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Wednesday: December 29, 2010

Aim Higher

Filed under: — site admin @ 10:48 PM GMT-0500

The Rat is disappointed by a recent science article about drugs and alcohol in the (wild) animal kingdom: “How can you write about porcupines ingesting a hallucinogenic substance and not include a photo of same?!” Surely a YouTube video of a hopped-up porcupine would be infinitely better? The ubiquity of Flip cameras and such makes that a very reasonable request: this isn’t the ’50s.

Limited Musical Horizons

Filed under: — site admin @ 7:45 PM GMT-0500

In her 2010 Christmas song post on “O Holy Night”, Ann Althouse links back to her 2004 Christmas song post, in which she compared 18 versions of “Blue Christmas”, beginning with Elvis’s, “the best” and imitated by seveal of the others. Although she included a couple of country singers, she somehow missed Ernest Tubb, who first made the song popular in 1949. Apparently, for Althouse, music starts with Elvis. I haven’t heard any of the other 17 versions she lists, much less the 65+ other versions Wikipedia estimates to have been made, but Tubb’s version seems much better than Elvis’s. Perhaps I should say “versions”, since he recorded it at least twice. The later one is much better in that it omits the backup singers.

Wikipedia Warms My Cold Cold Heart

Filed under: — site admin @ 6:31 PM GMT-0500

Fans of bluegrass and other traditional American music all know “The Wreck of the Old 97”. Without even trying, I have acquired five versions by four different artists for my iPod: Ernest Stoneman & Kayle Brewer, Hank Thompson, Johnny Cash (live, at San Quentin), and two by Mac Wiseman. For those who do not know the song, it usually begins something like this:

Well they gave him his orders at Monroe, Virginia,
Saying “Steve, you’re way behind time.
This is not 38, it’s old 97.
You must put her into Spencer on time.”

A complete set of lyrics – more complete than in any version I have heard sung – will be found at the Blue Ridge Institute & Museum website. Most singers start with the third verse, quoted above.

Wikipedia’s article on the wreck and the song includes a detail I had not known:

During the late 1940s, a parody of the ballad was sung that mocked the ties that the folk singer Pete Seeger had to the Communist Party.

They give the first four lines, which is enough for Google to find the rest at the Socialist Songbook website:


    (Tune: Wreck of the Old ’97)

Well, they gave him his orders
Up at party headquarters,
Saying, “Pete, you’re way behind the times,
This is not ’38; this is 1947,
And there’s been a change in that old party line.”

Well, it’s a long, long haul
From “Greensleeves” to “Freiheit”,
And the distance is more than long,
But that great outfit they call the People’s Artists
Is on hand with those good old People’s songs.

Their motives are pure, their material is corny,
But their spirit will never be broke.
And they go right on in their great noble crusade –
Of teaching folk songs to the folk.

Wikipedia’s Pete Seeger article doesn’t mention the parody.