and a forgotten hobby for the poetic …

Before his untimely death, Bill “The Fox” Foster presided over Comedy Central’s notorious The Man Show as its mascot and inspiration. A grinning, wrinkled man in a blue military jacket and bright red bandleader’s cap, Foster sat at his piano and played, calling out sing-along-style parodies of popular standard with crass lyrics and crasser choruses. If The Man Show can be criticized for its returning to winking, leering misogyny (the closing credits feature scantily clad women jumping on trampolines), it must also be recognized for reclaiming a lost, grand drinking tradition: the bawdy song. Bill “The Fox” Foster offered a return to a lost form of pub entertainment that amounted to getting really smashed with your friends, gathering around the piano and hoarsely singing the sorts of songs that would make a whore blush. Records of bawdy songs date back to Chaucer, and many of the most famous come from the British Isles. The poet Robert Burns was famous for his love of off-color ballads; one of his most infamous compositions was called “Nine Inches Will Please a Lady,” and included lines such as “Come rede me, dame, come tell me, dame. My dame come tell me truly, What length o’ graith, when weel ca’d hame, Will sair a woman duly?”

In the ensuing years, bawdy songs have become more understandable (graith? sair?). They seemed to reach their heyday during World War II, when American G.I.s spent their furloughs drinking in European brothels while singing songs with titles like “Cemetary Sue.” (“They say a hard man is always good to find. If he’s three days dead then Sue don’t mind. Ask her what she wants and she’ll say she’ll have a dose of rigor mortis from a fresh cadaver.”)

Unfortunately, as jukeboxes became common in the 1950s, they edged out the piano that had always stood in the corner of a saloon, bringing an end to the long tradition of hammering out filthy melodies with your mates on a Saturday night.

We at The Lens would like to invite loyal drinkers to return to this lost tradition. It will take some diligent research at the local V.F.W., but eventually you should be able to corner some decrepit veteran who can teach you a dozen or so bawdy songs. Additionally, most fraternities keep a steady supply of blue lyrics on hand in the back of their new pledge books, although rarely will you find a fraternity brother who can sing any of the songs. As a last resort, consider joining a secret society; groups such as the Freemasons were notorious for the breadth of their collections of wicked lyrics, which they would sing in close, four-part harmony.

So practice your piano scales until you can make chords simply by banging your fists down on the keyboard, start memorizing the lyrics to “Small Boys Are Cheap Today,” and begin lugging your Casio portable synthesizer to the bar with you on weekends. If you do not take responsibility for the revival of this glorious drinking tradition, it will die with this generation, and then who will teach or grandchildren the verses to “The Rajah of Astrakhan,” which begins:

 

There was a Rajah of Astrakhan,

A most licentious lout of a man,

Of wives he a hundred and nine,

Including his favourite concubine.

 

Cheers!