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The Fiddle and the Drum -- Joni Mitchell

Guest poem submitted by Mac Robb:
(Poem #1676) The Fiddle and the Drum
 And so once again
 My dear Johnny my dear friend
 And so once again you are fightin' us all
 And when I ask you why
 You raise your sticks and cry, and I fall
 Oh, my friend
 How did you come
 To trade the fiddle for the drum

 You say I have turned
 Like the enemies you've earned
 But I can remember
 All the good things you are
 And so I ask you please
 Can I help you find the peace and the star
 Oh, my friend
 What time is this
 To trade the handshake for the fist

 And so once again
 Oh, America my friend
 And so once again
 You are fighting us all
 And when we ask you why
 You raise your sticks and cry and we fall
 Oh, my friend
 How did you come
 To trade the fiddle for the drum

 You say we have turned
 Like the enemies you've earned
 But we can remember
 All the good things you are
 And so we ask you please
 Can we help you find the peace and the star
 Oh my friend
 We have all come
 To fear the beating of your drum
-- Joni Mitchell
The posting of Ogden Nash's "Custard the Dragon" took me back for the first
time in many years to the grade 3 classroom at Queen Elizabeth II public
school in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, where I first heard that delightful
doggerel. And that recollection in turn sent me searching in the Minstrels
archive for songs by that famous alumna of my school, Joni Mitchell (Joan
Anderson, as she was in Saskatoon).

"Both Sides Now," I discover, was posted on 5 November 2004 and is Poem
#1556 in the archive but other songs from "Clouds" (1969) haven't yet made
it. "The Fiddle and the Drum" jumps out as being, alas, again very timely.

Joni Mitchell arrived on the American -- and international -- music scene at
the height of the Vietnam war; this song takes us back to that
politics-charged era and the mutual perplexity of those who were pro- and
anti-war. (That War in particular, at least.) Then as now hawks perceived
both domestic and foreign opposition as betrayal: criticism was met with
belligerance; foreign friends of America found it a tricky business
affirming their continuing admiration for the fiddle while tactfully
disdaining the drum.

The song, like many of Joni Mitchell's (and of her co-nationals Ian Tyson,
Gordon Lightfood and kd lang) is not unmistakably in any one contemporary
genre -- it is neither folk nor rock nor country-and-western. Perhaps
actually it's a little old fashioned and hearkens back to the roots of
country-and-western music in the Scottish and Scotch-Irish secular folk
music and Protestant hymnody of both Appalachia and rural Canada. Think of
the Scotch-Gaelic Ceilidh, the plangent part-sung hymn sung by Donald
Sutherland's congregation in the movie "Cold Mountain" and the Scotch-Gaelic
Christmas carol "Child in the manger" popularised on the hit parade some
years ago by Cat Stevens to the words of the Eleanor Farjeon's
Congregationalist hymn "Morning has broken."

Mac Robb
Brisbane, Australia

40 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Unknown said...

I love the drum, i think this instrument is very notable, i usually feel too much energy when i listen or i touch a drum although be a short time. Is absolutely wonderful.

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