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Category Archives: Traffic hazards

Recently I finished reading a very interesting history of American popular music, How the Beatles Destroyed Rock ‘n’ Roll: An Alternative History of American Popular Music by Elijah Wald. Both the title and the subtitle are sort of misleading, though in ways that are more amusing than off-putting once you’ve read the book. The Beatles don’t even show up until the last 20 pages, and what comes before that is actually a rigorously non-alternative history of popular music. By that I mean that the guy is interested in the dialectics of the stuff that was actually popular in its time as a opposed to what we venerate as cool now. 90% of such music has been dismissed as beneath notice if not contempt by the sort of people who write histories of popular music. Wald isn’t championing this stuff aesthetically, just proving its cultural significance while demonstrating the total bankruptcy of writing music history as a genealogy of one’s own superior taste.

It’s just a really smart book: The macro-arguments are persuasive, and the micro-details are fascinating. Among the many things I’ve learned as a consequence of reading it is that old Trinidadian calypso music is really fucking weird and bears virtually no resemblance to the pop music marketed under that name in the U.S. in the 1950s. (Notice how I didn’t say “real calypso music”?)

Take this awesome track by early calypso star Lord Executioner: It’s like the Hope Chest set to a Betty Boop cartoon score as interpreted by moonlighting brass players from the Portsmouth Sinfonia. Lately if I’m not singing this, it’s because I’m listening to it.

Haven’t been able to find out a damned thing about Lord Executioner except that the young Louis Farrakhan was apparently a big fan. (Did y’all know that Farrakhan started out as an entertainer, name of Calypso Gene, aka “The Charmer”? I did not, although I did know about the calypso backgrounds of such luminaries as Robert Mitchum and Maya Angelou. I wonder if the three of them ever jammed together?)

Anyway: here’s the song, plus the lyrics as best as I could make them out. If anyone can help with those blank spots in the last verse, I’d be grateful. Take it away, your Lordship!

Hideous discoveries and monstrous crime
Always happen at the Christmas time
Hideous discoveries and monstrous crime
Always happen at the Christmas time
For the old year murders and the tragedy
For the New Year serious calamity
What shocked Trinidad
Those seven skeletons that the workmen found in that yard

What marred the Christmas festivity
Was a New Year double catastrophe
When a man and a woman on the ground was found
With bloodstains upon the ground
The husband was arrested but they were too late
For the poison he drunk sent him to the gate
That shocked Trinidad
Those seven skeletons that the workmen found in that yard

In Saint James the population went wild
When in the savannah they found a child
The hair was auburn and complexion pink
Which placed the watchman in a mood to think
“How can a mother despise and scorn
A little angel that she has born?”
That was more sad
Than the seven skeletons that the workmen found in that yard

A lorry was speeding to Port of Spain
When it knocked down the cyclist into the drain
It was going as fast as the lightning flash
When the cyclist received the lash
The mother cried out in sorrows and pain
I am not going to see my boy-child again
That is more sad
Than the seven skeletons that the workmen found in that yard

While the workmen they were digging the ground
They [ ? ] all human beings they found
Feet together and head east and west
Number five was a watchman among the rest
Number six had the hands and the feet on the chest
And number seven [something “serious guest”?]
That shocked Trinidad
Those seven skeletons that the workmen found in that yard

Oh, and I really, really love that this is a Christmas song. I’ve long favored a comprehensive turnover of the Christmas musical canon (backed by force of law), and this gets my vote as the replacement for “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”

Chicago Tribune, August 1, 1897. Cars are the new bikes.Read more.

Savannah Tribune, November 9, 1922. Call me judgmental, but that is just plain bad parenting.

ioneLos Angeles Times, September 12, 1896. Well shut my mouth: here’s a wild woman who does manifest in mixed company. So let me advance another, I think safer, generalization: Wild Women skew distinctly toward the brunette end of the spectrum. Haven’t run across a blond one yet.

eminent domainNew York Times, October 4, 1854. There’ll always be some folks who just don’t cotton to the concept of eminent domain.

american register 1 1 17American Register, January 1, 1817. Well, those mail coach drivers certainly seem to have earned their paychecks. We’ve seen this spooky horses-on-autopilot trope before.

pi 12 30 96Philadelphia Inquirer, December 30, 1896. Rule #2 is the one I’d have preferred to see explained. People were attaching calliopes to their bikes or something? Also: I like the idea of children as safety incentives. Here in Chicago I routinely see boneheads riding motor scooters with unhelmeted children on their laps. But perhaps they’re drinking less than usual when they do that.

San Antonio Express, February 28, 1904. Flivver fun from the dawn of the automobile, when cars were still toys of the rich. It’s kind of weird, the extent to which cartoonists had a handle on what we were all getting into. Images pinched from a single page of the infinite and searchable funny papers of the American Historical Newspapers archive.

Chicago Tribune, October 24 and 25, 1911. This pairing is sort of the antithesis of a previous interaction we’ve seen between cartoonist John T. McCutcheon and the trial system. I love this guy’s work. Editorial cartoons ain’t half of what they used to be.

CHEAPChicago Tribune, August 7, 1921. An interesting question is raised: What is the proper amount to tip a child after you’ve run him over with your car?