Monday, June 9, 2008

Tattoo you

Sunday lunchtime: the Gatehouse, Highgate.

Service was slow at the bar. This gave Malcolm the opportunity to observe the female shoulder edging him aside. Being a warm June day, that shoulder was bared, so the tattoo was in full view.

Later, Malcolm found his mind reverting to something like "Ta-ra-ra-bom-de-ay!", with a link to that shoulder. It took him a while to make the connection to the Kingston Trio:
Oh, we came to town to see
That old tattooed lady.
She was a sight to see,
Tattooed from head to knee
My uncle Ned was there,
He came to gape and stare:
"I've never," he declared,
"Seen such a freak so fair!"

And on her jaw was the Royal Flying Corps,
And on her back was the Union Jack,
Now could you ask for more?
All up and down her spine,
Were the Queen's own guard in line,
And all around her hips
Sailed a fleet of battle ships,
And over her left kidney
Was a birds-eye view of Sydney;
But what we liked best,
Was upon her chest
Our little home in Waikiki.
Malcolm has not yet found an authoritative source for that ditty. The copyright on the Kingstons' version is "Jack Splittard, ©1959, Highridge Music Co.", which does not take us any further. A Google search brings Malcolm to a Mudcat thread on the topic, where the most useful suggestion is:
A Royal Navy version of The Tattooed Lady c.1960 [which] goes
I went to gay Par-ee,
And paid five francs to see
A bloody great French cherie
Tattooed from head to knee.
This is, as the musicologists might say, a variant on the other.

Nor should we lightly discard Mudcat's passing hint of an Australian connection:
This, it would seem, is an example of the "loosely defined Adelaide art movement of the early 1970s dubbed Skangaroovian Funk, which was characterised by an anti-art, anti-establishment attitude":
This is a painted clay sculpture made in 1974 by Bert Flugelman (1923-). Measuring 116 cm x 84 cm x 46 cm, the work is in the shape a figure of a nude woman standing with her hands on her hips and staring straight ahead. The figure is truncated just above the knees and at the upper part of the head. The proportions of the figure, particularly the waist and hips, are highly exaggerated. In contrast to her three-dimensional arms, her hands have been drawn onto the figure. Her entire body is covered with tattoo-like illustrations in rich colour which depict Japanese couples engaged in sexual activity. Some of these figures are completely naked, while others wear traditional Japanese clothing.
That said, the Ozark singer, Skeets McDonald ( author of Don't Let the Stars Get in your Eyes) has yet another version of the same song:
Once I married a tattooed lady,
It was on a cold cold grey winter day,
And tattooed all around her body
Was a map of the good ol' USA;
And every night before I'd go to sleep
I'd lift the covers and take myself a peek ...
(spoken) Well good God almighty ...

Down on her leg was Arizona,
On her knee was Tennessee,
Tattooed on her back
Was good ole Hackysack
That's the place where I long to be.

Down on her (whistle) was West Virginny
And in them hills I love to roam.
When I saw the moonlight on her Mississippi
I recognized my home sweet home.
Which instantly gives us four entries to Norman Geras's ongoing United States of Song.

But, wait! Where else might this lead us? Well, for a start there's Kermit doing it:

Phew! Steamy stuff.

But even that's derivative:

This seems to be the original for Lydia, the Tattooed Lady. Detective J. Cheever Loophole's song has a definite provenance: it is music by Harold Arlen and lyrics by Yip Harburg.This version also turns up, in part at least in M*A*S*H, The Philadelphia Story, and The Fisher King.

Then, diverging from the main topic, by coincidence Malcolm found himself listening to Josh White's Free and Equal Blues, which starts explicitly from and takes the tune of St James Infirmary:
I went down to that St. James Infirmary, and I saw some plasma there,
I ups and asks the doctor man, "Now was the donor dark or fair?"
The doctor laughed a great big laugh, and he puffed it right in my face,
He said, "A molecule is a molecule, son, and the damn thing has no race."
The full lyrics (by the same Yip Harburg) and some useful background are on Elijah Wald's site.

One further place to visit is the astoundingly-deep Pseudo-intellectualism site. There Sol Bellel knows more about New York's Lower East Side and its many graduates (including Yip Harburg) than is credible from any one intellect, pseudo or not. Sphere: Related Content


David C. said...

Follow this link for more on Lydia the Tattooed Lady.

Bigsitch said...

Slim Willett of Abilene Texas composed "Don't Let the Stars Get in Your Eyes."

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