Thursday, July 17, 2008

Musical Trivia You Don't Care About

One of my co-workers, hereinafter to be referred to as Anorexic Stoner Girl, or ASG for short,* dragged in a pile of CDs the other day.

The rest of us huddled in apprehension.

See, ASG's musical tastes are a little...well, they're kinda...sorta...uh...they just don't coincide with mine, which are otherwise surprisingly eclectic and run the gamut from Beethoven & Bach to hard-core '70s punk***. ASG, on the other hand, leans toward country & western ballads; ass-kickin' (not in a good way) truck-driving tunes; squeaky-clean, vapid-voiced female vocalists of all stripes and persuasions, the blander the better, apparently; and generically-rendered Christmas carols, which she plays all year long at least once a damn day every damn day.

The girl couldn't be any whiter if she tried.

Oh, wait. Yeah, she could. She's from Iowa.

Anyway, on this particular day she was particularly enamored with--as in played it repeatedly for the entire damn morning and on and off during the afternoon--a "Best Of" compilation by (brace yourselves) The Kingston Trio.

Yeah. The Kingston fuckin' Trio, the Whitest Boyz in Da (Gated) Hood, second only to SCTV's 5 Neat Guys (and they were playin' it for laughs).

My feelings for the American folk music revival, at least as presented on television in the late '50s and early '60s, pretty much follow the tone of 2003 mockumentary, A Mighty Wind: "Gawd, that was awful; let's make (pointed, but gentle) fun of it!" This is probably because my parents were devoted followers of The Ed Sullivan Show, which I loathed with almost the same vehemence I reserved for the soulless Bland-O-Tronic outpourings of Lawrence Welk**** because, well, bland and squeaky-clean never appealed to me, even as a child. What I wanted was total immersion in stuff that was edgy, exciting, innervating, fast-paced, and adrenaline-inducing, something ol' Ed (and Lawrence and the commercially-oriented folk music of the time) was not. However, as a kid I also operated on the (decidedly faulty) assumption that bad television was better than no television and thereby endured a helluva lot of disgustingly wholesome, commercially-slick folksingers with perfect enunciation, bad haircuts, and musical cues so precise they seemed machine-generated.

Including The Kingston Trio.

Anyway, ASG was merrily playing her album and offering various asides on how funny these guys were, how creative and innovative, while all the time I'm gritting my teeth, wondering if I can get a bulk discount on the gallons of insulin I'm going to be needing before the day is through, when up came one of The Kingston Trio's best known ditties, even to me, "M. T. A.".

So okay, yeah, I gotta admit "M. T. A." is funny. What surprised me is that ASG didn't quite get the metafunny parts.

First, a quick listen for those of you who may be unfamiliar with the song:

Definitely snickerworthy. The surprising part, given her extensive country music background, is ASG didn't know this was a parody/mashup***** of "The Wreck of the Old 97", pretty much a standard for Old School country singers everywhere******:

Anyway, the upshot was ASG was fascinated, and I mean fascinated all out of proportion by these odds and ends of useless musical trivia I happen to have stowed away in the dim recesses of my brain.

My guess is she'll be torturing us with a whole bunch of new CDs real soon now.

I have no one to blame but myself.

*Because, well, she's a classic anorectic and she's always high on...something. My guess is she's a-rockin' the ganj and poppin' speed, which gives her**...bipolar disposition.

**Annoying as hell.

***With possibly unhealthy doses of Jimi Hendrix, Lou Reed, Meat Loaf, and Tom Waits.

****No offense to my paternal grandfather, who loved Lawrence Welk which, I suppose, was merely age-appropriate. He even had an autographed picture atop his television console.

*****Mashup as in "The Wreck of the Old 97" and an even earlier song, "The Ship That Never Returned."

******Well, maybe "The Wreck of the Old 97" is something found only in the Southern collective unconcious; certainly by the time I was in 4th grade I knew this variant:

He was runnin' down the road makin' 90 miles an hour
When the chain on his bicycle broke
He was found in the grass with the chain up his ass
And his teeth playing "Dixie" on the spokes
(scat "Dixie")


Anonymous said...

Speaking of railroad disaster songs, you might like this book:

Cathy VanPatten said...

Oh gosh... It really is weird, comparing the vast gulf in musical tastes that separated us from our parents v. the not-nearly-as-wide arroyo that separates us (well, I can speak only for Jeff and me) from his kids. Yeah, there's the whole rap/hip-hop thing that never quite caught my fancy. But we share a lot of common CDs with the steps.

That said, I caught some ancient Lawrence Welk (it seems he was ALWAYS ancient, doesn't it?) on PBS while surfing around a few months ago, and I watched, rapt in nostalgia. I realized that a lot of my appreciation and affection for old tin-pan alley type fare may have come from LW's show, or at least was reinforced by same. Where it REALLY fell to pieces was when he tried to do execrable arrangements of popular tunes--you know, the ones that we already KNEW were "champagne music" fodder the first time we heard them on the radio. I'm talkin' "Winchester Cathedral." I'm talkin' "Those Were the Days."

And you can thank me for those earworms! LOL!

G. W. Ferguson said...


Thanks for the link!

There's also this (since I've now become obsessive about the whole thing): The Origins of a Modern Traditional Ballad, "Wreck of the Old 97" (pdf file) by Alfred Scott.

There's another book about railroad ballads and "The Wreck of the Old 97" specifically I vaguely remember (saw it in a Charlottesville bookstore in the '80s), but for the life of me I can't find an online reference...yet.

G. W. Ferguson said...


Yeah, it's funny/strange/surprising hanging out with the twenty- and thirty-somethings then finding out how much our musical tastes can overlap. Truly, "everything old is new again."

Still haven't been able to wrap my head around Death Metal, but I delight in watching the young 'uns discover The Velvet Underground and Johnny Cash, among others.

JSaM said...

This stuff sticks in my head. A few years ago I invested in the "Ultimate Barry Manilow" (Manifold), because, like it or not, I knew every tune on the disc! Now that's disheartening. I liked the fact that "Serial Mom" used "DaybreaK" and that became my excuse. The problem is, I associate various pop songs with periods in my life. I also like stuff like "Afternoon Delight" because it was all over the place and it recalls something in me from the mid "70's. (P.S. I love this stuff, including the Manilow,but begrudgingly- it's a curse!)

G. W. Ferguson said...


"The problem is, I associate various pop songs with periods in my life."

This explains why I have what I jokingly refer to as "the world's most eccentric CD collection." Certain songs stick in my head and/or are so inextricably intertwined with various events in my life that, Coolness Factor notwithstanding, I want them available for whenever I feel the need of a Nostalgia Binge. Hey, I'm the guy with a copy of Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show, The Monkees, Neil Fuckin' Diamond, The Guess Who, and, yeah, now that Amazon offers individual MP3 downloads I'll be getting Barry Manilow's rendition of "Reed 'Em and Weep" real soon now.

I horrify my co-workers by knowing most of the lyrics to whatever piece of pop trash comes on the Oldies station we listen to.