A while back, OK … a long while back, one of Malcolm’s more-worthy on-line acquaintances (greetings, Zach!) expressed approval of an Ian Tyson song. Praise, indeed!:
Suddenly, this evening, out of the inexorably long iTunes overflow, out popped the classic Suzy Bogguss version hitting the very spot, with added woomph! and gender emendations:
Aw, shucks … it’s just a great song.
Now look at the (original) lyric:
There’s a young man that I know whose age is twenty-one,
Comes from down in southern Colorado.
Just out of the service, he’s lookin’ for his fun …
Someday soon, goin’ with him someday soon.
My parents cannot stand him ’cause he rides the rodeo.
My father says that he will leave me cryin’.
I would follow him right down the roughest road I know,
Someday soon, goin’ with him someday soon …
None too many years past, Malcolm taught literature. That included the ballad form. The best ballads are so deeply rooted in the folk tradition their origins are lost in time.
[Swift turn to the chalk-board and, somewhat out of practice, a quick bullet-point scribing.]
The characteristics include:
- a simple regular stanza form, with a simple ABAB or ABCB rhyme scheme;
- basic vocabulary;
- an incomplete narrative: we don’t know the start or the conclusion of the events described;
- the context is the basic human story: birth, love, death, occasional and not-understood violence, the natural and the supernatural;
- there are no happy endings;
- there is little specific characterisation;
- above all, ballads tend to be generalist, impersonal: if we are invited to empathize, it is with a universal condition, rather than through detail.
[Hip-swivel back to eye-ball the students:]
- above all, the ballad is not a novel, though many novelists impose 5W+H [who, what, where, when, why & how] on an essentially ballad theme.
At which point, shufti on the ticking clock, and the lecturer determines whether or not to do an aside on Thomas Hardy.
So, consider just how effectively Ian Tyson ticked the boxes there. Since Tyson and his then wife (as “Ian and Sylvia”) recorded this back in 1964, on the Northern Journey album, the nod to “just out of the service” takes us to the Vietnam era, and a more general rite-of-passage than today.
Which is why this one works, strikes home, and will endure.