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Author Topic: Re: Parry/Taft theories of Blues Lyric Construction  (Read 597 times)

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Offline eric

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Re: Parry/Taft theories of Blues Lyric Construction
« on: January 09, 2019, 09:54:25 AM »
If you guys aren't careful, I'll go into my rant about Homer, the wine-dark sea, Milman Parry, Balkan bard traditions and Lighning Hopkins... ;)
« Last Edit: January 11, 2019, 03:01:26 PM by Johnm »
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Offline Stuart

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Re: Re: SOTM December 2018 Hey Lordy Mama / Meet Me In The Bottom
« Reply #1 on: January 09, 2019, 10:33:43 AM »
If you guys aren't careful, I'll go into my rant about Homer, the wine-dark sea, Milman Parry, Balkan bard traditions and Lighning Hopkins... ;)

Sign me up for your seminar. I'm feeling the need to be re-(over)educated!

Offline Johnm

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Re: Re: SOTM December 2018 Hey Lordy Mama / Meet Me In The Bottom
« Reply #2 on: January 09, 2019, 11:03:17 AM »
I'm with Stuart, Eric.  Kick out the jams!

Offline eric

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Re: Re: SOTM December 2018 Hey Lordy Mama / Meet Me In The Bottom
« Reply #3 on: January 09, 2019, 11:23:27 AM »
Hi Guys,  Fair warning:  I am no linguistics scholar, so there may be folks around here that will dispute this narrative, but here goes.

For a long time there was debate about whether Homer was literate and wrote down the Iliad and the Odyssey or a non-literate singer recorded by others who recognized his genius.  His time was more or less coeval with the rise of written language in his part of the world.  So this guy Parry, who studied bardic tradition in the Balkans (recitations by non-literate singers or poets) realized that mnemonic devices and repeated phrases they used had specific metrical characteristics and accented syllables that enabled them to recite lengthy poems by strategically inserting them on the fly.  It turns out that the Iliad and the Odyssey in the original Greek a) adhere to a very strict metrical form, and b)are full of repeated phrases (e.g. "wine-dark sea") that fulfill the need for the singer to recite the story from memory but keep within the strict metrical structure.  So Parry's conclusion is that Homer was a genius in the oral tradition and not literate.  And where I come in, is that I think many of the stock phrases we find in blues lyrics fulfill the same purpose. So guys like Lightning and John Lee Hooker, who were brilliant at spontaneous blues lyrics, are doing the same thing. 

Robert Fagles discusses Parry in the introduction to his excellent translation of The Odyssey. 
« Last Edit: January 09, 2019, 12:40:12 PM by eric »
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Eric

Offline Stuart

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Re: Re: SOTM December 2018 Hey Lordy Mama / Meet Me In The Bottom
« Reply #4 on: January 09, 2019, 02:23:04 PM »
Thank you, Eric.

Rhyming and fixed line length as mnemonic devices seems to be the generally accepted understanding of part of the the origins of verse in early China as well. There are also lines that show up in different poems that suggest that they may have been "stock phrases," if you will--part of the poetic vocabulary that was in general circulation. Of course, very little of the early material survives. There's also the theory that people simply liked the sound of rhymes, so they spoke and sang in rhyme. I suspect that it's all of the above.

I agree with what you say about guys like Lightnin' and John Lee Hooker. Sometimes they were given to spontaneous creativity and sometimes they drew from stock phrases that perhaps had their origins in the spontaneous creativity of others.

Great music, great listening, IMHO.

Re: Fixed line length, I read somewhere a while back that this may also be due to the mind's fondness for "chunking"--that for some reason we are better at remembering things in chunks as opposed to smaller sub-units. I hardly know anything about this, but it might be worth following up on.

Offline DavidCrosbie

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Re: Re: SOTM December 2018 Hey Lordy Mama / Meet Me In The Bottom
« Reply #5 on: January 09, 2019, 08:25:27 PM »
I thought people knew about Jeff (my mistake)  Michael Taft. His book The Blues Lyric Formula is very much based on the line of scholarship started by Parry and Lord.



ISBN-10: 0415974992
ISBN-13: 978-0415974998

There are obvious differences between the Blues and the sort of epic that Parry and Lord studied. Blues songs are short, and seldom rely on a coherent narrative.

Even so, there are parallels. Lord's Yugoslav ballad singers sang epics which they hadn't composed word-for-word ? although the story and the constituent phrases were taken from memory. Parry couldn't observe and record Homer, of course, but his analysis of the language pointed to then same process of composition using fragments from oral tradition.

To give a flavour of Taft's work, here is one of his twenty common formulas:

Quote from: Taft
+human go away from some place (x-formula)

Don't worry about +human. It's just abstract way of saying 'somebody' ( based on particular semantic theory, which needn't concern us).
And x-formula means 'filling the first half-iine'.

There's then some very abstract analysis with an off-putting diagram before he writes

Quote from: Taft
The two most common surface predicates are the verbs go away and leave, as in the following examples

31 I'm going away; now don't you want to go
     I'm going to stop at a place, I haven't never been before
     (Blind Lemon Jefferson, 1927h)

32 When he was leaving, I couldn't hear nothing bu the whistle blow
     And the man at the throttle, Lord he wasn't coming back no more
     (Lucille Bogan, 1934b)

The only other manifestation of the predicate that occur with any frequency are get away and get out, but these forms are rare in comparison with leave and go away.

33 You will think you left your trouble all behind
     Get away from home; then it will roll across your mind
     (Lonnie Chatman, 1932a)

Even rarer are the verbs walk away, run away, scamper away, creep away and move away, with only one or two examples each in the corpus.

The corpus he refers to is his collection of transcriptions, which he believes to represent 'perhaps one fifth of the Blues songs recorded before World War II'. This has been accessible online as part of somebody's Dylan website. It's currently not online, but it has disappeared and reappeared before. It comes with concordance software ? i.e. it allows you to choose a word and see every line in every song that uses it.

The next  paragraph discusses the place expression, which in his abstract analysis he termed A2 argument

Quote
Although the formula allows  ... much variation in its A2 argument ..., in actual usage it seems more limited. In a great many cases the place is unspecified, often identified only as here. Thus, the most common A2 argument that accompanies the verb leave is either here or the deleted here, as in example 32. In all, the manifestation +human go away from here occurs 82 times in the corpus.

The idea of 'deleted here' comes from a theory of grammar in which things were considered to exist in abstract structure but were removed by some mental rule in what was actually spoken: the surface structure.

In the next paragraph he makes the similar point that ? seen in the abstract ?  go away is usually followed by from here. But in what is actually sung  ? the 'manifestation' ? the idea is present but the words are 'deleted'.

Quote from: Taft
This manifestation, which might be described as +human go away from here, almost always deletes the from here in its surface structure, as in example 3, and might even delete the away, as in this example:

34 I'm going, I'm going; crying won't make me stay
     The more you cry, the further you drive me away
     (Mississippi John Hurt, 1928b)

In all, this manifestation occurs 174 times in the corpus.

Some manifestations with more specific A2 arguments include the following: +human leave town occurs 30 times; +human leave place name occurs 20 times; +human leave home occurs 9 times; and +human leave the station occurs 5 times.

Finally he writes about words added ? which doesn't often happen. But he does find it interesting that -ing forms of a second verb are often added after leave.

Quote from: Taft
... all of which mean movement away from

35 I got the key to the highway; billed out and bound to go
     I'm going to leave here running, because walking is most too slow
     (Bill Jazz Gillum, 1940)

36 I'm going to leave here walking, going down the road
     If I find my baby, we are going to have some fun
     (Will Batts, 1933)

37 I've got a girl, her name is Joan
     She leaves her walking running fast; chocolate to the bone
     (Henry Thomas, 1928b)

... in all this manifestation occurs more than 300 times

« Last Edit: January 09, 2019, 08:34:25 PM by DavidCrosbie »

Offline Prof Scratchy

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Re: Re: SOTM December 2018 Hey Lordy Mama / Meet Me In The Bottom
« Reply #6 on: January 10, 2019, 12:50:17 AM »
http://konkordans.se/taft.htm


Sent from my iPad using Tapatalk

Offline DavidCrosbie

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Re: Re: SOTM December 2018 Hey Lordy Mama / Meet Me In The Bottom
« Reply #7 on: January 10, 2019, 04:07:16 AM »
Thanks Prof!

It's much slower than it was on the old site. Admittedly, it's clearer, and we can hope that they'll improve the speed.

Offline DavidCrosbie

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Re: Re: SOTM December 2018 Hey Lordy Mama / Meet Me In The Bottom
« Reply #8 on: January 10, 2019, 04:44:38 AM »
Taft's theoretical analysis and super-abstraction  gets in the way of some real insights. Let me try to strip away the theory in that formula.

Blues singers acquire instinctive knowledge of many statistical norms which make it effortless
  • to compose his/her own verse
  • to recognise and remember another singer's verse
When a blues singer wants to express the emotional effect of departure, then he or she
  • usually sings about here ? often without the actual word here
  • almost always uses the verb leave or the verb go away ? sometimes shortened to go
  • rather than  run away  etc sings leave here running etc
  • normally sings the phrase as the first half of a line
This fourth point is more important than you might think. Stuart refers to Homer's wine-dark sea. The phrase is actually over the wine-dark sea, and it neatly fills the second half of a line in Homer's metre.

Offline eric

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Re: Re: SOTM December 2018 Hey Lordy Mama / Meet Me In The Bottom
« Reply #9 on: January 10, 2019, 06:57:07 AM »
Thanks David, I did not know about Taft, and was about to follow up with a comment that I would surprised if someone hadn't already taken Parry's insight and applied it to other stuff.  Also fair to say the with 15,000 or so lines, the Iliad tells an epic story, probably recited over a couple of days.

Quote
I thought people knew about Jeff (my mistake)  Michael Taft. His book The Blues Lyric Formula is very much based on the line of scholarship started by Parry and Lord.
--
Eric

Offline Stuart

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Re: Re: SOTM December 2018 Hey Lordy Mama / Meet Me In The Bottom
« Reply #10 on: January 10, 2019, 09:44:07 AM »
...Stuart refers to Homer's wine-dark sea. The phrase is actually over the wine-dark sea, and it neatly fills the second half of a line in Homer's metre.

It was Eric. Credit where credit is due...

As an FYI, here's a link to the Wiki page on the Shijing 詩經:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Classic_of_Poetry

Offline eric

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Re: Re: SOTM December 2018 Hey Lordy Mama / Meet Me In The Bottom
« Reply #11 on: January 10, 2019, 10:28:01 AM »
Thanks for the link Stuart.  I'm somewhat of an amateur classical history/literature obsessive, so this is more grist for the mill.

There's a lot of fascinating historical stuff surrounding Homer, not least of which is how the poems survived from antiquity.  As far as the wine-dark sea, it's my recollection that before Parry's insight into their purpose, it was sort of in inside joke between scholars who thought of the repeated phrases as throwaway lines.

And now I'm trying to figure out how to cleverly segue this conversation back to Meet Me on the Bottom...
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Eric

Offline Stuart

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Re: Re: SOTM December 2018 Hey Lordy Mama / Meet Me In The Bottom
« Reply #12 on: January 10, 2019, 10:48:24 AM »
And now I'm trying to figure out how to cleverly segue this conversation back to Meet Me on the Bottom...

Well, as my teacher and friend Wang Ching-hsien (who is an outstanding poet in his own right) used to tell us, at a certain point one has to put aside philology, historical phonology, epigraphy studies, formula and content analysis, etc. and just read it as poetry. After all, that's what it was created for: As a means of personal expression.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yang_Mu

Offline Rivers

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Re: Re: SOTM December 2018 Hey Lordy Mama / Meet Me In The Bottom
« Reply #13 on: January 10, 2019, 03:48:41 PM »
As thread starter I say feel free to keep developing arguments, we can split them out into a new topic later easily enough.

We haven't managed to find a bridge to the interesting ideas in Robert Graves' The White Goddess yet.
« Last Edit: January 10, 2019, 04:04:40 PM by Rivers »

Offline DavidCrosbie

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Re: Re: SOTM December 2018 Hey Lordy Mama / Meet Me In The Bottom
« Reply #14 on: January 10, 2019, 08:02:34 PM »
And now I'm trying to figure out how to cleverly segue this conversation back to Meet Me on the Bottom...
Well, I'll try.

I don't have access to Taft's computing set-up, but I guess it would produce something like this:

1. Two minor formulas largely confined to this song are:
  • meet me at [PLACE] x-formula (x-formula = 'filling first half-line)
  • bring my [CLOTHING]  r-formula (r-formula = 'filling second half-line')

2. If a male singer wants to say something about his lover, he can introduce it with a first half-line formula Woman I love

Apart from this song, we find it in the lines

Woman I love, I stole her from my best friend
Woman I'm loving won't treat me right
Woman I'm loving done mistreated me
Woman I'm loving wants me to ?sell this gold
Gal I love : with somebody else
Girl I love : ain't no fool

and similarly in this song

I've got a little woman  I sure do want to see

3. The answering second-half-line-formula is usually one of these variants
  • (she) got [PHYSICAL ATTRIBUTE]
  • (she) (is) [DECRIPTION]
  • (she) (done) [ACTION]

Examples of lines combining [2] and [3]

Woman I love got a mouth chock full of good gold
Woman I love she got a mole just below her nose
Woman I love, says, she got dimples in her jaws
The woman I love got her feet right on the ground
The gal I love got a mouth full of gold
The woman I'm after got a mole below here nose

Woman I love, says, she right down on the ground
Woman I love, dead and in her grave
Woman I love, she's about six foot three
Woman I'm loving, sleeping in  her grave
Woman I love, says, her name is Lilly Mae

Woman I love, she done caught that Southern train
Woman I love, she done gone back home
The gal I love has left me so far behind

With a different second-half-line formula:

Woman I love, woman I crave to see
I've got a little woman I sure do want to see

Some of these lines are copied from singer to singer. Others use the formulas to to set up a framework for a fresh idea in the second-half-formula, or a clever rhyme in the next line. The formulaic bit makes the setting-up effortless ? leaving the mind free to compose something  original.
« Last Edit: June 15, 2019, 07:53:33 PM by DavidCrosbie »

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