She'll Grow Back: Stagger Lee Saturdays - Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds and Elvis!

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Stagger Lee Saturdays - Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds and Elvis!

Here's a combination of what may be my favorite rendition of Stag ever, with what is certainly one of my least favorites. They contain the same themes -- sex, cursing, and violence (which, granted, go well with singing about Stag) -- but the execution is quite different.

Nick Cave takes most of his lyrics from a 1967 transcription of Stag found in The Life: The Lore and Poetry of The Black Hustler. Elvis pulls his lyrics out of his, by this time, drug-addled brain. Cave's version is violent, and tough, and perverse. Elvis's is scatological and ... well, immature.

But what else do they have in common? Well, right now I'm reading Gershon Legman's Rationale of the Dirty Joke, and in the introduction, he mentions this style of humor (and even attribution to true-life people):

"[War comics and spy novels, like violent Italian pulp novels and folk-ballads]... do not present their materials as jokes or made-up stories at all, but as factual relations concerning the violent and insensate actions of real persons, generally named, and implied to be historical, such as Blackbeard and Rasputin.
What is suggested here is not that all these stories are necessarily true ... What is meant is that these stories and individuals do personify what the tellers and singers well know to be real but inexplicable peculiarities of human behavior, which they are attempting somehow to fit into a rational view of the world, whether as horror or as humor. [This process of making horror innocuous] represents an effective and time-tested folk method of dealing with the unbearable abnormalities of human conduct..."
In other words, when Stag tells a bartender to kiss his ass, and eludes the police through sheer badness, he helps us ameliorate our own fears and demons. (I'm not comfortable with what this means about Elvis's personal demons being exorcised in this performance, really, but I've always thought of him as a big goofy kid anyway.)

Next week, we hear the textually unrelated version by Ike and Tina Turner, another favorite version of mine.

No comments: