Friday, December 14, 2012

Lost songs

Nearly a year ago, I mentioned in passing that I had once been involved (behind the scenes rather than onstage) with a school band called Ded Lemming. I wrote most of their lyrics; but, seeing as it is over 30 years ago, I have - perhaps fortunately in most cases - forgotten nearly all of them now. I can't even remember many of the titles or subjects.

Only two of these songs still persist in my memory. One was inspired by a Classical reference (I specialised in Ancient Latin and Greek in the 6th Form, and at university - a quirk of my personal history which has come up on here before once or twice). The celebrated Athenian playwright Aeschylus died, according to legend, on a visit to one of the Greek colonies in Sicily in the 450s BC, when he was quite elderly. It is said that the eagles in those parts were especially fond of eating tortoises, and would break open their shells by carrying them high aloft and then dropping them on to round stones. Aeschylus's bald pate was apparently mistaken by an eagle for a suitable tortoise-cracking rock. Oh boy, I found that a compelling image, and I had long wanted to try to write something (I probably originally aspired to something far more serious and poetic!) about a great writer's brains being dashed out by - and mingled with - the squished innards of a tortoise. When my friends briefly formed this punk band, I found myself penning a jauntily manic number for them on this theme. I'm sure nobody but the handful of Classicists in the school had a clue what it was about; most people just thought it was an engaging nonsense song. The chorus (I don't think there was much to it apart from the chorus) went: 

Never thought that I would wind up lying out here dead,
Lying in the baking sun - with a tortoise in my head,
Tortoise in my head, tortoise in my head, tortoise in my head!

You think that's grotesque?! Well, that was as nothing to our 'greatest hit'. I created a sort of catalogue song which imagined a situation most of my mid-teen schoolmates were familiar with - being left at home alone for the first time by our somewhat mistrustful parents, and being given a long list of rules we shouldn't break (which, of course, we tended to find unduly provocative, and would often treat more as a list of suggestions). I think the idea started off as a fairly straight depiction of this parent-teenager confrontation, but then I started taking it in a wild and surreal direction. The verses had a two part structure, beginning with two lines from a nagging mother issuing prohibitions (our singer did a particularly good - vaguely feminine - anxious whine for this), and then another two of her bratty son sarcastically mimicking her with more bizarre examples of the creatively evil things he might get up to if left unsupervised (the singer did an even better mocking sneer for these bits). The distinction between these two parts became blurred, as the mother's anxieties escalated, and she began to imagine more and more terrible things that her son might do (and her son found it harder and harder to outdo her in his perverse responses). I wish I could summon this back from the void of oblivion; I have a feeling that it was one of the best things I have ever written - in any genre.

Anyhow, I remember the chorus (very catchy!):

Be a good boy, Johnny. Now, see you behave.
And don't put kitty in the microwave.
Don't put kitty in the microwave, don't put kitty in the microwave.

[After a while, we recorded the 'ting' of a microwave finishing its programme, and started using that to give the song an abrupt ending.]

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