Saturday, March 17, 2012

From Pierrot to Columbine

When I was in secondary school, I started to enjoy listening to English pop songs on the radio. That would be in the 1960s. One day, a relative gave us a guitar and I learned to strum a few chords; and even bought song books with lyrics and guitar chords to practise.

One of my favourites songs at that time had this line in it:


“But the joys of love are fleeting, for Pierrot and Columbine.”


For years, I had been curious to know what this line meant; but never took the trouble to do the research. I guessed the singer was talking about her lovers in different places called Pierrot and Columbine. (I thought she had sung, “from Pierrot to Columbine”) It was not until recently that I decided to Google for it and discovered the real meaning of this phrase.


Thus it was in those early days, that we often could not hear clearly, and did not understand the meaning of some lyrics of the songs we liked. Another example was a song by a group called Gerry and the Pacemakers titled, Ferry Cross the Mersey. I did not understand at that time what or where this ‘mercy’ was. Thanks to the popularity of English football clubs like Liverpool, I later knew what this ‘mercy’ meant.


With instant knowledge literally at their fingertips, today’s teenagers do not face such a problem. Which brings me to the real aim of my essay; to marvel at how much the world has changed; and how the information age has changed our lives, making obsolete some icons of our teenage years. Two recent pieces of news brought that point home powerfully. One, the demise of Kodak; and two, the news that Encyclopaedia Britannica (I used to be quite proud that I could spell this word without having to consult the dictionary) would cease to be printed.


By now you must be quite curious - some of the younger readers at least - what is the song I was referring. No need to Google for it. You have YouTube to thank for that.

39 comments:

peter said...

The "Guitar Man" wearing Chiense pyjama pants?

So u still sleep in those Chinese pyjama pants Chun See? Com eto think of it I never did because I felt very warm in them.

Lam Chun See said...

Very comfortable. You can buy them at Chinatown market; below the huge food centre.

Where I live now, a couple of old men still walk around in them.

Edward said...

The Seekers was also one of my favourite groups. Like you I played many of their songs on the guitar. I also wore pyjama pants and singlets in the evening. Sometimes I have a matching pyjama top on, if it’s not too warm. They were so comfortable. Hey, you and I could be the Chinaman version of Bananas in Pyjamas. Ha ha.

Lam Chun See said...

During my recruit days in Safti, we had this event called OC Evening (I think). A group of us from my section presented two songs, Jamaican Farewell and I'll Never Find Another You, the latter being by The Seekers. Would you believe that after 4 decades, I can still remember the lyrics.

Edward said...

If you play the songs often enough, you can remember them even after many decades. I still strum the guitar once or twice a week, when I’m in the mood for it. Apart from “Jamaican Farewell”, another Harry Belafonte favourite that I played on the guitar (in the 60’s) was “Island in the sun”.

Lam Chun See said...

If you watch some of these old video clips and compare them with those of today's pop concerts, you will notice one big difference. In those days, they entertain you purely with the quality of their music, without having to resort to fanciful (or revealing) costumes or laser lights and pyrotechnics.

Edward said...

Ah yes, times have changed indeed. I’m not for the fanciful make-ups and costumes (some don’t even have any costumes on!) or the blinding laser lights and pyrotechnics. They are so scary. I’m already half deaf, so I don’t need any more screaming and yelling. They make my heart go boom boom too. Too fast and loud. I still listen to my favourites of the 50’ and 60’s.

peter said...

One big difference bvetween yesterday's and today's entertainers.

1. Focus on dance movements rather than whether the sound sounds melodious. Usually one main singer and rest are body dancers dyrating their pelvis here n there.

2. The emphasis on the beat. SO u hear more of the "tak tak dom" rather than the melody.

3. Greater use of electronics rather the presence of a "live band". I thot the use of the synthesiser was bad enough until I found the music accompanying the singer(s) are actually taped music.

4. Physical looks more important than the voice. Have u seen those Girl bands and Boy bands? S.H.E. from Taiwan is one example who dresse to kill.

5. Amplification of voice through those headset mics. I cant find someone depends on his vocal chord anymore to reach the audience.

How do you like a Girl band like S.H.E. plays in a hotel lounge? Attract > customers or dirve away customers?

I think the watershed for live entertainment was in the 1990s when Michael Jackson did all those BAD dance movements and copycats emerged and the trend started till today. NO wonde Chua Eng Lai of The Noose doing is pole dancing is more refreshing than those Girl Ban/Boy Band.

Now switc hing back to Chinaman pyjama pants. Did you wear Crocodile underwear or Chinaman underwear Chun See? I hated those Chinaman underwear.

peter said...

To Wdward.

There;s another method to remember tge song. Instead of frequent playing that leads to memorising, there's also what I call "play by ear". IN that kind of situation (from personal experience), you can visualise the chord/melody of the original song.

When I was a part-tim muscian, I can never recall the title of the song, so I ask the guest (who makes a request) to hum a few bars. Chances are one would have heard that song but didnt know the title. Of course I assume one would have listened to many genres of music to be able to have a wide repertoire.

peter said...

One additional point I forgot.

Today's music does not emphasize on the lyrics. Traditionally there should be a verse, a chorus and an outro but today's music sounds as if they are only know 3 notes.

Dont believe, listen to Whitney Houston or Helen Reddy music, take away the sound and just study the lyrics.

Edward said...

Talk about driving customers away in a hotel lounge brings back memory of an experience I had in Singapore during the early 70s. I vaguely remember that this lounge was somewhere in Havelock Road. At the end of the night, after the resident band has finished performing, this old chap came on stage. He was around 40-something, had thick, black plastic spectacles, an off-beat hair style and an awful voice. Obviously the management had him set up to give the customers the hint that it’s time to leave. That poor guy copped lots of boos and shouts of “lau goh!” (which I think translates to “old fart”).

Lam Chun See said...

So Edward. Can you recall some of the earliest songs you learned on the guitar?

Edward said...

I play the songs of the Seekers, Peter, Paul & Mary, John Denver, Connie Francis, Hank Williams, Everly Bothers, Carpenters, Simon & Garfunkel, Bee Gees, Lobo and some singles like Blowing In The Wind, Green Green Grass Of Home, Island In The Sun, Jamaican Farewell, Jambalaya, Don’t Play That Song, Detroit City, Red River Valley, Fraulein, Patches, You are My Sunshine, My Elusive Dream, As Tears Go By, and lots more. I still have an old song book with guitar chords, purchased in 1960-something. This book was my introduction to strumming on the guitar. It has about 650 pages (each about ½ A4 size), but some of the pages have come apart. The songs have guitar chords above each line of the lyrics. As well, there are many pages of chord diagrams and music sheets. Song books like these were fairly common in Singapore during the 60s and 70s. I had 2 song books when I left Singapore, but one was borrowed and never returned. These days you can get the lyrics and chords of almost any songs from the internet. And listen to the songs in You Tube. But I still refer to my patchy old song book every now and then ... for old times’ sake.

Edward said...

Skeeter Davis is also one of my old time favourites. I also listen to some of the more recent country western singers like Loretta Lynn, Tammy Wynette, Kenny Rogers, Charlie Pride etc. For romantic songs I like the Carpenters, Petula Clark, Brian Hyland ... and I could go on forever. Most of these songs are simple, and easy to listen to. Many only require 3 or 4 chords to play on the guitar. Unlike Peter, I never played in a band. For me it’s just a fun thing. Make a lot of noise, enjoy your songs and have a good laugh. Woo hoo!

Edward said...

Yes Chun See, some of the earliest songs I learnt were Sunday School songs taught by my friends in the neighbourhood. They were friends who attended the church in Nemesu Avenue, Phase 1. We played Just A Closer Walk With Thee, The Old Rugged Cross, Precious Memories, Let The Sun Shine In and many more. One pop song popular with beginners is House Of The Rising Sun because it involved strumming and picking with a plectrum through a series of chords. We had many “jam” sessions amongst ourselves and laughed at our performances, especially the way we sang. It really wasn’t much better than the “lau goh” I spoke about in the hotel lounge in Havelock Road. But we didn’t boo each other. Only poke fun and call each other names. Ha ha.

jade said...

Hi Edward,
I too, learned of some very good songs from church at Nemesu Ave. 'Just as I am', 'Life is like a mountain railroad', 'This world is not my home' are some of my favourites. Were you there from 1965-1967? If you were, our paths might have crossed already.
As a kid,I used to enjoy Cliff Richard singing about 'the young ones'and 'Summer Holidays', feeling like the songs are about us especially with lines like 'the young ones..shouldn't be afraid ...to love, live ...
And 'summer holidays' meant school is out! The other singer that stood out was Elvis Presley. He was so fabulous, his dressing and hairdo was really 'stylo milo'(stylish). Both he and Cliff had this 'kari-pok' hairstyle...let me translate..It is medium-length hair that was geled back, sleek and shiny leaving a conspicuous mound at the top of the head just above the forehead. I think Frankie Avalon the actor looked like that too.
Those days, we listened to songs from a small transistor radio (about 20cm x 12cm x 8cm), powered by 2 'C' batteries, which was a far cry from the sound systems of today. But, that didn't dampen our love for music and songs. My parents regularly listened to Teochew operas classics like, 'Soh Lak Nio' and 'Kor Cheng Hu'.
Years later,when we 'upgraded' and played the some classics on the VCDs to my mum, it didn't seemed to make a difference. Maybe, by then, she was already hard of hearing, lol.

Edward said...

Oh yes Jade, I remember “Life is like a mountain railroad” and “This world is not my home”. You can listen to spiritual numbers from country singers like Dolly Parton, Loretta Lynn, Skeeter Davis and, of course, Elvis Presley, on You Tube.
I saw the movie Summer Holiday with my mother in the 60s. I also saw The Alamo in the 60s; it starred Frankie Avalon and John Wayne. Ha, lots of happenings in the 60s. We had at least one of Frankie Avalon’s EP. I also watched many of Elvis Presley’s movies on black and white television. From the late 50s a second hand Telefunken radio and a small record player provided much of our entertainment at home. Later on came Redifusion; it sat on top of our fridge in the kitchen. My brother used to listen to this scary Cantonese serial story called “Kwai Hup Fatt Moh Sion”. Don’t know why he’s so entranced by it since he doesn’t even understand Cantonese.
Yes, Elvis and Cliff Richard’s “kari-pok” hairdo were all the rage in the 60s. Somehow I cannot seem to manage one on my head. I think it’s because I got flat head, not quite like Herman Munster though. Ha ha.

Lam Chun See said...

Some songs that I remember learning to play on the guitar were; Donna Donna, Almost Persuaded, When the Girl in Your Arms, A Lover's Concerto and Today. Chinese songs - 爱的天地 and 我家在那里.

jade said...

Another good singer is Glen Campbell. I saw him on TV recently performing with his family, but he is a little like a 'lau goh' now.
I saw that movie,'Mackenna's Gold', but remember it more for its music and songs than the storyline. The You-tube is fantastic for catching up on these oldies but goodies. Simon and Garfunkel sounds better than I remembered.

Tim said...

I have to confess that i also tinker with the guitar, on an amateur basis. We have a weekly singaround at my favorite pub.

I don't do any Seekers songs, even though they were one of my favorite groups in the 1960s.

"The Carnival Is Over" was a favorite song, but like Chun See I was baffled by the Pierrot and Columbine bit. It's only recently that I found a song sheet with the actual words on it. I still don't quite get it.

As for modern vs old music, I don't like to be too judgemental. Kids like to rebel, and music is part of that phase. There was some great music in the 1960s, but there was also some garbage, and I think the same is probably true today. As a rule, though, I would say the best contemporary music is NOT in the charts.

Edward said...

Now I am also baffled by this reference to Pierrot and Columbine. Like Chun See I have always assumed that they are the names of two places. I found a couple of interesting references to it in the internet:
Pierrot is a pantomime character of late 17th century Italian theatre, a sad clown, who pines for the love of Columbine. But Columbine breaks his heart and leaves him for Harlequin. (Source: Wikipedia). According to Natasha, “That reveals how, in this song, they become symbols of two erstwhile lovers, lamenting the short-lived nature of their love, symbolized by the ephemeral nature of a carnival and the fling of two performing there as lovers.” (Source: http://www.amiright.com/artists/seekers.shtml).
According to another source, the song has its origins in an old Russian folk ballad. It was Dusty Springfield’s brother Tim who took the tune of this song and wrote the lyrics for the “The Carnival is Over”. (Source: http://omf.blogspot.com.au/2008/05/for-pierrot-and-columbine.html). You can listen to the Russian version of this song in You Tube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rXc4AXAm7l0). It’s called the “Song of Stenka Razin. Russian folk song. Из-за острова на стреже.”

Lam Chun See said...

I never expected the female lead singer, Judith Durham, to be so young and petite. Somehow, I always picture someone older and more matronly-looking.

Lam Chun See said...

You should hear her stirring rendition of I am Australian.

Brian and Tess said...

Damn

Nice to be reminded of it and Judith Durhams lovely voice but I have had that song in my head now for 24 hours with no sign of it stopping!

Lam Chun See said...

Brian. You must be the one responsible for causing YouTube to konk out. Cannot access anymore :(

Edward said...

A number of Glen Campbell’s songs remind me of the times I had in Singapore. Songs like "Wichita Lineman", "Galveston", "Rhinestone Cowboy" and “Honey Come Back” still make me nostalgic. Yes, Jade, the musicians of our teenage years would be pretty much lau-goh-ish by now. Come to think of it, we aren’t that far off either.

You know you’re getting there when you spend more time staring at the bathroom mirror, trying to look like the spring chicken you once were ... during the heydays of the 60s and 70s. Everything seems to go saggy, flabby, flaccid and floppy. It’s hard work, re-arranging your face and sagging body parts. Ha ha.

Edward said...

Chun See, you must be referring to Judith Durham of the 60s era. She is now matronly looking ... unless you mean she is not “plumpish” like Carol King and Linda Ronstadt. Mind you Judith Durham is 69. Either you or I need an appointment with the optometrist. Her voice is still as beautiful as ever. The Seekers performed as guests of Andre Rieu during his New Zealand Tour last year. You can watch this in You Tube.

Tim said...

I used to think that Judith was a bit plump and matronly, even back in the 1960s.

There was one superb cover photo on "Seekers Seen In Green", where she looked young and alluring, but otherwise .....

Nevertheless, she ranks as one of my favorite singers of all time. What a voice.

Edward said...

OK Tim, since the three of us are due for an eye examination, we will all agree that Judith Durham is plumpish, matronly, petite, was once young and now much matured, still alluring and have kept that fabulous voice.Go Judith!

Lam Chun See said...

Oh dear. You guys have misunderstood me. In those days when we only had radio, and I had no idea what Judith Durham looked like. In my mind, I picturesd somebody older and more matronly looking. But now that I can see videos of her from the 60's era, I am surprised that she looked so petite and young. I am not commenting on what she looked like today.

Edward said...

OK Chun See, you're excused from an eye examination. But I think you should go for a hearing test. Just kidding.

Hey, you should change the title of this post to: "For Pierrot and Columbine". It makes more sense (apart from being correct) since we now know that they do not refer to names of places.

Edward said...

Hey Chun See, ignore what I said about changing the title of the post. I see the point you’re making about mis-hearing the words. My 1960-something worn-out song book had the correct lyrics, so I knew it was “For Pierrot and Columbine”. But, until yesterday, I thought that Pierrot and Columbine were names of places. Isn’t this incredible? After nearly half a century I discovered the true meaning of the phrase! Ha, it’s never too late ... Thanks for posting this story.

Lam Chun See said...

Hey Edward. Why don't you take a few photos of your (precious) old song book and share a story for us? You can title your story; "Every sha-la-la-la, every wo-o-wo-o".

Edward said...

Chun See, that’s “Yesterday Once More” by the Carpenters. I still listen to Karen Carpenter. Her love songs are simply awesome. Yes, I will take a few photos of my antique song book. I don’t have a camera but I will get my daughter to use her camera. Or we can use our mobile phone camera but I need her laptop to download the photos cos I don’t have Bluetooth. Aaarrrggghhh! All these extra gadgets. So “mah fun” lah.

Edward said...

Tim, a pub that has weekly sing-a-long sessions ... that I like to see. In Melbourne you’d probably be booted out if you have a sing-a-long with your guitar! The pubs here have become more like gambling joints. Many have introduced TAB facilities (which allow punting on the races, trots, greyhounds, local and international sporting events) and gaming rooms with pokies machines, which is big business for them. The good old dart boards and pool tables are disappearing fast.

Anonymous said...

Edward - Pubs over here are having a hard time. You see them everywhere - boarded up or converted to convenience stores.

The pub I go to used to be dead on a Tuesday. Now the sing-around is attracting 20 or 30 people every week. I guess we attract more people than we frighten away, so commercially it must be worthwhile.

Tim said...

OK, I'll remember that next time I'm in Melbourne!

Over here the pubs are in crisis. Everywhere you look they are boarded up or converted into convenience stores.

When we started the singaround our pub was dead on a Tuesday night. Now it is packed. 15 or 20 singers/players, and almost as many listening. I think we attract more business than we frighten away.

No gambling in our pubs. Pool and darts, yes.

Lye Khuen Way said...

Hello! Stumbled upon your blog through a friend' s recommendation about Colombo Camp & SOCE.
I am also one hooked on the Seekers & Judith Durham.
That Carinval is Over & I'll never find another you & A world of our own were and are still my often listen to songs. With U Tube, it is a smartphone away.
Yes, that 'I am Australian ' was patriotic and so stirring. Reminds me of our older, better composed National Song of decades gone by,

Anonymous said...

Jerry and the pacemakers were singing about the river Mersey that cuts through Liverpool so it's Ferry across the Mersey :-)