Monday, July 28, 2008

Here's to Mondegreens

First, an apology to my Vast Public (all two of you) for my remissness in posting. I had promised a post or two about Celtic music. Said post(s) never materialized. Mea culpa!

Well, not that anyone was waiting with baited breath or anythng. But here's my (partial) excuse anyway: I write for a living. (If you can call advertising copy "writing.") And, by the end of the workday or work week, I've pretty much shot my bolt. I don't mind commenting on other people's blogs, although even that is getting old. But posting on my own -- sometimes that simply seems too daunting.

But, be that as it may, I have a moment or two now and a small reserve of energy, so I thought I'd post on mondegreens.

You know about mondegreens even if you've never heard the term. Remember Jimi Hendrix's "'Scuse me while I kiss this guy"? That's a classic mondegreen.

A mondegreen is a mis-heard line or phrase from a poem or song. Here's Wikipedia's take on the term (complete with etymology):

I won't say I'm the Mondegreen Queen, but I've certainly committed my share. My husband, too, has hatched a few mondegreens in his time. When I first knew him, way back when, he confided that one of his favorite songs was Ghost Riders in the Sky. If you're familiar with this song (and it's a good 'un), then you probably know that the Ghost Riders of the title are "trying to catch the devil's herd / Across these endless skies." Well, my husband could have sworn that the lyrics were: "...trying to catch the devil's herd / Of frosties in the sky." When I asked him what frosties were, he said they were a kind of cow.

I shouldn't laugh, although I can't help it. Recently, in any event, my husband and I committed a mondegreen together. A marital mondegreen, you might say. (Well, we are one flesh and all.) We're both very fond of Celtic music (as I've mentioned before), including Scottish songs. And one of our favorite Scottish songs is A Parcel of Rogues, a setting of a famous poem by Robert Burns. One of the verses begins:

What force or guile
Could not subdue
Through many warlike ages
Is rocked now by a coward few
For hireling traitor's wages.

Well, both hubby and I were convinced that the lyrics actually went: "What false Argyle could not subdue..." Which made perfect sense to us, because apparently Argyle was one of those Scottish clans that made nicey-nice with the English, thereby incurring the wrath of their fellow Highlanders.

As mondegreeners go, though, my husband and I are rank amateurs. My all-time favorite mondegreen was concocted by the sister of my friend Carol.

Remember the song I Fought the Law, and the Law Won? You would if you were Of a Certain Age, like me. The song was a hit back around 1965, and the refrain goes like this:

Breakin' rocks in the hot sun,
I fought the Law, and the Law won,
I fought the Law, and the Law won.

Well, Carol's sister, it seems, was convinced that the lyrics actually went (are you ready for this?): "Hot Dogs in Love in a Round World."

Once, when she and Carol were driving somewhere, the song in question came tootling over the car radio, whereupon Carol's sister began singing along lustily, "Hot dogs in love in a round world..." At which point, Carol lost it. I would have, too.

When Carol first told me about this, I laughed so hard I thought I would split a gasket. Then (perhaps drawing unconsciously on my Lit-Crit graduate-school background), I offered my interpretation: "Well, it kind of makes sense, doesn't it? Here are these poor hot dogs, supplanted by fast-food hamburgers (which are round, of course), so it seems to them (the hot dogs) as if the entire world has gone circular and hamburgeresque. In their loneliness. the boy and girl hot dog find each other and fall in love, and it's 'you and me together, babe, against the round hamburger world'...."

Carol said, "UH-huh. No, Diane, you can't make it make sense. It's pure nuttiness, period."

Well, maybe so. But it sure is a great mondegreen.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Sacred Harp CD Resources

As promised, here are links to CDs containing performances of Sacred Harp / Southern Harmony / Christian Harmony music:

The link above is to An American Christmas by Joel Cohen and the Boston Camerata. (Yes, I will learn how to do that Link Thing properly...but right now, for the sake of just getting this posted, I will go the amateurish route.) OK, An American Christmas is a pot pourri of different styles, and only a few songs are from the Sacred Harp / shape-note tradition. But those few gave my family and me our first exposure to shape-note singing. For this we will be forever grateful. Thank you, Joel Cohen!

The link above is to Rivers of Delight by the Word of Mouth Chorus. This is the Real Deal: songs from the Sacred Harp Songbook, performed in a much more authentic shape-note style. It is still very much a performance, so it's not as raw as genuine (church-based) shape-note singing. But, for many of us, it's about as authentic as we want to get. In my view, it's the perfect compromise between "overly slick" and "utterly raw." Your mileage may vary. :)

The links above are to two Anonymous 4 recordings: American Angels and Gloryland. Both CDs contain a mixture of shape-note songs, revivalist hymns, and other material. Anonymous 4 does not even pretend to be engaging in authentic shape-note singing. These are definitely performances, and the style is highly refined (although the singers do inject a bit of twang into their voices at times). But who cares? They sing like angels. Authenticity, schmenticity, say I.

The link above is to another gem from Joel Cohen and the Boston Camerata: The American Vocalist. The material comes from a 19th-century New England songbook, sort of a Boston cousin to the Sacred Harp and Southern Harmony. Yes, it's very polished and professional, but it's also perfectly lovely. The performance of "Star in the East" (a/k/a "Brightest and Best") is alone worth the purchase price, IMHO.

The link above is to the granddaddy of all authentic Sacred Harp recordings. This is as authentic as it gets, and it's definitely not everyone's cup of tea. But, once you get past the relatively crude sound quality (by today's standards) and the utter lack of polish or professionalism, you may come to appreciate the raw power and beauty of this heartfelt a capella singing. My favorite song on the CD is "Mear," although I think the two versions of "Lover of the Lord" are pretty powerul, too.

OK, enough for now. More posts to come, O vast public! And not all about Sacred Harp either: I've been planning a post on Celtic music for a while now; hope to get to it tomorrow or the next day.