Posts Tagged ‘Folklore’

I love it when I learn something new, especially when it’s something I meant to learn a long time ago.  Back in the days before Wikipedia and an Internet full of answers (a time best captured here), I was religiously reading Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, in which he had a personified version of Fiddler’s Green walking around. At some point, Gaiman may have alluded to what Fiddler’s Green was all about, but I missed or forgot it if he did.  Nothing in my paltry mythology library at the time had anything on it, and eventually I forgot all about it.

But tonight, I caught this video of Cary Hudson singing an unreleased song called “Fiddler’s Green.”  Cary Hudson was the leader of the criminally under-appreciated Blue Mountain, a roots rock or alt-country or whatever-you-want-to-call-them band who recently broke up.  Hudson writes strong songs and plays some nasty slide guitar, but I think this acoustic number might be one of his best yet.

So what’s Fiddler’s Green, since I brought the whole thing up?  Well, it’s a mythical afterlife where the drinks never stop flowing, the musicians never stop playing, and the dancers never get tired.  Think Valhalla without the war drills or a Big Rock Candy Mountain for salty sailors and sea dogs. It apparently exists between Heaven and Hell, and sounds like it beats the heck out of limbo, where, if Dore’s illustrations for Dante are accurate, a bunch of robed philosophers just stand around being mopey.

Here’s Hudson singing about it.  I really like this song.

Also worth noting that I found the video on the Couch by Couchwest site, a kind of alternative avenue for musicians to get their music out during the SXSW festival.  They can be in Austin, or they can be anywhere else in the world. Apparently, the only rule is that you can’t be on a stage in your video.  There’s some good stuff all over this site, especially if you like the rootsy stuff.

Some Cary Hudson links:


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Learn something every day. All this time, I’d thought that a “revenant” was a form of avenging dead, who emerged from the grave only because of a need to hammer justice into some evildoer’s skull (usually the person who killed the revenant).  It is that — in some tales and legends — but it appears that in most Medieval folklore, a revenant had no purpose other than to terrorize or be a pain in the rear to their former family and friends.  The cure for a revenant showed your typical “get your hands dirty” Medieval quality: the offending corpse was usually dug up, burned and/or decapitated.

These two songs illustrate the definition of “revenant” that I was working with before I started this entry and did a little research.  If anyone knows of a song about the harassing form of revenant that’s along the lines of “That Osric is being a real thorn in my nether eye,” let me know.

Warren Zevon’s “Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner” has all the hallmarks of a ’70s men’s adventure novel. Exotic locales, mercenaries with really big guns, double-crosses, the works. It doesn’t take long for the song to take a supernatural turn after Roland gets his head blown off. This is a classic Zevon track, full of keen detail and a wry sense of humor.  It’s a shame that “Roland” often gets overshadowed by “Werewolves of London.”

Chad VanGaalen is a newer indie artist with a penchant for spooky off-kilter songs.  For the most part, “Molten Light” has a soothing sound, with acoustic guitar and VanGaalen’s falsetto, which makes the first chorus of “I’ll find you and I’ll kill you” that much more jarring.  A grisly crime, a dumped body, justice from beyond the grave, all illustrated by in nightmarish style by VanGaalen.  Needless to say, the video for “Molten Light” has its fair share of NSFW elements.

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I’ll probably talk about Josh Ritter, one of my favorite songwriters, quite a bit on this blog.  He writes airtight songs, the kind where every word feels carefully chosen. It’s obvious that he works his tail off to make his songs as perfect as they can be, but he never loses that rare quality, that charisma and personality that makes the songs relatable.  Too many songwriters (and I’d be this type if I were one) over-edit themselves right into boring songs. Ritter can get a little sleepy, but I’ve never found him boring.

Anyway, he’s also fairly literary, so he touches upon folklore elements quite a bit, usually as allusions woven into more real-world tales.

“Bone of Song” comes from his excellent, fairly quiet 2003 album Hello Starling.  I think it’s a great way to kick off the blog because it’s not rooted in any one mythology, but goes straight to the heart of the idea of music as the product of some almost divine force in the universe, as something much bigger than ourselves.

In the song, the narrator finds a bone in the roots of a tree. Upon closer examination, etchings and engravings on the bone reveal its special nature:

I ran my palm along them and I heard
lucky are you who finds me in the wilderness
I am the only unquiet ghost that does not seek rest
the words on the bone of song were close and small
and though their tongues were dead I found I knew them all
in the hieroglyphs of quills and quatrain lines
Osiris—the fall of Troy—Auld Lang Syne
Kathleen Mauvoreen—Magnificat—Your Cheatin’ Heart
the chords of a covenant king singing for the Ark

All the great tales and songs, linked together and created via the same animating creative spirit.  I love that “unquiet ghost” line and, to me, “chords of a covenant king singing for the Ark” (above and beyond its killer alliteration) evokes Leonard Cohen’s too-much-covered “Hallelujah.”  And since we’re on Cohen, the whole song also brings to mind Cohen’s “Tower of Song,” in which Cohen envisions himself living in a tower many, many floors below luminaries like Hank Williams.

Interestingly, Ritter goes even further into the idea of the song as being larger than the artist when his narrator examines the bone further and finds:

a blessing written older than the rest
it said leave me here I care not for wealth or fame
I’ll remember your song – but I’ll forget your name
the words that I sang blew off like the leaves in the wind
and perched like birds in the branches before landing on the bone again

As my old “Introduction to Poetry” teacher used to say, “That’s good stuff!”  It seems to play a little bit with the idea of the Aeolian Harp, which makes music when the wind blows across its strings. Only in this case, the harp plays the narrator as much as the narrator plays the harp.

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