Monday, March 9, 2009

A Week Of Folksongs (2) : Fatal Flower Garden

The second song in Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music didn't draw my attention when I first heard it. The sound quality was rather bad, I was in the subway, and I didn't notice the lyrics. Then when reading the liner notes I realized what it was all about and came back to it, and now it's one of my favorite songs from the anthology.

Favorite ? Well, I don't know in fact... Certainly most striking though, as it is about the murder of a child. Now that I have kids, I've grown very sensitive about that subject. Searching for documentation about the song history, I learnt that it goes back to the Middle Ages, and that it was originally an (very sadly) popular anti-semitic story, the murderer being "the Jew's daughter".
For more details, see here.

Well at least in that version from Alabama, the anti-Semitsm is absent : the woman is a "gypsy" which is the symbol of the fearsome stranger, the unknown, the otherness of evil.
The song has a mysterious, almost gothic athmosphere, emphasizing contrasts (the flower garden/the hideous murder), and is a mini horror movie in itself. And the melody and the singing are rather sweet and lovely, with those smooth Hawaiian guitars… Creepy !
A sort of moral story : don't talk to strangers !!! Well, a really ambiguous song, but very interesting anyway.

Nelstone's Hawaiians - Fatal Flower Garden (buy) (1930)

PS (2) : Still haunted by that story, I've dug and found two interesting links, one including the original lyrics and some fine comments, and the other (on Scottish folk singer Dick Gaughan's site) about the real facts that might have inspired the song in 1255. A quote from the first one :

"Charges of ritual murder was common against Jews. They were first levelled in 12th-century England, and occurred throughout Europe as late as the 1880s. Jews were said to kill Christian children, often before Easter, for ritual purposes. These fabrications, known as the Blood Libel, made a cult of the supposed victims and was an excuse for persecution which took a toll of thousands of Jewish lives over many centuries."


gadaya said...

I invite you to check my post about this song on "The old,weird America" and listen to the 10 variants i found..;

Nicolas L said...

It looks very interesting indeed. I'll listen to that as soon as I can.
I'm relistening to the anthology and I'm always trhough with it.
I love the third disc, because it is as if you were witness to the birth of the blues and country music as independant American forms.