Saturday, June 13, 2009

"Sell your soul for that" (Joyce, King, Your Name Here)

I am now up to a part of James Joyce's Ulysses where Leopold Bloom is listening to singing in a pub, which reminded me to tunnel back and find another passage I had marked for setting to music. This is one complete paragraph in the novel; I have added the line breaks with a rock song in mind.

Cousin Stephen, you will never be a saint.
Isle of Saints.

You were awfully holy, weren't you?
You prayed to the Blessed Virgin
That you might not have a red nose.

You prated to the devil in Serpentine avenue
that the fubsy widow in front might
lift her clothes still more from the wet street.

O, si, certo!

Sell your soul for that,
do, dyed rags
pinned round a squaw.
Might tell me more, more still!

On the top of the Howth tram alone
crying to the rain: naked women!
What about that, eh?
There is just an awful lot for a songwriter to like here.

A line ("you will never be a saint") already scored, more or less, by Elvis Costello ("You'll Never Be a Man"); questions and exclamations (the blood and guts of rock lyrics); an evocative place name (Serpentine avenue); a suggestively taunting hook ("Sell your soul for that"), followed - no less - by a short word ("do") that doubles as a nonsense syllable the background singers can do ("do-do-do-do-do-do, do-do-do-do-do-do").

And the passage is all about the urgency of sex when we are young and don't really understand what it's all about - "crying to the rain: naked women!" - the core predicament for which rock & roll was invented in the first place.

There is even a snippet in a foreign language, O, si, certo!, which simply begs to be a bridge, maybe even one that breaks form and tempo, like a stand-alone little song within a song, with a different feel and instrumentation.

I think I'll get started right on this one - that is, unless John Cale, DevotchKa, or Andrew Bird comes along first and pitches in first.

More in this series

"Over the motley slush" (Joyce, King, Whoever Helps Me)
"My childhood bends" (Joyce, King)"
"Don't you play the giddy ox with me!" (Joyce, King)


Image of Howth tram, where Stephen cried to the rain, from Ask About Ireland.

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