Christ and the Soldier

Tomorrow is called Veterans Day in the United States, but originally it was Armistice Day, celebrated on the day that World War I ended. WWI was a dark dividing line between all that came before and after. Books have been written about only one or two aspects of what changed, but a whole shelf of books could not tell all.

And this year is the hundredth anniversary of one year in that dark dividing line, 1916, when those that thought war was simple, or had to be simple, brought the 20th Century efficiency of the assembly line to killing in the battle of the Somme, where over one million men were killed or wounded.

One of the soldiers in that battle was a poet, Siegfried Sassoon. Last time we took a look at a funny and pious story from World War II, The Deck Of Cards, and had a little irreverent fun with the form of that story in my parody. In this piece, Sassoon’s Christ and the Soldier, the humor is very dark. I’ve heard that it was dark enough that Sassoon did not, or could not, publish it until the war was over.

As usual, I’m largely going to let he piece speak for itself. One thing I like about it is its use of dialog. For some reason, most poems eschew dialog entirely, and I think poetry misses out on a useful device by avoiding it. Musically it’s a mode that the LYL Band visits often, combining organ or piano with electric guitar. I play the guitar part on my Jaguar, a guitar that was once associated with “surf music” but has since had a revival in indie-rock circles. I play it often because its short scale and spring-softened action are friendly to my arthritic fingers.

To hear Christ and the Soldier, click on the gadget that should appear below.

The Deck of Cards, or The Old Weird America Part 2

Returning to the other side of that post WWII Tex Ritter record I discussed yesterday, let’s look at The Deck of Cards. I think I probably first heard this as the Wink Martindale version from 1959 which was the third or fourth time a version of The Deck of Cards had charted on some hit parade somewhere, and as the Wikipedia link shows, it would return again and again, which should not surprise us, since the story dates back to the 18th century.

I rather liked the piece when I heard it as a child. First off it was spoken not sung, so it stood out from all the singers on the radio, and the piece’s narrative twist, that the threatened poor and irreverent man would show himself to be learned and pious, is the kind of twist that can keep a piece of folk material current for centuries. As I said in the last post, no one in the mid-20th century folk revival would have ever considered The Deck of Cards an authentic folk song—but like our supposed irreverent soldier—it is, and not what folks presumed it to be.

Did this record specifically influence the Parlando project to mix music and spoken/chanted words? Not at any conscious level. The popular spoken word record with music just was around in my childhood. Yet, as one starts to do concentrated work in some area you may begin to notice all kinds of things that must have taught you some possibilities.

The plot of The Deck of Cards follows the rhythm of a joke: tension, danger, expectation; then unexpected twist, release of tension, pleasure. So, it’s not surprising then that some of the renditions of this old tale passing through the folk process twist it again to parody, and so here’s mine. It’s based loosely on that rough Robyn Hitchcock version, even uses a couple of his lines, but is mostly mine. If you don’t know the 1948 Tex Ritter version, you can hear it first by clicking here. You should listen to Tex, you can’t have irreverence without reverence. Or you can hear T Texas Tyler’s version which predates Tex Ritter’s by a few months here.

Oddly enough, I performed a straight rendition of the 1948 text the same day that the LYL Band recorded this parody, but you won’t hear that here when you click on the gadget that should appear below.

Yogi Berra

Does humor belong in music, poetry, baseball?

Looking over the pieces the Parlando project has presented so far, I think we’re a little over-representing the romantic and the tragic. It’s easy for the page-poet to fall into that kind of thing. After all, there we sit with a mute page and all the time until a piece of paper rots in front of us. It’s time to get serious. It’s time to set down those final things, time to let the future know we have felt the tragic pangs of life.

Oh, and it’s a lot easier to go that route. Say sad things badly, muff the music, grab at the easy statements that this is so hard—no matter—we’re overcome with tragedy and within our just-past-real visions. Such imprecision is to be forgiven, even expected. After all, we suffered for our art, now it’s your turn.

That’s something live spoken-word poetry balances better than page-poets I think. In any case, page-poets and critics favorable to them, will make that case for me while marking down live spoken-word poetry as relying too much on humor; but when you have an audience in front of you the need to entertain, to connect, to make it worth their while, is hard to escape.

So as baseball fans look forward to the start of the World Series this week, we present this piece about Yogi Berra who participated in 21 World Series, meaning that the man was in almost a fifth of all Word Series ever played since 1903. As time passes, fewer remember him as one of the greatest baseball players of all time, a deadly serious student of the game, yet his rhetorical gift for humorously expressing the quantum state in many a duality lives on, and that’s what this piece celebrates.

The voice and author of Yogi Berra is Dave Moore. Musically, the LYL Band just lets it rip and avoids making any wrong mistakes or playing harmonica. To hear it, click on the gadget that should appear just below.