Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Obscenity, old Etonians and a little astrophysics

As some of you will know, I’m writing a book on swearing. How we swear and, more interestingly, why. One thing I got to looking at was firsts. The first time in print, the first time on TV, the first time on record.

Here is a link to a download of what I reckon is a recorded first of what Allen Walker Read, the first great man of dirty words, called ‘the most disreputable of all English words — the colloquial verb and noun, universally known by speakers of English, designating the sex act.’ Read wrote his entire 1934 paper, An Obscenity Symbol, without using the actual word once and I’m keeping faith with the great man.

As you might guess, it’s a compilation of pre-war blues. The actual track you want is number three, Lucille Bogan’s Shave ’Em Dry. Play it an office with a strict language-code: get sacked. Those of you interested in old, old music might like to know that this site offers as many versions of Stagolee/Stackoleee as even I might care to hear. Plus there’s 121 versions of St James Infirmary Blues.

If Lucille Bogan was first, here’s a link to something new, though almost as blue. The video is censored but the missing words are still clear — and the contrast between performer and lyrical content is irresistibly charming.

While I’m about it, here are some other links to cheer your heart on this day of grey skies and crashing stocks.

1. Some extras for The Wire. Scroll down the page and find the prequels for Prop Joe, Omar and McNulty.

An admission. I still find it impossible to believe that McNulty, the archetypal Baltimore Irish cop, is played by an Old Etonian Englishman who lives at Crouch End and who I’ve seen, with my own eyes, playing an upper class Edwardian at the National Theatre. I know he’s an actor and that’s what actors do — pretend to be other people in return for money. But I can’t imagine, say, Robert De Niro managing the same character switcheroo.

2. A little something for Harry Smith fans, from the Journal of the Institute for Astrophysics and the Hillbilly Blues.

3. And, finally, something for Bob Dylanistas. I helped out on Ace’s Theme Time Radio Hour compilation and got left with something of what hepcats of a certain age might call a Dylan jones.