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Lehrer Tom

I should like to consider the folk song and expound briefly on a theory I have held for some time to the effect that the reason most folk songs are so atrocious is that they were written by the people. If professional song writers had written them instead, things might have turned out considerably differently. For example, consider the old favourite, with which I'm sure you are all familiar, Clementine, you know:

In a cavern
In a canyon
Da da daa, da da da daa

… a song with no recognisable merit whatsoever, and imagine what might have happened if, for example, Cole Porter had tried writing the song. The first verse might have come out like this:

In a cavern
In a canyon
Excava-ha-ha-hating for a mine
Far away from the boom, boom, boom of the city
She was so pretty
What a pity
O Clementine,
Can't you tell from the howls of me
This love of mine
Calls to you from the bowels of me?
Are you discerning the returning of this churning, burning, yearning for you,
Ooh, ooh, aah, aah.

Well supposing at this point that Mozart or one of that crowd had tried writing a verse, the next one might have come out as a baritone aria from an Italian opera somewhat along these lines:

Era legera
E come un fairy
E suo shoes numero nine
Herring bo-ho-ho-hoxes senza to-ho-ho-hopses
Sandale per Clementina si, per Clementina si,
Per Clementina sandaleka
Clementina sandaleka,
Clementina, Clementina, Clementina.
Herring boxes senza topses
Sandaleka Clementina,
Herring boxes senza topses
Sandaleka Clementine,
Che sciagura Clementina
Che sciagura Clementina
Cara Clementina cara Clementina-na-na-na.

Supposing at this rather dramatic juncture in the narrative one of our modern cool school of composers had tried writing a verse. The next one might have come out like this:

A one, a two, a three, doo doo doo doo doo doo doo
Drove those ducklings to the water
Yep rock, doodle a doo doo, ah ah
Every morning like 9 am
Whoopa da doo da doo doo da
Got her hung upon a splinter
Got her hung upon a splinter, doo da, hoo hoo
Fell into the foamy brine
Dig that crazy Clementine, man!

To end on a happy note one can always count on Gilbert and Sullivan for a rousing finale full of words and music and signifying nothing.

That I missed her depressed her
Young sister named Esther
This mister to pester she tried.
Now a pestering sister's a festering blister,
You'd best to resist her say I.
The mister resisted,
The sister persisted,
I kissed her – all loyalty slipped.
When she said I could have her
Her sister's cadaver
Must surely have turned in its crypt
Yes, yes, yes, yes!
For I love she and she loves me
Enraptured are the both of we
Yes I love she and she loves I
And will through all eternity.

See what I mean!

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