Thursday, July 21, 2022


Georges Perec:
Sometimes Valène dreamt of cataclysms and tempests, of whirlwinds that would carry the whole house off like a wisp of straw and display the infinite marvels of the solar system to its shipwrecked inhabitants; or that an unseen crack would run through the building from top to bottom, like a shiver, and with a long, deep, snapping sound it would open in two and be slowly swallowed up in an indescribable yawning chasm; then hordes would overrun it, bleary-eyed monsters, giant insects with steel mandibles, blind termites, great white worms with insatiable mouths: the wood would crumble, the stone would turn to sand, the cupboards would collapse under their own weight, all would return to dust.

Life A User's Manual (translation by David Bellos)

Friday, July 08, 2022

Fugitive lyrics

In 1975 I took a course taught by a folklorist who had a parallel career as the producer of a number of commercial recordings of folk music. Though the course was aimed at grad students and I was only a sophomore, I was allowed to enroll, which probably wasn't such a great decision all around as it turned out, but the semester did at least leave a few lasting impressions. In particular, I recall two songs he played us in class that came from recordings he had made in the course of field work in the UK. I still remember parts of them almost verbatim (no doubt because they were off-color), and since I can't find any trace of the exact lyrics (though they must be documented somewhere), I present them here.

The first was a version of the notorious comic song known as "Seven Nights Drunk" or "Our Goodman." The premise of the song is that the singer, a habitual drunkard, is being cuckolded by his wife. When he presents her with the evidence of this, which is increasingly unmistakeable as the song progresses, she blames it on his drunken befuddlement and comes up with one far-fetched explanation after another to account for what he thinks he sees. A typical first verse goes as follows:
As I went home on Monday night as drunk as drunk could be
I saw a horse outside the door, where my old horse should be
So I called me wife, the curse of me life, will you kindly tell to me
Who owns that horse outside the door where my old horse should be.
Ay you're drunk, you're drunk you silly old fool
As drunk as drunk can be
That's a lovely sow that me mother sent to me
Well it's many a day I've travelled, a hundred miles or more
But a saddle on a sow, sure I never saw before.
The lyrics go downhill from there, depending on the version, but the final one below is typical:
As I went home on Sunday night as drunk as drunk could be
I saw a thing in her thing where my old thing should be
Well, I called me wife and I said to her: Will you kindly tell to me
Who owns that thing in your thing where my old thing should be
Ah, you're drunk,
you're drunk you silly old fool,
still you can not see
That's a lovely tin whistle that me mother sent to me
Well, it's many a day I've travelled a hundred miles or more
But hair on a tin whistle sure I never saw before
The last verse I remember was similar, but instead of a tin whistle it's "a rubber tree" or "a rubber tree plant," and the last line (which I've probably Americanized) was "But a rubber tree plant with hair at the roots I never done seen before."

I haven't been able to identify the other song, which was sung by two British sisters who weren't professional performers. With the tape recorder running the song had a refrain of "Just you remember when you're kissing your man / he's trying to get another kiss from you as soon as he can!" Only when the machine was turned off would they agree to sing the saltier version, which ran "Just you remember when you're kissing your man / he's trying to get another rattle out of your tin can!"

Looking back now, I wonder how much my memory has distorted the details. (Did I, perhaps, borrow the "rubber tree plant" from "High Hopes"?) But in a way that distortion is the whole point: that's how oral tradition twists and preserves material from one generation to the next.

Monday, July 04, 2022

Ambition (III)

Georges Perec:
She’d have done better to sell up and go back to the farm where she’d been born. Rabbits and chickens, some tomato plants, and a couple of beds for lettuces and cabbages -- what more did she need? She would have sat by her fireside amongst her placid cats, listening to the clock ticking, to the rain falling on the zinc drainpipes, and the seven-o’clock bus passing by in the far distance; she’d have carried on warming her bed with a warming pan before getting into it, warming her face in the sun on her stone bench, cutting recipes out of La Nouvelle République and sticking them into her big kitchen book.

Life A User's Manual, translated by David Bellos
The woman in question, Madame Moreau, is the sole proprietor of a prosperous hardware manufacturing business employing 2,000 people.