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The Wanderer

August 24, 2007

I’m making an album, which means that for the next few weeks most of my posts will really be disguised entries in a kind of oblique recording journal.  Recently I’ve been breathing life into a moribund old song called The Wanderer. This is my version of the apocalyptically distressed Old English elegaic poem of the same name.  As is appropriate to the subject, the song is so slight as to barely be there at all, but it does feature one of those children’s party plastic trumpet articles — I mean this:
This “instrument” seems to be just about the right amount of technology to have on a re-making of an Anglo-Saxon lyric.  Never mind the electrical element of the song — that’s just ghost matter.

I could have told you that this instrument is my anglo-saxophone, had Michael Horovitz not got there before me.

To explain: on a few occasions in 2002 and 2003, I was one half of a backing band for the poet Mat Paskins.  Mat is a profoundly beautiful writer, entertaining and humane. I made some music for his piece about Alan Turing, in which Turing is reimagined not as a post-war suicide, but instead rewarded for his brilliance (by a Churchill who seems to have been part of some kind of clandestine gay mafia) with a country house and extravagant parties full of lovely lads wearing half a shepherd’s outfit.  A slightly embarrassed Turing turns his attentions to constructing a mechanical lover named Francois, whose circuits eventually fail.  As a study in period technology, with a hint of electronic supernaturalism, and a good amount of heartbroken camp, this poem had a huge influence in suggesting many of the concerns that I’m still pursuing even now.
Anyway, during that time Mat twice read his poetry (backed by me and his lovely violinist friend Fran) at events where Michael Horovitz was also performing.  Mat and Michael, the latter in a fairly typical sweater, can be seen on the left and right of the photograph above.  A genuine survivor of the Beat generation, Horovitz used to perform a piece in which his verse was punctuated with blasts on a primitive horn that he called his anglo-saxonphone, which was a tidy way of stressing the connection between two very distant types of oral poetry–Anglo Saxon, and Beat.  Horovitz’s work, in fact, is genuinely involved in the rhythms, colours and word-sounds of Old English poetry.  One of his longer works, The Wolverhampton Wanderer, is an epic in the alliterative metre common to Old English verse, concerning the fortunes of a fallen English footballer in the nineteen-sixties.  Its title is obviously a direct reference to the Wanderer elegy that my song is based on, although as an epic, The Wolverhamptom Wanderer is also modeled on Beowulf; the black and gold worn by the hero’s team, Wolves (and their nickname itself) immediately suggest motifs that are present in both of these poems.

My own wanderer, fey and horn-blowing as he is, is unlikely to make it into any sort of first XI… but he does pick up on the wolf reference from the original poem. I offer an approximate prose translation: “Some were destroyed by battle, which carried them by the way; a bird carried one away over the sea; a hoary wolf ate one of them in death.”  There’s also an interesting bit of heroic Anglo-Saxon homoeroticism in the Old English lyric:

“He knows, who must go without the company of his beloved lord, when sorrow and sleep together bind the wretched solitary man, it seems to him in his dreams that he embraces and kisses his lord, and on his knee might lay his hands and his head, as he used to do in days of old.”

For the sake of keeping the beautiful connectedness of these themes alive, gay footballers is a theme that I treat in a separate song… coming soon.  Toodle-oo!

One Comment leave one →
  1. Heather permalink
    August 24, 2007 3:38 pm

    Mat Paskins truly is an amazing story teller. There is a part of my soul that will always feel better than the rest, simply for having heard him.

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