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bear by san

March 2017

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phil ochs troubador

These are the things I have learned from playing lousy folk guitar.

1) There are apocalypses in the damnedest places. Like "Garden Song," and "Redemption Song," and "Amazing Grace." The world ends every time you turn around.

2) Nobody except Art Garfunkel can keep up with the shit Paul Simon does with meter.

3) The 19th century was full of people dying of syphilis and writing songs about it.

3a) It was also full of murder ballads that make FARGO seem like competence porn.

3b) Alcohol may have been involved.

3c) Snark is not a modern invention. The bit in "Duncan and Brady" where the women go home and put their party dresses on for the funeral is classic.

4) You can turn most Tom Waits songs into rollicking feel-good ditties by capoing a little higher.

5) The narrator of "Greensleeves" is a creepy stalker, as is the narrator of "The Lily of the West." And the narrator of "Leaving on a Jet Plane" is a lying douchebag.

6) Gordon Lightfoot is more self-aware about toxic relationships than John Denver.

7) Bob Hunter and Jerry Garcia are smarter about narrative than I am. Also, it took me five years to figure out the narrative structure of "Brown Eyed Women."

8) Lindsay Buckingham is really smart about how the music supports the narrative, but I spot it faster.

9) The People's Key is "B flat."

10) Pete Seeger.

11) Woody Guthrie.

12) Steal from the best. Really pretty songs are still really pretty no matter how bad you suck. This is why there are eleven thousand cover versions of "Hallelujah."

12a) And nobody can hit that high note in "Hallelujah." Except for k.d. lang, and she can only do it sometimes.

12b) Leonard Cohen.

13) Gillian Welch keeps writing songs that I think are traditional. Until I look them up and realize they were written in 2003.

14) Emmylou Harris knows a lot more chords than I do.

15) And some people can write amazing songs with almost no chords at all.

16) It is impossible to be so bad at guitar or so intoxicated that you can't play "Horse with No Name." This is what "Horse with No Name" is for.

Comments

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#3 and its subheads made me laugh so hard, my husband -- on the other side of the apartment -- wanted to know what was going on.

"Lily of the West" annoys me so much. The first few times I heard it, I wasn't listening very closely to the lyrics, so I just heard a really fun, energetic song that seemed to be about some woman called "the Lily of the West," and I thought it was about her doing awesome things.

. . . then I actually listened to the lyrics.

It has left me with an intense desire to filk the thing and make it be the song I thought it was.
As a counterpart, last week I read this on my Tumblr dashboard-- it's about the distaff version of the murder ballad, or, well, not exactly the distaff version-- the sort of ballad where the female intended victim tricks and then handily dispatches the would-be murderer:

http://plinytheyounger.tumblr.com/post/71647213311/a-handsome-seductive-young-man-asks-a-young-woman
You almost make me want to take up guitar, lousy folk or otherwise (but probably still lousy),
Hey! I *like* the high note in Hallelujah. It's one of the few modern folk songs where I get to sing more than an octave. Which makes sense, because part of the point is to write songs anyone can sing...but I've got 3+ to play in and staying inside 8 notes gets boring sometimes.
I once had a choir director test out my range (during warmups!)to see how LOW I can go. I seem to have a three octave range also, but mine is low C, middle C and high C! I love being a female tenor!
Low E, up through the middle & high octaves to the next E. A couple more at either end if I'm in practice and warmed up. Solidly a soprano, but alto is harmony and thus More Fun. Most of the time.

Singing along with Mr Cohen, I do the whole thing in chest voice, and I've only got about an octave there, so I feel like I need to go look at notation. Or I can just put my playlist of cohen covers on and go to bed..
It's an implied high note. Cohen doesn't sing it either. He's too smart for that.

Regina Spektor gets it, though.
As a devotee of such music this was a LOT of fun to read.
I thought the people's key was B flat Minor....

(Sorry. it's on a t-shirt somewhere...)

And the Lily of the West is most definitely a stalker song - but it knows it and it isn't on the narrator's side. Greensleeves doesn't seem any worse than a lot of the other poetry of the time it was written, about the vainly pursued woman. Of course, the perky "I Will Follow You" gives me some serious chills for the same reason, and it wasn't read that way when it was written, so obviously, historicity only goes so far.
The way I heard it, it's a spoken joke, and you say it "Beeeeee FLAT!"

I've heard too many versions of Lily of the West that seem to think it's a tragedy for the narrator, not poor Flora and her boyfriend...

Re: Greensleeves. I give you the rape culture you're soaking in it of 1550ish. *g*
Can I just tell you how much I love you for calling out Horse with No Name?

That is all. :)
#5 and #6 are so related. And both so true.
I thought what "Horse with No Name" is for is to win the "Bad Lyrics Not by Jim Morrison" award. In the desert you can remember your name 'cause there ain't no one for to give you no pian.
That is far from the worst lyric in that song.

I usually sing the last two verse lines of the song as "Under the cities lies a heart made of ground / But the next line is really dumb."
NAME THE GODDAMN HORSE IT IS YOUR HORSE YOU CAN NAME IT.
The horse's name is Susan and he wants you to respect his life choices.

(Sorry. My fingers made me do it.)
I'm currently learning to be a moderately ok folk singer. I've been singing for years, but recently joined a song circle that doesn't allow songbooks. It's amazing how many songs I've sung over the years without ever learning the lyrics. I'm currently looking at a bunch of traditional songs with a lot of repetition, because memorizing and practicing four songs every two weeks is hard!
John Gorka performs on stage with cheat sheets for his own lyrics that he wrote himself.

He's my role model. *g*
Leonard Cohen: such a good song writer, his songs even sound good when he sings them. :)
Like David Bowie, he eventually learned to sing! "Ten New Songs" is gorgeous.
re: 13, I recently found a folk song I liked (Widow and the Devil) and pondered whether it might be old enough to predate the "woman as Mary" model of female sexual timidity, instead using the older "woman as Eve" model of feminine sexual aggression.

Then I looked up the song and saw that it was written in 1982.
Yeah, that.

"Orphan Girl" was written in 1840. No one will convince me otherwise.
6: Yes -- yes, he is.

---L.
It makes a world of difference when the song knows "This is fucked up," even if the narrator doesn't. See also, Rick Springfield, "Jesse's Girl;" David Bowie, "Cracked Actor"/"Queen Bitch"/well, most of his ouvre really....
Allow me to learn from your experience: what are the braindead easy folk songs that I should be using to teach myself to sing & play guitar at the same time?

Braindead easy folk

* Circle Game
* Both Sides Now
* Lime in the Coconut
* Puff the Magic Dragon
* Blowin' in the Wind
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