too.

Blackcatter


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Subject: RE: The Dutchman (M. Smith): meanings?
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 19 Jan 04 - 11:12 AM

Agreed, Joe - "The Dutchman" seems very simple and direct and open. Of course we can imagine all kinds of stories around it, into which what we are shown could fit, but that's another matter.

It'd be interesting to have any background. It's always interesting to see how a song comes into being and I hope Mick gets something to share - but the song itself stands by itself, and doesn't need anything extra.

It may not apply here, but very often a poem and a song can have meanings that the person who writes it has never even thought of. And yet they are real meanings. That's part of the mystery. (So I don't really go along with Joe in saying "explanation limits imagination".)


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Subject: RE: The Dutchman (M. Smith): meanings?
From: Sandy Mc Lean
Date: 19 Jan 04 - 11:58 AM

Liam Clancy told this story at a concert before singing "The Dutchman:"
Smith was trying to interest Liam in a song that he had written' but Liam didn't care too much for it. A lady with Smith kept telling him to "play The Dutchman" and he finally relented and sang it. Liam snapped the song up on the spot .


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Subject: RE: The Dutchman (M. Smith): meanings?
From: Amos
Date: 19 Jan 04 - 01:52 PM

I'd love to know what Michael Smith was seeing in his mind's eye when he wrote it, Mick. I have always believed that the Dutchman was father, not spouse or sweetheart, to the girl (Margaret). Matches my own experience with elders more, I guess. Just an interpretative quirk on my part.

A


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Subject: RE: The Dutchman (M. Smith): meanings?
From: Bill Hahn//\\
Date: 19 Jan 04 - 07:14 PM

In listening once again to the lyrics of this song---which I just adore---as I do all of M. Smith's work---I cannot but believe it has to do with a caring spouse (companion,lover,etc;)caring for a person with some form of dementia. If not for some of the words it could also represent a caring daughter.

What personal things, if any, caused or inspired this beautiful piece I have not a clue. I can just hear it and be greatly moved.


Bill Hahn (WFDU)


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Subject: RE: The Dutchman (M. Smith): meanings?
From: Joe Offer
Date: 19 Jan 04 - 07:36 PM

To drift the thread a bit, I have to put in a plug for Spoon River Anthology. Although I dislike the closing "Spooniad," I love the character portraits in the poems of the Anthology. Has anybody ever set these poems to music?
-Joe Offer-


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Subject: RE: The Dutchman (M. Smith): meanings?
From: Amos
Date: 19 Jan 04 - 07:43 PM

As I remember Spoon River, the meter isn't regular enough to go straight to a folk type of song structure, is it? I have never seen it put to music in any case.


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Subject: RE: The Dutchman (M. Smith): meanings?
From: Melani
Date: 20 Jan 04 - 12:23 AM

I seem to recall hearing--possibly from Michael Smith when her was here a few years ago--that Margaret was his sister. The relationship wasn't explained in any detail, but it seemed to be a much younger woman taking care of an older man.


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Subject: RE: The Dutchman (M. Smith): meanings?
From: GUEST,Andrea
Date: 27 Feb 04 - 04:42 PM

Listening to this song, I've always had the impression that Margaret is the Dutchman's wife. The line "Sometimes he thinks he's still in Rotterdam" gave me the idea that perhaps he had fought in the Battle of Rotterdam, and that his dementia could be the result of some injury or psychological trauma from that experience. I imagine them as one of those couples who got married right as the man was about to be sent off to fight in the war... Tragically, the Dutchman comes back with his mind destroyed, so they never get to live as a typical married couple, but many years later Margaret still loves and takes care of him.

In any case, I agree that regardless of the inspiration, it's a beautiful, moving song, and listening to it makes me cry almost every time.


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Subject: RE: The Dutchman (M. Smith): meanings?
From: Deckman
Date: 28 Feb 04 - 03:50 PM

I'm finding this thread very interesting. I would echo what someone else has already said: It's often just the hint of the story that makes songs/tales so very interesting. And, we are all left to our own imaginations.

This does remind me of a brief conversation I had with Tom Paxton years ago. I've always enjoyed his song,"I Followed Her Into The West." I asked him if maybe he was inspired to write this song because of either the book, or the film, "Zorba, The Greek?" If you know the song, and the book, you might draw the parellel between the song and the widow's story.

His answer was a simple "no." Then he kinda smiled/grinned. I took that to mean something like: "Nope, you haven't caught me yet, but keep trying!" CHEERS, Bob


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Subject: RE: The Dutchman (M. Smith): meanings?
From: Bill Hahn//\\
Date: 28 Feb 04 - 08:09 PM

I wonder if the beautiful piece of work by the late Charles Aidman--Spoon River Anthology--will ever be revived. I recall seeing it on Bway in the 1960s (I believe).

My recollection is that those with me were bored and I was so moved by it---and, interestingly, Bway prices then----$10 for balcony seats.

Bill Hahn


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Subject: RE: The Dutchman (M. Smith): meanings?
From: Blackcatter
Date: 02 Mar 04 - 10:03 PM

So - Big Mick - any news on the subject?


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Subject: RE: The Dutchman (M. Smith): meanings?
From: Mark Cohen
Date: 03 Mar 04 - 12:18 AM

It wouldn't surprise me if there is no "real" answer, even from Michael Smith. Some songs just start from a few images, or a brief half-remembered scene, and take on a life of their own. I once started out writing a song about my grandparents, and by the middle of the second verse it turned out to be about two people I'd never known, one of whom has Alzheimer's--which my grandparents never had--and only "comes alive" when she dances with her husband. In that case, the half-remembered scene was from the movie "Harry and Tonto," and I didn't even know if it could even happen outside of the movies. Then, when I sang the song for the first time at the Seattle Song Circle, a friend came up to me afterwards and said, "That's exactly what happened to my mother." As I said, some songs just take on a life of their own...

Aloha,
Mark


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Subject: RE: The Dutchman (M. Smith): meanings?
From: Mark Cohen
Date: 03 Mar 04 - 01:54 AM

PS, I agree, though, that sometimes you can use the words of a song to make a pretty good guess about what the writer was thinking about...or maybe NOT thinking about. For example, Melani suggests the song is about "a much younger woman taking care of an older man." Two lines would seem to me to suggest that it's not a young woman, but a partner his own age: Long ago, I used to be a young man/And dear Margaret remembers that for me and Sometimes she sees her unborn children in his eyes. At least, that's the way I see it.

Aloha,
Mark


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Subject: RE: The Dutchman (M. Smith): meanings?
From: Backstage Manager(inactive)
Date: 03 Mar 04 - 10:41 AM

Last summer at the Champlain Valley Folk Festival there was a songwriters session in which Mike Regenstreif interviewed Michael Smith about "The Dutchman." As Michael Smith explained it, the song is about an old man with Alzheimer's or some similar dementia and his wife whose love and caring endure.


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Subject: RE: The Dutchman (M. Smith): meanings?
From: johnfitz.com
Date: 03 Mar 04 - 11:43 PM

I have been singing this song for years. I have always introduced it as a song about a sister taking care of her mentally handicappped brother. I am not sure why. because I like the husband wife story better. but somehow I got the previous story from a reliable source. Maybe I need to keep it as ambiguous as Michael obviously intended.


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Subject: RE: The Dutchman (M. Smith): meanings?
From: Jim Dixon
Date: 05 Mar 04 - 09:28 AM

Though I like the song as a whole, I'm a bit uncomfortable with the lines "Long ago, I used to be a young man, and dear Margaret remembers that for me." It seems to imply that the Dutchman can't remember his own youth clearly, but Margaret can. According to my understanding, that's not how memory loss works.

I think it's more like this: It's not so much that you lose old memories as that you lose the ability to acquire new ones. It's like having a tape recorder where the recording heads have been gradually going bad for a long time, but the playback heads are just fine. So any tapes that you made long ago can be played back OK, but tapes you made more recently get increasingly faint or fuzzy.

It seems Margaret's real value to him would be that she can remember when it's time to go home, and how to get there, etc.; not that she can remember his being a young man.

But probably most people don't like to have their songs analyzed to that extent.


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Subject: RE: The Dutchman (M. Smith): meanings?
From: Backstage Manager(inactive)
Date: 05 Mar 04 - 09:41 AM

Johnfitz.com,

Margaret is most definitely the Dutchman's wife. I heard Michael Smith say so.

Jim Dixon,

Your understanding of memory loss is not right. Memory loss manifests itself very differently in different people. Based on my own experiences with relatives and friends who've suffered with, and died of, Alzheimer's, it is very plausible that Margaret can remember the Dutchman's youth while he can't.


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Subject: RE: The Dutchman (M. Smith): meanings?
From: EBarnacle
Date: 05 Mar 04 - 10:34 AM

A friend of mine sings it "remembers that of me." The "of" changes the implications of the line to her memories of him as a strong and healthy youth and all that goes with it. I also love the song for its ambiguity.


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Subject: RE: The Dutchman (M. Smith): meanings?
From: Amos
Date: 05 Mar 04 - 10:38 AM

What the line about Margaret remembering that for me means is not that she recalls his past for him, but that she still sees him as the lovable man he was in his prime, rather than being fooled by the ravages of time. As any over-55 boomer can tell you, this is the greatest single kindness one person can do for another in that stage of life :>))

A


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Subject: RE: Michael Smith cd (uk)
From: GUEST,dave o dea
Date: 07 Nov 04 - 07:40 AM

does anyone know where a michael smith can be purchased in england


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Subject: RE: The Dutchman (M. Smith): meanings?
From: Auggie
Date: 07 Nov 04 - 09:47 AM

You have to wade through a lot of Michael W. Smith listings, but most of the CD's from Michael Smith, he of The Dutchman fame, can be found at
www.amazon.co.uk


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Subject: RE: The Dutchman (M. Smith): meanings?
From: Terry Allan Hall
Date: 07 Nov 04 - 10:18 AM

I absolutely LOVE Goodman's version of "The Dutchman"...very moving rendition.


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Subject: RE: The Dutchman (M. Smith): meanings?
From: GUEST,Colin
Date: 22 Jan 05 - 06:42 PM

Too many of my aged friends and loves cannot see themselves in the mirror any longer; they see only a decrepit caricature.
Each time I've listened to a recording of "The Dutchman" over the radio I've heard:
"and dear Margaret remembers that in me."
I imagine he does understand she sees him more completely than he can himself.


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Subject: RE: The Dutchman (M. Smith): meanings?
From: My guru always said
Date: 22 Jan 05 - 06:50 PM

This song took so long to learn, too many tears. Wonderful


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Subject: RE: The Dutchman (M. Smith): meanings?
From: frogprince
Date: 22 Jan 05 - 06:51 PM

As good a love song as has ever been written.


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Subject: RE: The Dutchman (M. Smith): meanings?
From: GUEST
Date: 22 Jan 05 - 07:57 PM

one of the great songs. Like all stories it's quite transparent and obvious,but, like all great stories it invites the listener to filter the images through their own experiences.As the responses above show, those filters gradually give the song new meanings. Does it matter which is right? Only the first meaning of the writer is the right one and then he lets it go as a gift to all the listeners, knowing it will change subtly for each one.


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Subject: RE: The Dutchman (M. Smith): meanings?
From: Bill Hahn//\\
Date: 22 Jan 05 - 08:57 PM

Which---Guest---you should identify yourself---can be said for most pieces of music. From Mozart and Schumann to the pop and folk performers we know.   

So that a song by, say, Dylan is hailed by many and abhorred by others as is, say, a Kate Wolf piece.   The point is that we all receive and perceive things through our own filters and tastes. As you say. The only thing I add here is that the writer/composer has put his/her feelings and thoughts into the piece. To him/her it seems to be that picture---to the listener it can be percieved differently. That is art. That is the beauty of art and the personal meaning it has for us all.

Bill Hahn


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Subject: RE: The Dutchman (M. Smith): meanings?
From: GUEST
Date: 22 Jan 05 - 11:36 PM

Alzheimer's erases the memory-bank from the most rescent to the most distant - hence - Shakespeare's reference in the Seven Ages of Man to the final stage and "second childhood."

Somewhere, in the MC, is a woman who claims to be a US "mental health professional."


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Subject: RE: The Dutchman (M. Smith): meanings?
From: Blackcatter
Date: 31 Jan 05 - 10:32 AM

I think you'll find there are more than one "mental health professionals," as you put it, here at Mudcat.

Interesting that this thread has been revived.

I love that that happens on many of the threads of all the great songs discussed here.


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Subject: RE: The Dutchman (M. Smith): meanings?
From: GUEST,Mickey
Date: 15 Apr 05 - 01:27 AM

Just stumbled upon this thread, but felt moved to respond to Mark's post of 3/4/04: I tend to agree with the prevailing thought that the song describes an older couple and the results of the love they have crafted together over many years. But like at least some others, I have also been intrigued by the interpretation of a committed daughter caring for her older father. Mark objected, citing two lines:

- "Long ago, I used to be a young man. And dear Margaret remembers that for me . . ." and "Sometimes she sees her unborn children in his eyes . . ."

I DO see the possibility of either line describing the bonds felt by a daughter with the heritage of her father, and the children she hopes to bear one day, and that she hopes will carry on the characteristics she remembers of her father when he was younger.

Like others, I am seldom able to get through the song without having to pause. Sometimes it is because I am thinking of the depth of the relationship with my wife. But other times, it is because i am thinking of my father, my memories of him as a strong and vibrant younger man, and my hope that his grandchild will represent that same strength and vitality in his life.


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Subject: RE: The Dutchman (M. Smith): meanings?
From: Chris in Wheaton
Date: 15 Apr 05 - 02:20 PM

When Liam Clancy came to Chicago a few years ago, he said it was his favorite song.
I always thought the best version was Mike Dunbar's when he was with Redhead. Perhaps someone in Nashville can talk him into reissuing the Redhead cd - lots of great stuff by Mike and Betsy.
Chris


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Subject: RE: The Dutchman (M. Smith): meanings?
From: Megan L
Date: 15 Apr 05 - 02:43 PM

Perhaps that is the mark of a truely great song, that each of us can see a little of ourselves or those we love in them.


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Subject: RE: The Dutchman (M. Smith): meanings?
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 15 Apr 05 - 05:23 PM

Like Blackcatter back in January, I love it when a thread like this is revived, and a bit more gets added.

I've always taken it that the "unborn children" bit means that, one way and another, Margaret never had the children she'd have wanted to have, maybe because of having to take care of the Dutchman; and now he has, in a way, become her child.

But I'm in agreement with all the people who've felt that looking for a single unambiguous story, and thinking that that explains everything in a song like this, is a mistake. There's a sort of uncertainty principle that applies, you can't really pin down mneanings, because they are all true. The meaning exists in the minds of the listeners, and they've all had different lives feeding into what they hear.


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Subject: RE: The Dutchman (M. Smith): meanings?
From: GUEST,Arkie
Date: 15 Apr 05 - 05:41 PM

This is certainly an example of a great song. The lyrics provide images that evoke the feelings of the listener. The melody and words fit together like a single unit. Enough of the story line is omitted so that the singer and listener can allow their imagination to complete the picture. It is nice to see threads like this find new life from time to time.


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Subject: RE: The Dutchman (M. Smith): meanings?
From: GUEST,Norm MadDawg Siegel
Date: 08 Apr 06 - 08:24 PM

I have been singing this song since Steve Goodman introduced me to it in performance some 30 odd years ago, I think. I tend to agree with "Guest"'s comment on January, 2005. Why do we have to search for any other meaning other than that of the writer? Why not just enjoy the song for its sheer poetic beauty and Michael Smith's ability to tell a story in a beautiful way? Another song that is equally as beautiful in a similar way is John Prine's treatment of old age, "Hello In There" Both songs are from around the same era in Chicago singer/songwriter history. Both are simply stated and quite exquisite settings of old age. Accept them as the simply beautiful expressions that they are and nothing more!


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Subject: RE: The Dutchman (M. Smith): meanings?
From: wysiwyg
Date: 09 Apr 06 - 09:25 AM

MadDawg, are you from Chicago? If so, a hearty hello from my husband and I, both from there too.

Welcome to Mudcat-- I hope you will join as a member here.

~Susan


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Subject: RE: The Dutchman (M. Smith): meanings?
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 09 Apr 06 - 12:54 PM

Actually I think that GUEST put it pretty well about how a writer will let a song go "as a gift to all the listeners, knowing it will change subtly for each one change subtly for each one."

Some people find that hard to accept, and think that a song can only mean precisely what a writer had in mind when they wrote it.

As often as not, myself, I only understand what I had in mind with a song I've written after I've sung it a good few times, and ideally heard someone else sing it.


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Subject: RE: The Dutchman (M. Smith): meanings?
From: sharyn
Date: 10 Apr 06 - 11:34 AM

Michael Smith stated in an interview on the radio a couple of months ago that "Margaret" was his sister -- but he may have just meant he used his sister's name in the song. (I didn't hear the whole interview, but turned it on in progress).


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Subject: RE: The Dutchman (M. Smith): meanings?
From: GUEST,Art Thieme
Date: 10 Apr 06 - 11:25 PM

There is a photo of Norman Mad Dog Siegel picking with Marty Peiffer and Victor Sanders out back of Somebody Else's Troubles folk bar (Chicago--'79?) in my Folk Photos collection at

http://rudegnu.com/art_thieme.html

Art


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Subject: RE: The Dutchman (M. Smith): meanings?
From: GUEST,Jim
Date: 11 Apr 06 - 10:56 AM

I asked Micael Smith about this song many(18?) years ago and he said that his sister, Margaret, was dating a Dutchman at the time he wrote the song. The Dutchman did not have dementia and his sister wasn't looking after him, but he used them in the song. Maybe he was extrapolating.
I'm familiar with the Spoon River Anthology and cannot find any reference to riverboat gamblers or Mary Perkins in the book.
I've heard, from a source with absolutely no authority, that the quote,"20 years in law enforcement and I've never been so scared" came from a newspaper artical and inspired the song Panther In Michegan. Anyone else heard this?


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Subject: Origins: The Dutchman
From: Jim Lad
Date: 14 Mar 07 - 12:05 PM

Anyone care to offer some input as to the story behind Michael Smith's "The Dutchman"?
I'll be in and out, today so apologies in advance if you don't see any response from me.


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Subject: RE: Origins: The Dutchman
From: GUEST,Andy
Date: 14 Mar 07 - 12:13 PM

Jim, if you search on 'Dutchman' you'll find a lot of information


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Subject: RE: Origins: The Dutchman
From: Jim Lad
Date: 14 Mar 07 - 12:24 PM

I did a quick search but couldn't find the story behind the song. I've been told that it's about a WWI vet in Chicago who was shell shocked but am not entirely convinced.


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Subject: RE: The Dutchman (Michael Smith): meanings?
From: Joe Offer
Date: 14 Mar 07 - 12:30 PM

Hi, Jim - I moved you over to this thread, so we could build on the previous discussion. Some of the answers above are enlightening, but I can't say I'm satisfied, I'm hoping somebody will come and post what Michael Smith has said about this song. In "Jim's" post just above, we see that Smith said it has something to do with his sister's boyfriend...
    I asked Micael Smith about this song many(18?) years ago and he said that his sister, Margaret, was dating a Dutchman at the time he wrote the song. The Dutchman did not have dementia and his sister wasn't looking after him, but he used them in the song. Maybe he was extrapolating.
...but I'm still not satisfied. There had to be more to the story. It certainly speaks to my experiences with my mother's dementia during the last few years of her life. Maybe Smith wanted to write a song that described his observations and experience of dementia, and he tied in the unrealated Dutchman to give the song an interesting context. Whatever the case, it worked very well.

...and then when we fully understand this song, maybe we can go on to "Vampire" and "Dead Egyptian Blues" and a number of other fascinating and puzzling songs Smith has written.

-Joe-


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Subject: RE: origins: The Dutchman (Michael Smith): meanings?
From: Jim Lad
Date: 14 Mar 07 - 12:58 PM

Thanks Joe: I can actually buy into the explanation cited above. Good songwriters have been known to use innocent parties as the vehicle for their message.
I remember watching a whole family disintegrate before my eyes while I was performing this song in a club, one time. They had just lost a family member to Alzheimer's.
I also remember a Dutch couple doubling up in laughter at the stereotyping, while I sang it at another venue.
Point to note re stereotyping. There are probably some UK folk here who could tell you that wooden shoes were, for a while, part of the attire in post WWII Britain.


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Subject: RE: origins: The Dutchman (Michael Smith): meanings?
From: Joe Offer
Date: 14 Mar 07 - 01:46 PM

I come from an old Detroit family - part of the family goes back to the founding of Detroit by Cadillac in 1701. We moved to Wisconsin in 1958, after my dad was laid off from his auto-industry job, and my folks lived in Wisconsin for 21 years until they moved to Florida. They always kept their ties to Detroit, and we went back to Detroit every year for vacation.

My mom died of dementia in December, 2004, at the age of 82. When she got dementia, she went back in her mind to the Detroit of the 1940's and 1950's, and that's where she lived for the last years of her life - in a fantasy world of Detroit, with her parents still alive and real for her. The only way for me to talk with her, was for me to enter that fantasy, and I found out a lot about my own early life by entering that fantasy with her.

I don't think "The Dutchman" physically lived in the Netherlands any more. Maybe he lived in Florida, like my mom did - but in his mind, he was in the Netherlands, and Margaret was wise enough to enter that memory with him.

-Joe-


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Subject: RE: origins: The Dutchman (Michael Smith): meanings?
From: Jim Lad
Date: 14 Mar 07 - 01:54 PM

Pretty well parallels the intro, I do.
I haven't had time to look through this thread yet. The bouzouki needs new strings and that's a whole day job when there's a young scallywag in tow.
Regards
Jim


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Subject: RE: origins: The Dutchman (Michael Smith): meaning
From: BuckMulligan
Date: 14 Mar 07 - 04:01 PM

Pardon me (Roy, is that... oops, wrong thread) for jumping in, but what exactly is so difficult about accepting that writers (especially writers as talented as Smith) just make stuff up? Do we assume there's really a Loretta in Prine's life? (Maybe there is, for all I know, but that's not the point). Writers make stuff up. It's what we do. Sometimes it bears a relationship to something in "real life" and sometimes it doesn't, but if someone asks the writer and he says "I made it up" I think we're duty-bound to accept that. Not every great poem/story/song has a "story behind it" unless you want to count "life" as the greatest backstory of all.


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Subject: RE: origins: The Dutchman (Michael Smith): meanings?
From: Jim Lad
Date: 14 Mar 07 - 05:13 PM

Then we are agreed, BuckMulligan. (if that's your real name)
If there's more to it, I'd like to know. If not, that's fine too!
Cheers
Jim


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Subject: RE: origins: The Dutchman (Michael Smith): meanings?
From: Jim Lad
Date: 14 Mar 07 - 05:30 PM

Well, I've had a good look through this thread and I'm settling for this quote "Poetry is sometimes best left unexplained, because explanation limits imagination" from some genius, further up.
I'll be dropping the "Shell Shock" story from the intro. I picked that up from Max Ferguson's show years ago.
The song tells enough of a story, all by itself and is relevant to many, without the need for explanations.
Thank you all.
Jim


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Subject: RE: origins: The Dutchman (Michael Smith): meanings?
From: GUEST,Arkie
Date: 14 Mar 07 - 07:53 PM

It is certainly the mark of a good song when people think about it. So many songs are heard and forgotton. Sometimes the listener is never involved in the song at all.   When the song stays with you and causes one to think and use one's senses it has been quite successful.


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Subject: RE: origins: The Dutchman (Michael Smith): meanings?
From: Jim Lad
Date: 14 Mar 07 - 08:07 PM

So.... "Knights in White Satin" anybody...?
Just kidding!


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Subject: RE: origins: The Dutchman (Michael Smith): meanings?
From: Joe Offer
Date: 14 Mar 07 - 08:32 PM

Hi, Buck -
I don't know that people "just make stuff up." It could be pure fiction, but even pure fiction is based in authentic human experience. To write a song like this, I'd say Michael Smith must have had significant contact with a person with dementia.

Now, I have no guess as to what Smith was thinking when he wrote "Dead Egyptian Blues," but I'd sure like to know.

-Joe Offer-


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Subject: RE: origins: The Dutchman (Michael Smith): meaning
From: Jeri
Date: 14 Mar 07 - 08:52 PM

I SWEAR I heard the story surrounding this song before - I think it was an interview on WUMB. I can't remember enough to pass it on, and it would just be my opinion of what he said anyway. WUMB probably has it archived, but you have to be a member to get to it.

Thing is, it probably wasn't about real people, but something inspired it, and I find interesting to wonder what made Michael Smith want to write the song and what put the image of the couple in his head.


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Subject: RE: origins: The Dutchman (Michael Smith): meaning
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 14 Mar 07 - 08:58 PM

I'd have thought he's just musing on the transitory nature of life, and hanging it the fact there was a Tutankhamen exhibition on when he was writing it, maybe, the same as there is in London right now.

Here are the lyrics for Dead Egyptian Blues, on a site with other Michael Smith songs.


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Subject: RE: origins: The Dutchman (Michael Smith): meanings?
From: Stephen L. Rich
Date: 15 Mar 07 - 12:04 AM

I think that Amos may be onto something here. It had never occured to me think about The Dutchman as Margaret's father. After going over the song a couple of times the theory works well. The song suddenly makes a whole new kind of sense.

Stephen Lee Rich


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Subject: RE: origins: The Dutchman (Michael Smith): meaning
From: BuckMulligan
Date: 15 Mar 07 - 07:49 AM

Jim Lad - I agree that the "shell shock" aspect is unnecssary and unsupported by the text of the song itself. What we need to know is that he still wears wooden shoes, and thinks he's still in Rotterdam. How he got that way is probably unknowable, from within the text anyway.

Joe - that's pretty much what I meant by "unless you want to count "life" as the greatest backstory of all." - But I think you're reading more into "making stuff up" than is necessarily there. All it means is "the details of the piece are not tied to specific people, events, or facts." And I don't really think there's significant contact with an afflicted person necessary - the level of detail about The Dutchman's delusion isn't all that demanding. Smith makes us know what's going on with him with just a few brushstrokes; he's letting his dreams leak out, after all, and what more do we need to know? It's Margaret who's the Mona Lisa figure in the song, for my money.

Stpehen L Rich - I agree, the lyric "works" for any number of interpretations, including that Margaret is wife/daughter/sister. That's part of its brilliance and power.


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Subject: RE: origins: The Dutchman (Michael Smith): meanings?
From: Jim Lad
Date: 15 Mar 07 - 10:56 AM

So we are all agreed then!
Morning all.
Kid's got her music to go to so I'm Harry The Toff!


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Subject: RE: origins: The Dutchman (Michael Smith): meanings?
From: Stringsinger
Date: 29 Mar 07 - 03:59 PM

There is a prevalent notion that a songwriter actually "knows" what they're writing about while they're creating a song. This is sometimes not the case and a song grows into its own meaning.

I can see from the songwriter's point of view that pinning down a meaning in a particular song might not be to the songwriter's best interest. Better to have people talking about the meaning of the song as they are doing here.

I'm in favor of evasive answers on the part of songwriters because then they don't unduly influence or place a roadblock to different interpretations by performers.

I'm reminded of Tennessee Williams insisting to Elia Kazan that his plays were "comedies".
Or of Williams' statement about Brando, "He plays the role as I would have liked to have written it".

I remember Nina Simone singing "To Dream the Impossible Dream" the night of MLK's execution. She gave a new life to a song that reputedly meant something different in Man of La Mancha.

I think that you need to let the songwriter alone and interpret it the way you see it.

Frank Hamilton


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Subject: RE: origins: The Dutchman (Michael Smith): meanings?
From: GUEST
Date: 22 Jun 08 - 05:54 PM

It's pretty clear that the story doesn't take place any more recently than the first decade or so of the twentieth century. The Zuiderzee was enclosed and drained beginning in the 1920's, and was renamed Ijselmere. The windmills and the candle point to a time prior to electrification, and the clogs and snow (Amsterdam doesn't freeze over any more) indicate a historical setting. The tugboats put us no earlier than the mid-nineteenth century.


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Subject: RE: origins: The Dutchman (Michael Smith): meanings?
From: olddude
Date: 23 Mar 10 - 10:21 AM

Listening to the Clancy bros doing this song today on CD and it is as beautiful now as it was in the late 60's or so when I first heard it.


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Subject: RE: origins: The Dutchman (Michael Smith): meanings?
From: olddude
Date: 23 Mar 10 - 10:23 AM

Clancy Brothers, the dutch man

The Dutch Man


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Subject: RE: origins: The Dutchman (Michael Smith): meanings?
From: GUEST,Peter Laban
Date: 23 Mar 10 - 12:04 PM

It's pretty clear that the story doesn't take place any more recently than the first decade or so of the twentieth century. The Zuiderzee was enclosed and drained beginning in the 1920's, and was renamed Ijselmere. The windmills and the candle point to a time prior to electrification, and the clogs and snow (Amsterdam doesn't freeze over any more) indicate a historical setting. The tugboats put us no earlier than the mid-nineteenth century

Guest makes a number of incorrect assumptions there, The Zuiderzee was closed in 1932 and wasn't drained, separate parts were, but on a later dates. After the Afsluitdijk was closed the Zuiderzee became IJsselmeer.
Windmills are still there but like the candle the yseem only in the song to provide a couleur locale. Clogs are for tourists but Amsterdam froze over as recent as last winter. Ice and snow may not come to the Netherlands each year, severe winters do still happen periodically.


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Subject: RE: origins: The Dutchman (Michael Smith): meanings?
From: GUEST,Jim Moran
Date: 02 Feb 11 - 10:18 AM

While i subscribe fully to the thought that the artist is not the last word in the meaning of any creative work - for what it's worth, here is Smith himself commenting on his own blog in April of 2010 -

http://michaelpetersmith.com/mscomment.shtml


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Subject: RE: origins: The Dutchman (Michael Smith): meanings?
From: My guru always said
Date: 02 Feb 11 - 10:37 AM

Michael Smith link


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Subject: RE: origins: The Dutchman (Michael Smith): meanings?
From: GUEST
Date: 21 Jul 16 - 09:32 PM

Makem and Clancy say that the old Dutchman is still in shell shock. WWII gave him more than he can handle, and Margeret remembers how he was before the war. The first lines about not keeping his dreams in to me means in his sleep he has nightmares about what has happened, and Margeret is the only one who knows his terror. After the war he was so messed up that he wouldn't be able to help her raise children but she stuck by his side everyday. Her love for him conquers all, and he remembers that he loves her, and that when he calls her name when he thinks he's alone it seems like it's what he did during the war.

My interpretation anyway...


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Subject: RE: origins: The Dutchman (Michael Smith): meanings?
From: bubblyrat
Date: 22 Jul 16 - 06:13 AM

I have heard people sing "Zyder Zee " when it should be "Zowder Zay " ; I must confess that I was taught the former in infant school geography lessons (circa 1952 !) , until I had Dutch lessons a few years ago ,as a result of which I can now pronounce "IjMuiden" quite well also !


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Subject: RE: origins: The Dutchman (Michael Smith): meanings?
From: GUEST,Peter Laban
Date: 22 Jul 16 - 06:19 AM

"Zowder Zay "

Hmm, not quite the Dutch 'ui' is one of those sounds that really doesn't transfer into anything in the English language (and same for [i]'ij', 'ei'[/i] and '[i]eu[/i]'). Which you should appreciate if you can get IJmuiden right.


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Subject: RE: origins: The Dutchman (Michael Smith): meanings?
From: Mysha
Date: 23 Jul 16 - 04:37 AM

Hi,

Yeah, I saw a performance of Michael Smith once, where he told the audience about that Makem and Clancy story, and about how it had nothing to do with him. But it worked for them, I guess.

I think I'd go for "Zighder Zay", BTW. I don't think there's an English equivalent for the actual "ui" sound, but "ow" sounds too heavy for me. Thus, while "igh" isn't the right sound either, it seems like a better approximation. Of course, that may depend on the accent you're being taught.


Bye,
                                                                Mysha


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Subject: RE: origins: The Dutchman (Michael Smith): meanings?
From: GUEST,Peter Laban
Date: 23 Jul 16 - 12:33 PM

'I think I'd go for "Zighder Zay"'

I agree there's probably no real solution for an English speaker to tackle the 'ui' sound. for 'Zee' I'd suggest to aim more for an 'a' sound for a more general Dutch feel (while still stopping well short of aiming for ABN), rather than tack on the 'y' although, as you suggest, that would turn up, for example, in a heavy Amsterdam accent.


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Subject: RE: origins: The Dutchman (Michael Smith): meanings?
From: Mrrzy
Date: 23 Jul 16 - 02:28 PM

I never thought about this (love this forum) but I do get the impression that when he was a young man and they first got married he was of normal mental ability, but he's not been right for a long, long time, and shellshock fits really well for that. She married a dashing young soldier, and stayed faithful to the shell of a man who came home from the war.
So sad.


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Subject: RE: origins: The Dutchman (Michael Smith): meanings?
From: Joe_F
Date: 23 Jul 16 - 06:34 PM

In the song, "Zuider Zee" is rhymed with "me", which suggests that the author had in mind the usual Anglicized pronunciation.


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Subject: RE: origins: The Dutchman (Michael Smith): meanings?
From: GUEST,Peter Laban
Date: 24 Jul 16 - 04:05 AM

I never thought about this (love this forum) but I do get the impression that when he was a young man and they first got married he was of normal mental ability, but he's not been right for a long, long time, and shellshock fits really well for that. She married a dashing young soldier, and stayed faithful to the shell of a man who came home from the war.
So sad.


I don't know the song all that well but to be honest the few times I heard it I 'read' it as a description of someone loosing grips with the world due to Alzheimer's disease.

Shellshock is a very unlikely suspect, even if you take it in its modern understanding as PTSD. At least in a Dutch context I wouldn't consider the disorder as the 'go to' explanation, even for the generation that lived through WWII. The Netherlands didn't exactly send off a lot of soldiers into situations that would make shellshock, or whatever you want to call it, a common disorder.


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Subject: RE: origins: The Dutchman (Michael Smith): meanings?
From: Thompson
Date: 24 Jul 16 - 04:48 AM

"?remembers that for me" ? one of the exercises done with dementia patients uses memory aids, for example old typewriters, crockery, newspapers, radios; and music from the era when they were young.

It is true that memory loss first attacks the short-term memory ("Yesterday? Didn't we go to that film? Oh, was that a year ago?"), while people can remember their childhood. But as the brain cells are walled away and the networks damaged, people can only remember with help. "What are my children's names? Oh, thank you? now I remember."

The song is a beautiful, but for me unbearable, evocation of the chaos of dementia, with that one enduring love lighting the way through the dark corridors.


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Subject: RE: origins: The Dutchman (Michael Smith): meanings?
From: GUEST,Peter Laban
Date: 24 Jul 16 - 11:40 AM

'but for me unbearable, evocation of the chaos of dementia, with that one enduring love lighting the way through the dark corridors. '

Just about exactly the way I feel about it.


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Subject: RE: origins: The Dutchman (Michael Smith): meanings?
From: Mysha
Date: 27 Jul 16 - 06:21 PM

Hi,

Mrrzy: If it works for you, hear it that way. It wasn't written with that in mind, apparently, but meaning is in the ear of the beholder.

Peter: The "Zay" was intended as similar to "Day". But, I only mentioned it to not stop pronouncing halfway through the name. Joe is right in that Michael Smith pronounces it more like USAnians pronounce the last letter of the alphabet.

For me it's about that enduring love between Margaret and the Dutchman, that they share in good times and bad times.

Bye,
                                                                Mysha


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Subject: RE: origins: The Dutchman (Michael Smith): meanings?
From: GUEST,Peter Laban
Date: 28 Jul 16 - 02:02 PM

Mysha, I was perhaps over-analysing it all a bit. There's a good old Dutch name for people who do that: 'Kommaneuker'


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