Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Evolution of an Irish Ballad

Being the surmises of a musical amateur who has lately spent entirely too much time online trying to track down folk music lyrics.

Gen. 1. The Irish take on the British in a battle somewhere on Irish soil. Being seriously outnumbered, they are defeated utterly with great loss of life. Anonymous Irish balladeers compose lyrics honoring the courage of the dead, with individual verses devoted to units from each county involved and to fallen leaders. The result is about 40 verses long, though only six or seven are actually remembered by anyone after the debut.
[Alt. Gen. 1. A minor Irish nobleman takes to the hills after a dustup with British occupiers. Anonymous balladeers compose a mercifully brief ditty depicting the outlaw as a romantic hero and emphasizing his revolutionary cred and sheer heartthrobbiness.]

Gen. 2. The simplified lyric becomes a popular drinking song.

Gen. 3. Early Irish immigrants carry the ballad to the New World, where an English version of the lyrics that may or may not have anything to do with the original is composed. This translation is unequivocally a drinking song and includes wordplays that are hilarious after a quart or so of beer and a rollicking chorus that encourages audience participation.

Gen. 4. Sometime during the nineteenth century, a political campaign borrows the tune and composes a new set of lyrics praising their candidate.

Gen. 5. Frontier musicians develop yet another set of lyrics to the tune. The result is a song about clams.

Gen. 6. Pete Seeger borrows the tune and composes lyrics (a.) in praise of labor unions, (b.) opposing war, or (c.) warning of the dangers of atomic energy. He performs it at a rally devoted to the issue.

Gen. 7. The Irish Rovers record a wacky rendition of the drinking song.

Gen. 8. Rory Cooney borrows the tune and rewrites the lyrics as a hymn of which the liberation theology undertone is hard to ignore.

Gen. 9. Garrison Kiellor rewrites the lyrics as a tongue-in-cheek look at ordinary, modern-day life and performs the result on Prairie Home Companion.

Gen. 10. The Dropkick Murphys yell the whole thing to pipes and shred guitar.

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Blogger MacBeth Derham said...

So delightfully true. Thanks for the chuckle.

11:48 AM  
Blogger CMinor said...

Thank you! So glad you enjoyed it!

8:14 PM  

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