Music in Jerusalem (Butterworth)

I am always interested when authors specify specific music in their writing.  So often we read a generic description ” the sound of music drifts down the corridor..” so when it is specified to be music of a certain kind by a specific composer and even a specific piece of music, we must take notice.

I wrote a while ago about music in Chopin’s The Awakwening link, and this piece is a companion to that writing designed to engage students with considering the music named during Butterworth’s Jerusalem.

Obviously the play itself carries the name of one of the most passionate “hymns” to nationalism played and sung at sporting events (and in schools) throughout the country.  When Parry set Blake’s Jerusalem he was inspired by its grandeur and power to inspire thoughts of Great Britain and for him the rhetorical questions all required the answer “yes”.  Performances like this at the Last Night of the Proms are designed to leave no doubt that Britain is Great and that England is in some way “God’s own country”.

Butterworth can buy into this expectation from the outset.  As the play begins, Phaedra, dressed as a fairy sings the poem unaccompanied.  The prologue has begun with a musical reference to an older time in terms of the pipes and accordians and then a solo voice pierces the darkness of the theatre – purity and innocence, singing Blake’s text.  Whether or not she sings to Parry’s tune is not made clear since the focus is the text and the point at which Butterworth allows the music of Johnny’s “gathering” to interrupt Phaedra’s singing.  Here the student needs to consider both the point at which the the singing stops: “satanic” and also the sense of innocence questioning surrounding a young voice questioning the very nature of the country in which she is growing up.  It may be that Phaedra is asking these questions in disbelief that something so wondrous might have occurred in what she sees as such a dark and satanic place, though the Satanic idea might just as well flow from Johnny’s caravan whence the interruption comes.  Which ever is intended, the audience is challenged and forced to consider before Act One even begins, the true nature of Jersualem/England.

As act one develops, music has an automatic link to carnival and to older times.  Padstow’s morning song is sung by the village and by the revelers on page 10 and a link is made to the early roots of festival in the Spring.  The words sung have sexual overtones (unite and unite) all suggestive of fertility and rebirth, yet the actual fair represents nothing of the sort.  Butterworth is once again juxtaposing the old with the modern and finding the modern crass and materialistic.  This song, however is not named in the text.  It may well be tradition in Flintock top sing the song and no one pays much attention to it.  The next song named is Werewolf by Barry Dransfield at the beginning (Prologue 2) of Act two.  Once again it is Phaedra who sings alone and once agian the positioning of the song in a “prologue” must be significant – almost telling the audience the theme of the act which will follow.

Lyrics to The Werewolf Song 

The werewolf, the werewolf
He comes stepping along
He doesn’t even break the branches

Where he’s been and gone

You can hear his long holler from away across the moor
That’s the sound of the werewolf when he’s feeling poor

He goes out in the evening when the bats are on the wing
And he’s killed some young maiden before the birds do sing

For the werewolf, the werewolf
Please have sympathy
For the werewolf, he is someone
So much like you and me

Once I saw him in the moonlight
When the bats, they were flying
All alone, I saw the werewolf and
The werewolf was crying

Crying, “Nobody, nobody, nobody knows
How much I love the maiden as I tear off her clothes”,
Crying, “Nobody, nobody knows of my pain
When I see it is risen, that full moon again”

When I see that moon moving through the clouds in the sky
I get a crazy feeling, and I wonder why

The werewolf, the werewolf
He comes stepping along
He doesn’t even break the branches
Where he’s been and gone

This song sets up several lines of thought as we hear it.  As the idea of the werewolf begins to surface, the audience may remember Davey’s story from page 28 in which he suggests that Phaedra may have been taken by a werewolf-  “whereupon a werewolf has heard her tragic sobs… and he’s pounced”.

This gives the most straight forward reading of the intertextual purpose of the song:  Johnny is seen as some sort of werewolf who has lured Phaedra to the caravan for his own ends, but who also can claim that “I love the maiden as I tear off her clothes”,  From this it follows that Johnny  is to be seen as a force of evil, but one who craves sympathy since his actions are utterly out of his control.  However, there must be other candidates.  Later in the act, Butterworth will challenge our preconceptions by bringing Troy into opposition with Johnny.  It is clear that Troy is accused at the least, of harbouring lust for his step daughter – “she in your dream,s boy?” (p81) and is evidently a man with little or no respect for the girls camped around Johnny – “Just fucking open your cockhole one more time… Little cocksucker…”  Indeed his language is the violent and sexualised language of the predator.  To Johnny the children are “rats”, to Troy it is possible they are something more.  With this in mind, the audience will begin to shift their thoughts and the duality which pervades the play begins to focus on Johnny.  It might not be good that he lets all the youth stay at his caravan, but is he really causing harm?  Werewolf seems to sum up the  pleas of the paedophile who begs for forgiveness claiming that his urges are out of his control.  The audience is torn between two possible werewolves and the uncertainty at the heart of the play is developed further.

The song is made the more powerful for the fact that Phaedra sings alone.  The song is in the First Person, thus identifying the singer with the unspeakable acts described and the plea for forgiveness.  The first person narrator both witnesses the werewolf and also becomes identified with him “When I see that moon moving through the clouds in the sky
I get a crazy feeling”.  We are told that Phaedra has gone missing before “gone off again.  She ain’t been seen since Monday night” (p41) and I want students to consider what implication this might have for Phaedra.  Is she in hiding because of a dark secret about which she can do nothing?  It is worth looking into some discussions about werewolves and the links to the cycle of the moon and thus to menstruation.  Female werewolves were often seen in folklore as the manifestation of “wanton” women – is it too far fetched to see the line: “…How much I love the maiden as I tear off her clothes”, as referring back to Phaedra herself – some form of divesting of the virginal once a month?

Probably.  At this moment the line between Innocence and Experience is blurred, and the audience is forced, again, to adjust their perspective and their moral compass as the play moves on.

Two more songs are relevant, if not actually cited in the text:  Scallywag by Jake Thackeray and the link material from a Tom Waits concert found here . Both (YouTube periodically blocks this- search for the song Train Song on the album Big Time- Spotify is your friend!) are also linked on this blog: https://jwpblog.wordpress.com/2015/03/30/links-to-articles-about-urbanisation-relative-to-jerusalem-butterworth/

Scallywag seems to be an exact fit for Rooster:

Scallywag: Jake Thackeray

Village scallywag, blackguard of the neighbourhood,
No good, you scandalise, your name is mud,
But it’s no surprise.
They say you nick their chickens and you fish their pools,
Poor fools, if they but knew the half that you do
They’d be rather surprised.

Though your muddy boots flap, though your britches let the sunshine inside,
Susan, the parson’s eldest, seems to find them irresistible.
She’s only got to give you the eye, eye, eye and in the by and by
You’ll be around after evensong on tippy-toe,
Tapping at her window when it gets dark.

You smoke your evil-smelling shag, and you get drunk as a newt
To boot, and this mortifies the Ladies’ Institute,
Which is no surprise.
And they say you plunder their washing lines for your clothes.
God knows! If they realised what you filch besides
They’d be rather surprised.

You, your bold brown eyes, your whippy hips, your melting smile.
Winifred, the teacher at the school is not as snooty as she’d like to make out.
She knows that if she gives you the eye, eye, eye that in the by and by
You’ll come early from the Pack Horse taproom on tippy-toe,
Tapping at her window when it gets dark.

You were rowdy, you were ribald at the Cricket Tea.
Dear me! By jingo! By Gad! The fella’s a cad!
Well, it’s no surprise.
And you’ve been seen to spit upon the magistrate’s car!
His motor car! You’ll be chastised, you go too far.
But it’s no surprise.

For although Rosie, the greengrocer’s girl curls her nose up as you swagger by,
Shy little slyboots, she peeps when her old man’s back is turned.
She knows that if she gives you the eye, eye, eye that in the by and by,
You’ll come tripping through her daddy’s curly kale on tippy-toe,
Tapping at her window when it gets dark.

So don’t give a toss for the gossip and the tit-for-tat
Chit-chat, they’re only upset that you’re not dead yet,
Which is no surprise.
And you can let them cock their snooks at you
and pooh-pooh, for, as I surmise, they envy you
And I’m not surprised.

It’s no wonder when you wash your back down by the riverside
Even the local countess finds it hard to look away as you scrub.
She’s only got to give you the eye, eye, eye, and in the by and by,
You’ll pussyfoot through the squire’s rhododendrons on tippy-toe,
Tapping at her window when it gets dark.
Ever so dark.
Right dark.
Scallywag.

It catches the sense of envy and inverted snobbery at the heart of Little England perfectly whilst also hinting at something darkly sinister lying beneath the surface of the “scallywag” and rewards study alongside your reading of the text.  The Waits link passage is the evident genesis of Johnny’s virgin birth myth in Act 2.  To me this adds to the depth of Johnny – it is not relevant that the material is not original to Butterworth.  I love it that Johnny has knowledge not just of the dark and arcane, but also of the peripheries of the popular music industry.  No chance any of these children will have heard Waits, so Johnny has free rein to improvise or riff on the material,  Like so much more that he says, the story can be shown to be invented, yet once again, the acolytes eventually believe him, or at least recognise the possibility of truth in his tale.  The audience is left in a condition of doubt, however.  We are fascinated by Johnny’s myths and the legends that are created.  With this one, we want his verbal bravado to be true, however we may well recognise the Waits story – a lovely double layer of response is thus sown.