Thursday, May 24, 2012

Amateur Music History Dept., Dept.

Right, so your sobsister is reading Peter Ackroyd's London: The Biography.  I think it should be made compulsory reading in every school in this country, me.  But, then, I think that Fleischer Popeyes and Betty Boops should be publicly screened on the sides of buildings 24/7.  So, my idea of pedagogy might vary somewhat from yours.

At any rate, the reason I mention this book, other than as a recommendation to all those within range of my wobbly tenor, is that it is full of Interesting Information, of which the following is one bit.  In his chapter titled "Music, Please," Ackroyd describes and discusses the itinerant singers and "flying stationers" who would take up their positions on streetcorners and sing or tell their tales in short and sell the broadsides that contained the lyrics or the stories.

He writes:
Then new songs, together with an old ballad for company, would in turn become part of a "long song" which comprised several ballads printed together on a roll of paper.
And that put me in mind of Jethro Tull's "Life Is a Long Song," off the Living in the Past album.  Ian Anderson, who wrote it, has not discussed publicly, to my knowledge, his intent for the phrase "long song" in that number beyond what it reads on the surface, i.e., "Life is a long song, but the tune ends too soon for us all."  However, armed with my small, new-found bit of knowledge, itself always a dangerous thing, I'll imagine that Mr. A (no relation to Steve Ditko's rather uncompromising protagonist) meant that life is a collection of ballads sad and happy, lurid and loving, sold at the end of a long stick by a glowering man.  The fellow upper-left is "The Long-Song Seller," one of the working-class Londoners who speak, perhaps for the first time in print, in Henry Mayhew's London Labour and the London Poor, Volume 1 (available to read here thanks to Tufts); the print is by H.G. Hine and W.G. Mason, its original caption (which appeared at bottom) was "Two under fifty for a fardy' !", to quote Mayhew, "As if two hundred and fifty songs were to be sold for a farthing."