Saturday, November 1, 2008

Trick or Treat: Tam Lin

Fairport Convention: Tam Lin


Last Week, I looked into the British folk song Cruel Sister, and found survivals of pre-Christian beliefs in the song. The case is even easier to make in the case of Tam Lin.

Faerie lore is a British tradition which allowed the natives to preserve their beliefs when the British Isles became Christianized. The old gods became the fey folk, and myths became children’s stories. Nowadays, belief in faeries and Christianity exist peacefully side by side in parts of the British Isles.

The Otherworld is the home of the fey folk, and there is a borderland between their world and ours, where humans can be lured, and from there entrapped in the Otherworld. One way this happens in Celtic myth is that a nobleman strays into this borderland while hunting a magical beast, typically a white stag. This is clearly what happens to Tam Lin, although all the song tells us is that he fell off his horse, and was captured by the Faerie Queen.

Tam Lin is paired with the Faerie queen, and the tradition of the seven-year king is followed. In this tradition, Tam Lin becomes the ruler of the Otherworld alongside the faerie queen, and he must be sacrificed after seven years to make way for the new ruler. Because he has this rank, Tam Lin can himself lure a human woman to the borderland, and mate with her.

In Celtic lore, there is a term called a geas. When Tam Lin is captured, the faerie queen places him under a geas which makes it impossible for him to escape the fate she has set for him, and return to the human realm, unless certain conditions are met. In this case, the mother of his child must meet him on Hallowe’en at a crossroads, and pull him down from his horse. She must hold him tight as the faerie queen transforms him into a series of fearsome beasts. Finally, if she holds him still, he will be transformed into his human form, and he will be free. The breaking of this geas is the trick in the song.

Hallowe’en, or Samhain, is the time in Celtic mythology when the boundaries between our world and the world of faerie break down. Then, the fey ride out from their realm in the wild hunt, seeking mortals to lure back to their world. The wild hunt is clearly what the climactic scene in Tam Lin describes.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Trick or Treat: Candy and Razor Blades

Jane Jensen: Candy and Razor Blades

Trick or treat? How about both rolled into one?

What did our mothers tell us every Halloween? Never eat unwrapped candy. Why? Because of the scare of contaminated candies they had whenever and wherever where poisons and razor blades were found in Halloween candy. Of course, this affected only a few people, and supposedly these were not even given by strangers, so the threat was probably minimal, all the same, now it is a lesson every child must hear before heading off to trick or treat every Halloween.

This song isn't about that particular trick, it's just using the idea of candy with razor blades to describe how her feelings for a particular guy feel. He's sweet, but dangerous. It explains the dichotomy of love, how good it can be, but how much it can also hurt. It might taste so good, but at what cost?

Jane Jensen makes electro-punk rock music, this song is no exception. Some know of her because she played Juliet in the cult classic film Tromeo & Juliet, which seems only fitting since she has the looks for the innocent young lover, and yet the personality to handle the absolute absurdity of the low budget pseudo-horror film they created of the Shakespeare classic. I first heard of her through a magazine spread that featured her with a very impressive mohawk, something that catches your eye when the girl wearing it looks like she could be the prom queen.

Trick or Treat: Babooshka

A babushka is the traditional head scarf worn by Russian women, and by the nesting dolls shown here.

Kate Bush: Babooshka


Kate Bush broke onto the British music scene while still in her teens. (Does this sound like anyone you’ve heard about recently? Apparently, it happens all the time over there.) Bush’s first two albums were full of lush, to my ears way over-produced, romantic ballads. The quintessential example was “Wuthering Heights.” Bush could have continued in this vein forever, and her record company would have been happy.

But Peter Gabriel has always heard things no one else can, and Kate Bush’s voice was no exception. Gabriel hired her to sing the backing vocals on “Games Without Frontiers”, and she evidently stayed around for some of Gabriel’s recording sessions. There she encountered possibilities for what music could be that had apparently never occurred to her before. And she has embraced those possibilities and run with them ever since.

“Babooshka” comes from Kate Bush’s third album, Never Forever. The liner notes include the dedication, “To Peter Gabriel, for opening the windows.” The song is a “trick”; I will leave the rest to the listener.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Trick or Treat: Hobo Supper

A submission from Susan of Optimistic Voices

John William Davis: Hobo Supper


This song is *not* about candy… but when the alternate theme of trickery was announced, it’s the first that popped into my head – upon initial listening (and realizing where the storyline was headed), I shook my head in wonderment and glee (and now enjoy watching others as the A-ha! Moment occurs)…

I discovered the music of John William Davis when I was a preliminary judge for the 2005 South Florida Folk Festival – I was first attracted to his Linda Lou with a Yellow Brick Road mention (and bluebirds too?... and bluebirds too...) but my payoff was more than one line in one tune. He's highly entertaining (lyrically and melodically, playing *wicked* slide and blues guitar), extremely literate (winkin', blinkin' and noddin') and very Southern (that's a good thing, Martha!) - it's disconcerting to hear 'sword of Damocles' and ‘hegemony’ sung in that so-thick-you-can-cut-it-with-a-knife exaggerated drawl…

A former Kerrville winner, and said by one reviewer to be ”Randy Newman meets Shel Silverstein”, he’s a former college professor of language and literature from St. Marys, Georgia who recently moved to Colorado – I tease John that he must have a psychic connection with his fans because there is no calendar displayed on his web page. Should you ever find out he’s playing in your area (whether by word of mouth or mental telepathy), I highly recommend – in my opinion, his best tunes are as yet unrecorded!

In John’s own words about his song Hobo Supper:

They say that every Southern fairy tale begins, "Y'all ain't gonna believe this sh_t." Well, probably the same holds true here. Paul McCartney inspired this song. I was listening to an interview he did with Terry Gross in which he related the creation of "Yesterday". According to McCartney, he dreamed the melody. Hard for me to imagine since I usually dream about such profound matters as being chased out of my house by cat burgling Jehovah's Witnesses and suddenly finding myself in a busy mall only to discover that somehow I forgot to put on my pants. At any rate, McCartney has this great melody he's literally dreamed up and then sticks in a scratch vocal based on English food groups. Something like, "Scrambled eggs, scrambled eggs and English peas." It sounded like a great technique, so I went home, went to sleep, woke up, and since no nocturnal muse bothered to visit, had to get my melody the old-fashioned way - slogging away on my guitar. After which I threw in my own scratch lyric based on Southern food groups, "You can have some catfish, you can have some Cole slaw…" I waited patiently for the muse to hand over, as it apparently had to McCartney, the lyric for a classic pop tune. After some time, I gave up and began trying to write a story around my "meal".

Submitted by Susan

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Trick or Treat: Caramel

Suzanne Vega: Caramel


I’ve searching around for some “treats” for this week, and I have reached a conclusion: all such songs are actually about sexual attraction. “Caramel” is certainly no exception. But where “Candyman Blues” and even “Lollipop” are very clear about their intentions, “Caramel” is all suggestion. All are great songs, but Suzanne Vega’s tune is all the more intense for what it doesn’t say.

Suzanne Vega was the first artist I ever posted here at Starmaker. I apologize to her for waiting so long to get back to her work.

Trick Or Treat: I Want Candy

Strangeloves: I Want Candy


Bow Wow Wow: I Want Candy


I know the song is a double entendre, but one side of the equation is close enough for government work. Besides, it's on mega Halloween collections and paid compilers are way smarter than I, right? Enough of this, time to get back to Count Floyd's Monster Chiller Horror Theatre - they're running Dr. Tongue's Evil House of Wax and I don't want to miss one drop of blood.

The Strangeloves - I Want Candy

Bow Wow Wow - I Want Candy

Monday, October 27, 2008

Trick or Treat: Rebellious

Kacy Crowley: Rebellious


This was the first song that came to mind when I heard the theme for the week. That's mostly because the song actually mentions children misbehaving on Halloween, so it felt appropriate. Overall, though, the song is an autobiography of the singer-songwriter and how she went from a normal little girl with loving parents to a rebellious adolescent, a drug-addled young adult and finally a professional musician finally finding her voice. It tells the tale in such a way as to make it sound both extraordinary as well as make it feel like it could be anyone you know.

I turned thirteen and I tried smoking pot
It was Halloween, so we didn't get caught.
Dressed up like hobos and hookers
Eating candy like crooks in the bushes.

Trick or Treat: A Quick One While He's Away

The Who - A Quick One While He's Away [purchase]

There's a very good possibility this song doesn't meet the theme's criteria. But, it does have a few things going for it.

1) Features a girl who spends a year cheating on her boyfriend. When he finally comes back from wherever he was gone, she admits that she kissed a few guys, sat on Ivor the engine driver's lap, and later, took a nap with Ivor. Of course, "napping" was that generation's "rusty trombone." So there's that.

2) Said dirty old sooty engine driver offers the little girl "a sweet" to take a walk with him ... to sort it out ... back at his place, maybe. Nudge nudge wink wink.

3) When the little girl's boyfriend finally returns, she asks, perhaps rhetorically, "I can’t believe it. Do my eyes deceive me? Am I back in your arms? Away from all harm?" To which, the boyfriend responds, "Harm? What harm? Show me on this doll where Ivor the engine driver harmed you. Seriously? There? And THERE?!?! My God, do I need a haz-mat suit?!?!"

4) Oh yeah, forgot to mention that this might be the greatest live version of any single song in the history of mankind. Surely, such ear candy counts for something.

5) On a meta-level, it was fiendishly clever of The Who to get themselves booked on the Rolling Stones' "Rock 'n' Roll Circus." Their performance was so inspired, controlled chaos incarnate, that by comparison, the Stones ... especially famed blackface minstrel, Mick Jagger* ... appeared to be slogging through some sort of gelatinous muck. It's almost painful to watch. And by painful, I mean, God bless The Who.

From the video archives, a Halloween treat for y'all:

* I love the Stones and I'm just busting Jagger's chops. Besides, we all know he didn't actually wear blackface. It was merely implied.

Trick or Treat: Don't Wake The Scarecrow

The Felice Brothers: Don’t Wake The Scarecrow


So the song here has nothing to do with Halloween, Tricks, or Treats, but as soon as I ran across it, I thought of one thing:

Be careful out there folks...

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Trick or Treat: Lollipop

Ben Kweller: Lollipop


Our theme this week is either-or dichotomy, allowing for the realities of door to door carousing: though I have many more fond memories of proffered candy baskets and miniature, individually-wrapped sweets than I do of haunted houses and neighborhood goofballs opening the door dressed as an axe-murderer, I had my share of scared moments and live worms in the candy bowl as a child, and hope my children will have opportunity for the same this Halloween.

Here's a halloween-appropriate song, given its high kitsch value, and its origin on the Stubbs the Zombie soundtrack: a cover of old fifties harmony tune Lollipop from Ben Kweller. Great fifties harmonies, but its still a product of its age, with just the right aura of ragged indiecred when compared to the polished original. Under the fluffy delivery, this has always been a truly sexualized song, presenting a girlfriend as an object to devour and savor, "sweeter than candy on a stick". But then, there's nothing that innocent about Halloween, either, when it comes down to it. Bring on the treats, and the danger of trickery lurking everywhere.

Trick or Treat: Lady Waters and the Hooded One

Robyn Hitchcock and the Egyptians: Lady Waters and the Hooded One


This year, I got a treat. I have long bemoaned the fact that the work of Robyn Hitchcock and the Egyptians was out of print and unavailable. I have these albums on vinyl only, and I no longer have anything to play them on. But now, Element of Light, Fegmania, and Globe of Frogs have all been reissued on CD.

“Lady Waters and the Hooded One” comes from Element of Light. The song sounds like one of those morbid British folk songs, but is actually a Robyn Hitchcock original. Here. Lady Waters comes face to face with Death, as the plague rages through her town. The question for the listener is: who tricks who?