Monday, February 23, 2009

Faulty Lyric Logic

I recall a comedian recently (it may have been Lee Mack) explaining the defect in the Humpty Dumpty story. You know the one:

All the king's horses and all the king's men, couldn't put Humpty together again.

'There's the root of the problem,' he said. 'They shouldn't have let the horses go first.'

The other evening I found myself in the company of some other folk and Thin Lizzy's greatest hits and, in a lull in the conversation which I may have caused by paying too much attention to the music, I noticed the line in Whisky in the Jar:

I first produced my pistol
Then produced my rapier.

Now, were he able to speak to us from the grave, the late, great drug-addled Phillip Lynott has to admit his highwayman of the narrative has made a very basic error there. Frankly, if the gun ain't scaring the ambushed a sword isn't going to get the job done. Look at it this way. You're holding up a stagecoach and you've done the, 'Your money or your life' speech and they've opted for the life to go (a bit silly because then the money more than likely goes too - I don't think highwaymen ever really meant it as an either/or). Are you going to shoot them? Or are you going to have another go with the sharp thing in your hand?

More examples please.


Steve C said...

Perhaps he produced his pistol, fired it and then produced his rapier because there wasn't time to reload the former.

I always preferred the less-than-Holmesian sleuthing of Lizzy's 'Jailbreak':

'Tonight there's going to be a jailbreak,
Somewhere in this town'

Er, like the jail perhaps?

Mr Gnome said...

'Hey, Mr Tambourine Man, play a song for me...'

Accompany a song, yes.

Play a song?

On a tambourine?


: - )

Hypatia said...

It's a rhetorical device used from Homer onward....

St said...

It is if used by Homer and other great literary technicians. In order to make it rhetorical however I believe you would say:

I produced my pistol
I produced my rapier

The addition of 'first ... then ...' changes it from being rhetoric to temporal confusion. As Steve C has pointed out Lynot's abilty with words does not lead us to the conviction that this was intentional dramatic effect.

I'd love to be wrong though.

Alastair said...

Not wishing to be too pedantic - see Wikipedia, fount of all wisdom.
It's a 17th Century Irish ballad, in various versions, depending on the degree of inebriation of the singer. And the refinement - or not - of the audience.
And back then pistols were only single shot, hard to aim, and notoriously unreliable (especially if your false love has just filled the powder compartment up with water as she does in most versions), so actually, yes, a rapier (some versions have sabre) IS a bigger threat.
Of the dozens of recordings mentioned on Wikipedia, it is the 2008 Israeli version that I think is most mind boggling!

St said...

So, to summarise, Lynott is innocent, St is ridiculous and the game's off. I think that about covers it.