The Watcher Cat

The Watcher Cat

Monday, September 5, 2016

Flipping the Bird: A Musical Interlude

Yesterday at the annual reunion of my mother's side of the family, we relaxed in my godfather's back years eating good food, comparing notes, and relaxing. A lovely ritual to end the summer. As we listened to oldies, Carly Simon's classic began to play, and I was reminded of why I utterly love the lyrics.

Oh, sure, the "scarf it was apricot" line dates it.

Carly Simon's You're So Vain is that rarity, a clever revenge song. The cleverness, of course, is that unless an ex asks if (or, if you're Warren Beatty actually claims that) the song is about him, the joke doesn't attach itself to him. You have to volunteer for the burn. (Warren Beatty did, you know--and time has shown that he was, in part correct. In part.)

Beatty has embraced the burn--only for Simon to give only one verse:

You had me several years ago when I was still quite naive
Well you said that we made such a pretty pair
And that you would never leave
But you gave away the things you loved and one of them was me
I had some dreams, they were clouds in my coffee
Clouds in my coffee, and...

And more than that deponent Simon says not. (Nice one, Carly--you've still got it!)

As modern revenge songs go, I can't think of a wittier one.

But one very old one strikes me as just as good--and so pretty that the listener generally misses the point.

Scarborough Fair appears to be a variant of an older ballad called the "The Elfin Knight", and has been traced to the 17th Century. A lovely, gentle song, right:

(I know; I miss the Canticle, too. But that's Paul Simon, not traditional).

Lovely and gentle? No. Listen to the lyrics:

Tell her to make me a cambric shirt
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme
Without no seams nor needle work
Then she'll be a true love of mine

Tell her to find me an acre of land
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme
Between the salt water and the sea strand
Then she'll be a true love of mine

Tell her to reap it with a sickle of leather
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme
And gather it all in a bunch of heather
Then she'll be a true love of mine.

You try doing any of that. My grandmother contemplated opening a tailor's shop, once upon a time. Not that this fact gives me any expertise, but a shirt, of cambric, without seams or needlework? Good luck.

What's between the strand (a/k/a the beach) and the salt water? Nothing.

Try reaping anything with a sickle of leather. 'T'aint happening.

It's the most delicate, polite flipping of the bird of which I am aware.

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