Schingle's Blog

May 25, 2010

Music’s changed, but people haven’t

Filed under: Folk tales and songs — schingle @ 12:39 pm

In another time and place, I was writing blogs regularly in preparation for a larger piece—hopefully a book—regarding old folk songs, in general, and the “Child Ballads,” more specifically.  This is one of those pieces, slightly rearranged.  (In other words, hopefully with all the typos fixed).  My fascination is not just with the words and music, but with the themes, as well.  As you can see from this piece, I decided to pass along that “sexual freedom” was not an invention of the 1960’s.

The more I read about and listen to these nearly 300 year old songs the more I think the “sexual revolution of the 1960’s” is a myth.  I mean those times were practically Victorian compared to the times described in these tunes. 

If anyone’s ever read J.D. Sallinger’s best known book you probably understand that the title comes from Holden Caulfield’s misunderstanding of this circa 1750 traditional, Coming Through the Rye.  (The Sallinger book, of course is, Catcher in the Rye).  (On a side note, this book was often banned in schools when it was new, in the early 1950’s.  The book itself is actually very tame though the word “fuck” is used a few times.  However, remember in the 1950’s, America was very Ike/Republican).

As it turns out, it’s name sake was actually a pretty bawdy song.  The singer keeps a secret and no one knows who her lover is.  However, all the lads smile at her “coming through the rye.”  (Another side note, Robert Burns, one of my favorite poets, is credited with at least an updated version of the lyrics to this piece.)  Granted, this song is more flirty than downright sexual in nature, but it would certainly have offended any Eisenhower loving American of 1950’s America, much like Sallinger’s novel.

This next one has a rather complicated past.  I’ll give the briefest of summaries.  For my purposes, this song is called, Rosemary Lane.  Historically, it is related (or a bastardized version of) Home, Dearie, Home or Bell-Bottom Trousers or a number of other songs.  It reminds me very much of a song I’ve heard Pentangle do call, When I was in my Prime.

This is another song upwards of 300 years old.  The theme is a familiar one: a girl is seduced by (what else?) a sailor.  The difference between this one and others of it’s nature is that, the sailor gives the singer gold and states that if the child ends up being a boy, he should join the navy (or fight for the king, etc.).  If the child is a girl, she should have a gold ring.  Usually, these songs end up with the sailor just ditching the girl.  A happy ending?  Can’t be.

So, again for those of you who thought the flower children invented free love.  Here’s more evidence that people have really been having a good time since the beginning, and have actually been pretty open about it.  You just gotta know where to look.

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