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May 12, 2003

A strange sense of humor
Posted by Teresa at 10:14 PM *

Today Patrick received from Lydy the new limited-edition Richard Thompson EP Tracks, which isn’t available anywhere in NYC. Says Thompson’s website:

***29 APRIL, 2003***

“Tracks,” a limited edition 5-song EP of new and live music from folk/rock pioneer Richard Thompson, will be available nationally at a number of independent retail coalitions and chains a week before the release of his new studio album ‘The Old Kit Bag.’ 40,000 copies of the EP, which includes one song from ‘The Old Kit Bag,’ two live recordings of songs from Thompson’s ‘Semi-Detached Mock Tudor’ album, and two never-before-released tracks, will be available in late April. The complete track listing is:
1) I’ll Tag Along (from ‘The Old Kit Bag’)
2) Bathsheba Smiles (from ‘Semi-Detached Mock Tudor (live)’ )
3) Hard on Me (from ‘Semi-Detached Mock Tudor (live)’ )
4) Worldes Blis Ne Last (a traditional arrangement by Richard Thompson from ‘1000 Years of Popular Music,’ Thompson’s acclaimed live show in which he performs historic songs from the last millennium of music.)
5) Don’t Stop the Music (George Jones’ cover from ‘1000 Years of Popular Music’)
The pertinent point is that if you’re a maniacal Richard Thompson fan (wave, Moshe; Patrick, take a bow) (okay, and me too), the last two tracks are the only ones you won’t already have. Naturally, this means you’ll walk barefoot over broken glass to get them; so it’s a good thing that Lydy was in a position to obtain copies in a less painful fashion.

1000 Years of Popular Music has been one of Thompson’s projects. It has has spawned a series of small shows at the Getty Museum in LA and Joe’s Pub in NYC, where Thompson’s performed a decently representative sampling of said 1000 years, accompanied by his own guitar, percussionist Michael Jerome, and the intermittent assistance of Judith Owen, who makes a better Dido than he does. The three of them faking a full-scale Gilbert & Sullivan orchestration is impressive.

I’ve seen one of these shows, but he varies the playlist from one performance to another, so I hadn’t heard “Worldes Blis Ne Last”, and wasn’t previously familiar with it from any other context. The EP arrived. Patrick unwrapped it and put on the last two tracks. I fell over, laughing helplessly.

If you’re familiar with Richard Thompson’s songwriting, you know he makes Warren Zevon sound like an incurable optimist: absolutely top-notch misery. His own description of the usual plot of his average song is “Boy meets girl; blood everywhere.” And if you’re familiar with medieval lyrics, you know that one of the basic tropes is “The joy and pleasure of this life is fleeting, illusory, and slated for permanent disappearance on Tuesday next.”

(Our plesance heir is all vane glory, / This fals warld is bot transitory, / The flesche is brukle, the Fend is sle; / Timor mortis conturbat me.)

The reason I was laughing so hard is that “Worldes Blis Ne Last” is the most god-awfully miserable specimen of that trope I’ve ever run into, and lord knows I’ve seen more than a few of them. That is, it’s the perfect Richard Thompson medieval lyric:
Worldes blis ne last no throwe, hit wit ant wend a-wey a-non;
The lengur that hich hit i-knowe
The lasse hic finde pris ther-on,
for al hit is imeynd syd kare,
mid sorewe ant wid uuel fare,
ant at the laste pouere ant bare
hit let mon, wen hit ginnet a-gon.
al the blisse this here ant there
bi-louketh at hende wop ant Mon.
Roughly, that’s “This world’s bliss doesn’t endure; it up and goes away. The longer I’m acquainted with it, the less I value it, since it’s all mixed up with care, sorrow, and misfortune. And at the end, when it’s getting gone, it leaves man poor and bare. All the happiness — this here, that there — comes to weeping and moaning at the end.”

There’s more to it than he sings. You can find the whole thing here, including all the god-awfully miserable verses he doesn’t sing. Just watch out for their marginal glosses. They translate “wop ant Mon” as “lamentations”, which is simply earless of them.

Comments on A strange sense of humor:
#1 ::: Alison Scott ::: (view all by) ::: May 13, 2003, 10:51 AM:

I'm just right here in the faunching line.

#2 ::: Leslie Turek ::: (view all by) ::: May 13, 2003, 12:32 PM:

Thanks for the tip about Richard Thompson. I didn't know him, but I've been looking for new music to download for my iPod, so I listened to a few samples on the iTunes Music Store, decided that I liked them, and bought an album. Listening to it right now.

#3 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: May 13, 2003, 12:39 PM:

Missing, unfortunately, is RT's "1000 Years of Popular Music" cover of "Oops, I Did It Again".

#4 ::: Cassandra Phillips-Sears ::: (view all by) ::: May 13, 2003, 01:59 PM:

I'm confused. Does Richard Thompson do covers of all of these songs? Or does he rewrite them somehow?

Either way, I'm both amused and impressed. I never thought of trying to make a cover of "When I am Laid in Earth"--I have enough to do singing it as it was written!
Though I do occasionally do Hadyn in jazz when the mood takes me.

#5 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 13, 2003, 05:27 PM:

I've heard his "Oops, I Did It Again." It's dark and mournful and vaguely threatening. If you didn't know otherwise, you'd think it was one of his own. He does a short medieval-style instrumental reprise of it at the end of the 1000 Years of Popular Music album, identified as "Marry, Ageyn Hic Hev Donne Yt".

He does some cheerful ones too.

Cassandra, he just does the instrumental background for "When I Am Laid in Earth". It's really Judith Owen's number.

You can sing that? I'm impressed.

#6 ::: Alison Scott ::: (view all by) ::: May 13, 2003, 06:41 PM:

When I remarked that "Oops I did it Again" sounded like a Thompson song, Austin Benson pointed out that Thompson couldn't have written it, because he would never have penned a song containing the word "oops".

#7 ::: Bryant ::: (view all by) ::: May 13, 2003, 08:06 PM:

His cover of Kiss on the bonus CD from Old Kit Bag is scary enough.

#8 ::: Mr Ripley ::: (view all by) ::: May 13, 2003, 08:28 PM:

This'll probably be old news to everyone here, but there's an interview with RT in the last hour of this program, wherein he does "Gethsemane", "She Said It Was Destiny", "A Love You Can't Survive", and "Dimming of the Day" solo in the studio, as well as glosses on those songs, a discussion of the origin of the "Thousand Years" project, and answers to the obligatory questions he's been asked ten thousand times ("What was Sandy Denny like?").

We had the good fortune to be in NYC at the beginning of this month and to see his performance at Town Hall. Wow. Talk about virtuousity, not just on RT's part but on Michael Jerome's, Pete Zorn's, et al. My wife noted, "Going to hear Richard Thompson, you never risk that he'll blow off a performance like Bob Dylan sometimes does: he takes the work seriously." She also liked his tight shiny trousers.

#9 ::: Tim Kyger ::: (view all by) ::: May 13, 2003, 10:17 PM:

Richard Thompson also has, available for sale from his website, "1000 Years Of Popular Music" -- the CD, finally. (Of course, this particular CD doesn't have the two tracks that Teresa mentions are, um, Tracks.)

But a track it *does* have is this:

Marry, Ageyn Hic Hev Donne Yt

Thmopson says in the liner notes that this is a song from Brittany (and there Teresa's item title pops up again...)

#10 ::: Tim Kyger ::: (view all by) ::: May 13, 2003, 10:19 PM:

Oops. I did it again.

I didn't see Teresa's earlier post, saying what I just said. Whoops.

Well, I thot it was a *great* joke on RT's part.

#11 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2003, 12:47 AM:

Mr. Ripley: You were at Town Hall? Where were you sitting?

#12 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2003, 11:04 AM:

As a long-time RT fan (I even saw him once with Fairport when both of us were still teens), I have to chime in on the wonders of his new CD, THE OLD KIT BAG -- in my view, a mind-blowing return to form after MOCK TUDOR. And note that the CD bonus disk also has "So Ben Mi Ca Bon Tempo" (which _doesn't_ mean "let the good times roll") from 1000 YEARS. Here in the AZ boonies, I can't see him live anymore, but I'll treasure my memories of great shows.

#13 ::: Elizabeth Bear ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2003, 03:09 PM:

(I'm reposting this here because I am a bear of (very) little brain, and put it in the wrong spot before)

Thompson in some ways strikes me as a hopeless romantic--the boy meets girl/blood everywhere songs often end pretty well for the girl, at least! :-) ('52 Vincent Black Lightning as the immediate example) (Madman Michael as counterexample)

I wonder if there's a link between love of old ballads and love of Richard Thompson, or if it's a false statistic facilitated by the Fairport Convention element?


Theresa then pointed out the similarities in narrative content probably had a lot of bearing, and I tend to agree. Also, there seems to be a lot of overlap between fans and performers of blues and bluegrass and English/Celtic folk. And the more narrative traditions of rock and roll.

I should probably stop before I get started on the folk process and balladeering and how it leads to novel writing if not quickly repressed. :-)

--a third-generation Transylvanian...

#14 ::: Elizabeth Bear ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2003, 04:01 PM:

not my day to try to do more than one thing at a time--

that's *Teresa* above. :-P

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