Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Peppery Man / Griselda / The Janitor's Boy

The Peppery Man (from the album Leave Your Sleep; words by Arthur Macy)

The Peppery Man was cross and thin;
He scolded out and scolded in;
He shook his fist, his hair he tore;
He stamped his feet and slammed the door.

Heigh ho, the Peppery Man,
The rabid, crabbed Peppery Man!
Oh, never since the world began
Was any one like the Peppery Man.

His ugly temper was so sour
He often scolded for an hour;
He gnashed his teeth and stormed and scowled,
He snapped and snarled and yelled and howled.

He wore a fierce and savage frown;
He scolded up and scolded down;
He scolded over field and glen,
And then he scolded back again.

His neighbors, when they heard his roars,
Closed their blinds and locked their doors,
Shut their windows, sought their beds,
Stopped their ears and covered their heads.

He fretted, chafed, and boiled and fumed;
With fiery rage he was consumed,
And no one knew, when he was vexed,
What in the world would happen next.

Heigh ho, the Peppery Man,
The rabid, crabbed Peppery Man!
Oh, never since the world began
Was any one like the Peppery Man.

__________________________________________________

Griselda (from the album Leave Your Sleep; words by Eleanor Farjeon)

Griselda is greedy, I'm sorry to say.
She isn't contented with four meals a day,
Like breakfast and dinner and supper and tea
(I've had to put tea after supper—you see
Why, don't you?)
Griselda is greedy as greedy can be.

She snoops about the larder
For sundry small supplies,
She breaks the little crusty bits
Off rims of apple pies,
She pokes the roast-potato-dish
When Sunday dinner's done,
And if there are two left in it
Griselda snitches one;
Cold chicken and cold cauliflower
She pulls in little chunks
And when Cook calls:
"What are you doing there?"
Griselda bunks.

Griselda is greedy. Well, that's how she feels,
She simply can't help eating in-between meals,
And always forgets what it's leading to, though
The Doctor has frequently told her: “You know
Why, don't you?”
When the stomach-ache starts and Griselda says:
“Oh!”

She slips down to the dining-room
When everyone's in bed,
For cheese-rind on the supper-tray,
And buttered crusts of bread,
A biscuit from the biscuit-box,
Lump sugar from the bowl,
A gherkin from the pickle-jar,
Are all Griselda's toll;
She tastes the salted almonds,
And she tries the candied fruits
And when Dad shouts:
"Who is it down below?"
Griselda scoots.

Griselda is greedy. Her relatives scold,
And tell her how sorry she'll be when she's old,
She will lose her complexion, she's sure to grow fat,
She will spoil her inside—does she know what she's at?
(Why do they?)
Some people are greedy. Leave it at that.

_________________________________________________

The Janitor's Boy (from the album Leave Your Sleep; words by Nathalia Crane)

Oh I'm in love with the janitor's boy,
And the janitor's boy loves me;
He's going to hunt for a desert isle
In our geography.

A desert isle with spicy trees
Somewhere near Sheepshead Bay;
A right nice place, just fit for two
Where we can live alway.

Oh I'm in love with the janitor's boy,
He's busy as he can be;
And down in the cellar he's making a raft
Out of an old settee.

He'll carry me off, I know that he will,
For his hair is exceedingly red;
And the only thing that occurs to me
Is to dutifully shiver in bed.

The day that we sail, I shall leave this brief note,
For my parents I hate to annoy:
"I have flown away to an isle in the bay
With the janitor's red-haired boy."



On my last post I talked about musical storytelling, an art form that is exemplified on Natalie's album The House Carpenter's Daughter. At the heart of most great stories are great characters and, oh boy, does Natalie's most recent album Leave Your Sleep abound with wonderfully odd and endearing characters. Isabel, Ebenezer Bleezer, Maggie, Milly, Molly, May, Griselda, Margaret, and those are just the characters that are given proper names! Add to that characters like The Janitor's Boy, The King of China's Daughter, The Sleepy Giant, The Peppery Man...well, the list just goes on and on. On this week's post I thought we could take a look at a few of these great character-centric songs.

There are some flawed characters featured in other songs on Leave Your Sleep - former child-eaters, gluttons, and creepy wilderness riddlers, but The Peppery Man takes the cake. He's a guy who seems quite comfortable embracing his role as an intolerable curmudgeon. For this reason, I find this character to be irresistible. I've always had a strong attraction to grumpy people; a mix of fear and admiration, I suppose. Or maybe a childish notion that I can win over even the most difficult of persons. If I had the chance, I'm pretty sure I could win over The Peppery Man. Not that he'd admit it or anything. I think I might find quite a thrill in setting him off on a tangent, though.

The music for this song couldn't be more perfect. I really love the dudes who sing backing vocals on this track, The Fairfield Four. (Hopefully it is not considered incredibly rude to refer to extremely talented people who are in their 80s and 90s as dudes, but it somehow feels appropriate in this context.) I love their chatter at the beginning and end of the song. Natalie seems like she's having a great time singing; this is another one of those songs where I feel like I can hear a smile in her voice. It never ceases to amaze me how good she can sound paired with such a wide variety of performers. Here is a quote from Natalie about how she chose the musical style for The Peppery Man:

"The poems came first. Some of them I wrote with several different styles of music. For example The Peppery Man was actually an Irish jig before it became a blues song. The jig just wasn't badass enough. I was like 'that's not The Peppery Man.' He's kind of jaunty, and the jig wasn't jaunty. The Peppery Man - he's one badass dude and if I needed to make the theme of a badass dude it would be the blues."*

I feel a bit of a kinship with the naughty little girl featured in the song Griselda. As a child of the early 80s, I was for a time subject to my mother's earnest attempts at making our family ultra-healthy eaters. I don't think I ate a hamburger until I was a teenager and for most of my childhood I thought chocolate and carob were one and the same. *shivers* So anytime junk food made its way into our house, my radar went off. I found incredibly efficient ways to eat as much of it as possible while I had the chance. I mastered the art of making a package of cookies look full when in fact it was nearing half empty. (The trick? Whenever you take a cookie from the opened front end of the package, you replace it with one from the back of the package. Yeah...I was good.)

Thankfully, this was a just a passing phase for me, but one can't help but wonder if the same can be said for poor little Griselda. She was dedicated to the art form of sneak-eating, getting up at all hours of the night to indulge her appetite. While I think this song is really amusing, I definitely think I would leave it off the Overeaters Anonymous hotline's hold button music.

Lastly, we get to my favorite song of this bunch and one of my favorite songs on all of Leave Your Sleep, The Janitor's Boy. While the janitor's red-haired boy might be the character most talked about in the words, the little girl who wrote the poem, Nathalia Crane, is the heart of the song. Nathalia was apparently 10 years old when she wrote these words. Quite the saucy little gal, I'd say. To be honest with you, if I had a little girl who wrote lines like "He'll carry me off, I know that he will, for his hair is exceedingly red; and the only thing that occurs to me is to dutifully shiver in bed" I think the only emotion that could outshine my pride would be a fervent desire to invest in a chastity belt.

A few years before Leave Your Sleep came out, I bought an album by Wynton Marsalis called Unforgivable Blackness. I played it obsessively for months. If you took the singing out of The Janitor's Boy, the song could have come right off of that album. I didn't know before I first listened to The Janitor's Boy that Wynton did the musical arrangement for the song, but I could tell from the very first trumpet note. I love this kind of music and I love when my musical worlds combine, as they did with Wynton and Natalie on this song. I don't know about you, but I would be in heaven if Natalie did a whole album of songs like this.

Before I leave you this week, I'd like to share one last tantalizing quote from Natalie about the characters from Leave Your Sleep:

"There’s also a script for a musical based on all of the poems. The characters in the poems become characters in the narrative."**

Excuse me while I stifle my squeals of anticipatory delight.

Thanks for reading and see you in two weeks!

Click here to watch a really cute video from Natalie's official site of the rehearsal and recording of vocals for The Janitor's Boy. Watching things like this makes my day job seems unbearably boring. Why don't I have this much fun at my...desk? Ugh.

Bonus video! Click here to watch a live performance of The Peppery Man

Download The Peppery Man from Itunes - The Peppery Man - Leave Your Sleep

Download Griselda from Itunes - Griselda - Leave Your Sleep

Download The Janitor's Boy from Itunes - The Janitor's Boy - Leave Your Sleep

*Music OMH - April 2010
*Chicago Pride - July 2010

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