Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Who's the real Marxist? Unsurprisingly, it's Woody Guthrie. And the song about the lady and the gypsy is not necessarily promising material. The Clancy Brothers' Gypsy Rover wimps out completely. In the first place, she doesn't have a husband to leave. She has a fond lover, but he wins the election for upper class twit of the year -- he doesn't even compete. It's left to her father to chase after her -- score one for the patriarchy! The father loses...sort of...but not really. The ersatz gypsy turns out to be the lord of the land all over, and if there's a message there, it's that the poor man can't win. Not only is the aristo going to get the woman, he's going to co-opt the poor man's rough-hewn charm.

The Gypsy Davey is a real gypsy, and not a sly whistling singing seducer like the Gypsy Rover, either. She just feels his magnetism -- the magnetism of the proletariat -- and goes.

In a way, though, the wraggle-taggle gypsies are an even better paradigm, because the rejection of the soft life of the aristocracy doesn't even depend on sex appeal. And this is a wonderful lyric -- it's basically the same story, but look how it begins:

There were three gypsies a come to my door,
And down stairs ran this a-lady, O.
One sang high and another sang low
And the other sang bonny bonny Biscay O

Then she pulled off her silk finished gown,
And put on hose of leather, O
The ragged ragged rags about our door
And she's gone with the wraggle, taggle gypsies O

It was late last night when my lord came home,
Inquiring for his a-lady O
The servants said on every hand
She's gone with the wraggle-taggle gypsies, O

Why does the lady throw herself headlong into the life of the wraggle-taggle gypsies? What is the strange harmony the gypsies sing? Is she bewitched, if not seduced? They are gypsies, after all. And who's the narrator here? It's not the lord. Is it a servant, a major domo? Or some sort of weird Mercedes McCambridge-type lord's sister?

I still like Woody for working class hero. I like that it's the boss, rather than his lordship -- this is a solid anti-capitalist message.

After that, they're all co-opted to one degree or another. Conway Twitty's cowboy is the macho stud who can give the lady what she needs. She'll go back to her rich guy husband, but she'll never be his again, and you know she'll be putting on those tight fitting jeans and going out prowling for the cowboy, or some cowboy, again. But although he protests his credentials too much -- he's a cowboy, he's a good ol' boy, he's a peasant -- he's never a real egalitarian. He feels just like a peasant who just had met a queen, in his mind she's still a lady. There's more awe than class warfare.

And John Denver is just a wimp, a hands-acr0ss-the coffee table wimp.

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