Thursday, 18 July 2013

Local colour

A radio programme last night that mentioned Bert Jansch reminded me of the song Strollin' down the highway, which Jansch wrote with hitch-hiking in France in mind. One of the verses is about reasons that drivers have for not stopping (or indeed for speeding up):
The cars won't stop for no-one
They don't think you're just a rollin' bum
They think you're an OAS spy
Gonna shoot them as they go by
No the cars won't stop, won't stop for no-one
Jansch wrote it in the mid-late fifties (one could check in a discography, but I'm on a short fuse  – preparing for the WCS tour starting tomorrow); the reference to the OAS suggests it was some time between 1954 and 1962.

But that 'OAS' has gone the way of much local colour. Do a Google search for They think you're an OAS spy, Jansch  and you get 'about 4,650' results‘; search for They think that you're a spy, Jansch  and you get 'about 50,800' – almost 11 times as many††.

I enjoy such quirkiness. The Guys and Dolls score is peppered with bits of local colour: 'Take back your mink,' sings Adelaide, 'And go Hollanderize it for somebody else.' A guy in the Fugue for Tin Horns 'reeks of Vitalis and Barbasol'.

But references to context-specific things like this seldom survive for long. Though I have heard Bert Jansch more than once, I never heard him sing Strollin' down the highway but it wouldn't surprise me at all if he himself suppressed the 'OAS' reference in later covers. And sometimes it's the fault of the censors. [2018 clarification: In West Side  Story] Anita's
He'll come home hot and tired
So what?
No matter if he's tired
So long as he's hot
in the Broadway show became the rather wimpish '...Poor dear/..../So long as he's here' for the film (or maybe before that, for the original cast recording).

OK, that's not a trade name. but it's similar in that it's Bowdlerized. This often happens with film musicals. In Easter Parade,
On the Avenue, Fifth Avenue
The photographers will snap us
And you'll find that you're in Rotogravure
becomes the rather insipid '...And then you'll be seen in the smart magazines', because some spineless backer wondered whether people would need an explanation of Rotogravure without a footnote. DUH!  Long live footnotes – life's full of the things.

And while we're on the subject of musicals, and changes made by spineless backers, in the early 1940s Lorenz Hart wrote
We'll have Manhattan
the Bronx and Staten Island too...

And South Pacific
Is a terrific show they say...
with that brilliant internal rhyme. Cue the spineless backer about ten years later: 'But that's so Last Decade. We need to mention some more recent show.'

So was born the insipid
And My Fair Lady
They say is a terrific show
 (in which the word 'terrific' is a sad fossil, giving a clue to the original rhyme-scheme.)
But there's packing to be done. I'll be writing again next week. And in the meantime you can – if you get a wiggle on – download the freeby (and get reviewing, perhaps...?) [2018  update: A bit late for this!😕]
Update 2013.07.19.10:30
PS 'spineless backers' – I wonder if the oxymoron was entirely accidental or whether a subconscious jester was at work.

Update 2013.09.13.11:15
PPS I've just thought of another example, from the AntĂłnio Carlos Jobim song Desafinado. [I don't know what happens to it in the 'translation', but as even the title is wrong (off-key doesn't mean out of tune) I doubt it]‡:
Fotografei vocĂȘ na minha Rolleiflex
Revelou-se a sua enorme ingratidĂŁo
‡PPS  Oh Lor'. The good news is that it has kept the Rolleiflex. The bad news is that it has introduced an irrelevant bit of cleverness:
I took your picture with my trusty         Rolleiflex
And now all I have developed is a complex
Why can't translators just GET OUT OF THE FRIGGING WAY ?
The original, after that 'Rolleiflex' line, has Revelou-se a sua enorme ingratidĂŁo. I wonder if in Jobim's mind there was the idea of developing a photograph – in a tray of whatever chemicals they use – with the image in the photograph slowly revelando-se. I'm not sure if the Portuguese would accommodate this nuance. If so – accidentally, I'm sure – the translator stumbled on a deeper truth. The enorme ingratidĂŁo became apparent slowly but surely, like a developing photograph.
Update 2013.09.15.17:50 – added this PPPS:

I don't have an intimate knowledge of Google's search algorithms, but I suspect the larger number includes all the hits noted for the smaller number. But even allowing for this double-counting, the version without OAS is about 10 times as common.

Update 2018.04.06.11:30 – Various format  tweaks and temporal clarifications.

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