in verse #81 : bad motorcycle

In my last post, I examined uses by the pre-eminent modernist male poets, Pound, Eliot and Frost, of the traditional form of the ballad.  I have been examining that use by their female counterparts since I posted, but in the course of that examination, especially when distracted by the needles and catheters of various medical examinations, it has occurred to me that another frequent distraction I suffer is related to the matter of traditional forms — in this case the form of early rock’n’roll pop songs from my wasted youth.  They are, after all, related to several folk forms like the ballad.

I have been haunted for years, since I was about 13, around 1958, by a fragment of a pop song, the chorus in fact, that goes “He was a bad motorcycle, wadi wadi wadi, a bad motorcycle, wadi wadi wadi …” [fading to silence, where it belongs].  Such things get stuck in my head, in my life, in my memory.  Well, recently our eldest grand-daughter, now a freshman at Utah State, was visiting us and her Clark cousins in Utah County — a novelty, because home is Ithaca, New York — and said that you could find anything on Spotify, which she has on her phone.  So I challenged her, saying “Yeah, well I’ll bet you can’t find ‘Screw You, We’re From Texas!’ on that thing[i].”  Sure enough, a few quick pokes of the finger and there it was.  So then I tried to think of the most obscure song that rattles around in my head, and up popped “Bad Motorcycle.”  So of course I said “Well, I once heard a song called ‘Bad Motorcycle.’  I’d be surprised if that’s on there, because no one else I have ever talked to has heard it.”

The Story Sisters http://doo-wop.blogg.org/storey-sisters-c26504102

So she poked in “Bad Motorcycle” and back came a list of five songs with that title, by the Storey Sisters (off three different albums), Tracey Ullman, and “Angelos, Barbara Green” off an album “Boys Can Be Mean.”  “Play that bottom one” I said, and it started off promisingly with motorcycle noise before Green started in with “Oh, run run run, Oh, run run run.”  “Nah” I said, “That’s not it.  Try this one” and pointed to Tracey Ullman.  The song had a fifteen-second rock’n’roll intro, then Ullman began singing “I was on my way to school” — “Not it” I said; “Try this one” and she pressed play on the Storey Sisters.   I heard this:

I was on my way to school when a fellow I did meet
Took me by the hand and he told me I was sweet
And I knew by the way he spoke
He was a bad motorcycle vuhn vuhn vuhn
Yes I knew by the way he spoke
He was a bad motorcycle vuhn vuhn vuhn

As we walked on alone
He asked for my phone
He told me his name
And I told him the same
And I knew by the way he spoke
He was a bad motorcycle vuhn vuhn vuhn
Yes I knew by the way he spoke
He was a bad motorcycle

Got on to jiving about a fling,
He knew just what’s happening
He had my heart just a pumping
But he was really saying something
He had my heart upon a shell
But he was really something else

As I went home and sat down to wait
He called me at eight, not one minute late
And I knew by the way he spoke
He was a bad motorcycle vuhn vuhn vuhn
Yes I knew by the way he spoke
He was a bad motorcycle

As I went home and sat down to wait
He called me at eight, not one minute late
And I knew by the way he spoke
He was a bad motorcycle vuhn vuhn vuhn
Yes I knew by the way he spoke
He was a bad motorcycle vuhn vuhn vuhn
He was a bad motorcycle vuhn vuhn vuhn
He was a bad motorcycle vuhn vuhn vuhn
He was a bad motorcycle vuhn vuhn vuhn
He was a bad motorcycle vuhn vuhn vuhn[ii]

You will notice immediately that the scat figure in this song is not “wadi wadi wadi.”  It is in fact a little hard to transcribe.  At first I thought I was hearing Bela Lugosi trying to pronounce “wooden,” as in “vooduhn,” but it is much faster, so I settled on what you see above.  Listening to the other two performances, by Tracey Ullman and Barbara Green — and, as it turned out, they were all the same song — has reinforced that transcription.  The person who transcribed it for songlyrics.com didn’t even try; however, he or she transcribes the word “spoke” as “smoked[iii]”, which may fit the first verse, but not the last.  And, as with all folk music, sometimes transcriptions or re-performances, assuming the Storey Sisters is the original (I can find no dates for these performances online), introduce variations.

That is unavoidable, so I have never tried to avoid it when I am altering a song I hate.  I kind of like “Bad Motorcycle,” now that I’ve re-discovered it.  But I hate such trash as “To Know Him is to Love Him” written by Phil Spector (and isn’t that a great name for the man who killed a Leonard Cohen album) but sung by Carol Connors of the Teddy Bears (Phil’s group — he’s the one with the guitar; and isn’t this a little narcissistic, Carol singing to Phil?), so when I set out to re-imagine this song I come up with:

The Donald J. Trump Hallelujah Hymn

To know, know, know me
Is to love, love, love me
Just to see me smile
Makes your whole miserable blue-collar life worthwhile
Yes, jes’, to know me
Is to love, love, love me
And you do (And you do)
And you do (And you do)
And you do (And you do)
And you wah wah wah wah wah wah

I’ll bring jobs to you
I’ll build a wall for you
All the polls say there’ll come a day
When I’ll march right alongside of you, leading you
Yes, jes’, to know me
Is to love, love, love me
And you do (And you do)
And you do (And you do)
And you do (And you do)
And you wah wah wah wah wah wah

Why can’t you see?
How blind can you be?
Someday you’ll see
That you are meant just for me, oh oh yeah

To know, know, know me
Is to love, love, love me
Just to see me smile
Makes your whole squalid working class life worthwhile
Yes, jes’, to know me
Is to love, love, love me
And you do (And you do)
And you do (And you do)
And you do (And you do)
And you wah wah wah wah wah wah
Waa-aa-aa[iv]

Now I have no regrets for slaughtering the Don like that, since he has no regrets for being a legalistic narcissistic anarchistic pro-hubristic pugilistic legalistic — wait a minute; didn’t I just say that?  Well, you get the idea.  And anyway, I wouldn’t want to slander a dog.  And I didn’t and don’t hate all of those folk songs from the Fifties.  Some are positively delightful, so I try to make those more positive, like this re-imagining of “You Don’t Own Me” which in my day was sung by “Little” Leslie Gore.[v]  So, having to write something for Melania, I came up with this parody:

Melania’s Anathem

You don’t own me;
I’m not just one of your    many toys.
You don’t own me;
Shut it Babe!   stop with this   stupid noise.

And don’t tell me what to do,
Don’t tell me what to say,
And please, when I campaign with you
Don’t put me on display, ‘cause

You don’t own me
Don’t try to change me in any way
You don’t own me
Don’t tie me down ‘cause I’d never stay

I don’t tell you what to say,
I don’t tell you what to do,
So just let me be myself —
That’s all I ask of you.

I’m grown and I love to be grown
I’m free and I love to be free
To live my life the way I want
To say and do whatever I please.

And don’t tell me what to do,
Oh, don’t tell me what to say,
And please, when I campaign with you
Don’t put me on display.

I don’t tell you what to say
Oh, don’t tell you what to do
So just let me be myself —
That’s all I ask of you!

I’m grown and I love to be grown
I’m free and I love to be free
To live my life the way I want…[vi]

So, as you are probably now saying to yourself, “That’s a load of hooey.  Melania would never leave the Donald, the father of her son Barron” [whose name looks like a cross between baron and barren, as if his parents couldn’t decide which he was].  And some of you are probably saying “That’s really not funny, Clark.  Parody is supposed to be funny.”  But I had planned to post this last night, on Hallowe’en, instead of today, on All Saint’s Day, and scare you all witless.

But hold on, I hear you say.  What about those more genuine ballads you promised me?

Your turn.

____________________

[i] By Ray Wylie Hubbard, from his 2003 album Growl.

[ii] Transcribed by repeated hearings from Cameo J9OB-0894, published by Thornett Music BMI, performed by The Storey Sisters / Al Browne and His Orchestra and attributed to Williams-Browne on side C-126-A, according to the label being displayed on Youtube.

[iii] http://www.songlyrics.com/various-artists/bad-motorcycle-lyrics/, accessed 27 Oct 2017.

[iv] My notes indicate that I started this song after coming home from a welfare stint packing hot dogs at Deseret Meat on 29 March 2016.  They sent me home with a package of frozen hot dogs.

[v] And I suspect her record company of belittling her to take some of the sting away from listeners like me, which is why I loved it.

[vi] With sincere apologies to songwriters David White & John Madara, two men, I can’t help but note.

One Thought on “in verse #81 : bad motorcycle

  1. Dennis Clark on November 2, 2017 at 6:59 pm said:

    It occurred to me last night, after I posted this, that if a bad motorcycle were one that sputtered, coughed and spewed out white smoke, maybe the verb “smoked” would be even more appropriate in the context of this song than “spoke.”

    Whaddya think?

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