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.”
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: Continue Reading →