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Sunday, January 18, 2009

A Little About Nothing

From Theme Time Radio Hour, January 14, 2009, Nothing


"We got nothing else going on, so why don't we check and see if we got some email. Let me just pull one out. This is from Bill Sheil in London, Ontario. Bill writes: 'Dear Theme Time, I really enjoy your show. A couple of weeks ago you played a country song about a couple who wasn't getting along. Could you tell me the name of it?'

"Well, Bill, you're going to have to give me more information than that. That could be any country song. Bill continues: 'I enjoyed the song because it reminded me of my life. I've been married for three-and-a-half years and my wife and I have spent three of them fighting. We've been to couples counseling, we've seen mediators, we've gone to therapy. I'm afraid the next stop is lawyers. I love her, and I want to stay with her. Do you have any advice?'

"Well, Bill, first of all, let's say you do get divorced. You can start writing country songs. If you don't want to change careers, and you want to stay with her, I do have one piece of advice. I call it "The Theme Time Radio Hour Silent Treatment." Here's whatcha do...

The Theme Time Radio Hour Silent Treatment

[music] You and your wife sit in a room. Just look at each other, and nobody says nuthin'. Just keep quiet. Eventually you're gonna want to talk. Don't! This is where most people make their mistake. The frustration works its way to the surface, and whatever you say will just make the other person angry. Keep quiet awhile longer. Look at the other person. Remember why you were with them. Finally, you'll know it's time to talk. When you remember how much you missed them, the silence you hear is what your life will be like without them.

Sometimes it's important to just take the time to remind yourself why the other person is there. I guarantee you it'll work.

There you go. You got Freudian therapy, Jungian therapy, Reichian therapy, and now "Theme Timeian" therapy. You know which one my money is on.


Def poetry

This very obscure poem took a little bit of diggin' to find, not least because, to cover his bases, Our Host pronounces the poet Jean Passaerat's first name as both "Gene" and "John," and the title, which sounds as if it's the English "Neil," "Neal," or "Kneel," turned out to the Latin, "Nihil," which, of course means "Nothing."

Nihil (A Latin Poem)

Nothing is richer than precious stones than gold.
Nothing is finer than adamant, nothing is nobler than the blood of kings.
Nothing is sacred in wars, nothing is greater than Socrates wisdom.
Indeed, by his own affirmations, nothing is Socrates wisdom.

Nothing is the subject of the speculation of the great Zeno.
Nothing is higher than heaven, nothing is beyond the walls of the world.
Nothing is lower than hell, or more glorious than virtue. ~ Jean Passerat, "Nothing poet, and I don't mean that judgmentally."

"There were many nihils written in the Renaissance of which the most famous was the Latin poem published by Jean Passerat, professor of rhetoric at Henry III's Palace Academy in Paris. This poem was published, republished, imitated, and annotated throughout the next fifty years." [Colie, Paradoxia Epidemica]


Phone Call

Our Host: This is Theme Time Radio Hour, and we're talking about "Nothing." Let's go to the phones. Oh, they're all lit up. Why don't I just try this one. Hello caller, you're on the line.

Female Caller: Hi Bobby! I am listening to your show about "Nothing," and, uh, boy! It's perfect for me because I have nothing going on right now in my life.

OH: Well, it's not fair to say that.

FC: Well, it's my life, and I'll tell ya, there's nothing happening. But, uh, I just wanted to say, y'know, Mose Allison did a great song called "Ain't Got Nothing But the Blues," and I'm wondering if you could play that one.

OH: Oh, we'd be happy to.

FC: Sometimes I feel like that's just what I got: nothing but the blues, man.

OH: Well, thanks for calling, and we're going to get it on for you right now.

FC: Okay, thanks so much and, uh, by the way, "q-o-p-h" is also an acceptable Scrabble word.*

OH: Thanks a lot for calling.

FC: All right. Bye bye.

OH: Well, I can't believe she's got nothing going on. If nothing else, she's got great taste in music.

*Our Host had earlier recited a list of useful Scrabble words. The unnamed caller is either a Scrabble scholar or Jewish, or both, as "qoph," ((ק the 19th letter of the Hebrew alphabet, is indeed listed in the "Official Scrabble Players Dictionary" as one of the few acceptable "q without u" words. Interestingly, so is "sheqel," a variant spelling of "shekel."

Just to disappear completely into our own navels, Mr. D. could have replied with the three Hebrew letters, "Shin Qoph, Resh," to the heckler who cried out "Judas," during the infamous Manchester concert. The letters spell Sheqer, which is the Hebrew word for a lie. As Wikipedia notes, it would be akin to an English speaker saying, "That's a L-I-E."

The Abridged Fugs "Nothing"

As a commenter over at the TTRH Expecting Rain forum noted, TTRH played, without explanation, an abridged, possibly censored, version of The Fugs, Nothing.

The studio versions of Nothing weigh in at around 4 minutes and some-odd seconds. The cut played on TTRH was 2 minutes and 30 seconds, trimming away almost half of the original song. The explanation could be as simple as Nothing, whatever its charms, is a fairly repetitious piece, and you more or less get the Fug's gist that all is nada in 2 1/2 minutes. Or, it may be that someone decided to deliberately remove such offending lines as: Fucking nothing, sucking nothing, flesh and sex nothing, which is part of the original piece.

The debate has moved back-'n-forth in the Forum without complete resolution. Was there an released alternate studio version of Nothing that was used in TTRH? The Fugs discography adds to the confusion as their first album where Nothing appears (The Village Fugs) was originally released on Broadside/Folkways and then re-released as The Fugs First Album by ESP. Wikipedia claims that re-release includes "alternate takes/edits of at least three songs and stronger language" (emphasis mine), but the claim is unverified and current evidence points against there being two different versions of Nothing on the two albums.

A letter reproduced in the forum also notes another Dylan radio connection to Nothing.

"...the version of "Nothing" on the original Folkways album is the regular full-length version, so Dylan must have played some weird edit that his producers made for him or something.

Ironic, because on the 1966 Bob Fass [Radio Unnameable bootleg] Dylan requests that Fass play "Nothing" and Bob says that he can't do it because of the language... I wonder if Dylan was reminded of this exact moment 40 years ago now that the tables are turned and HE is the DJ!
As many other of Tuli Kupferberg's songs were, Nothing was based on an older song, in this case a Yiddish folk melody called Bulbes about the monotony of having nothing to eat but potatoes.

Potatoes ("Bulbes')
On Sunday - potatoes, on Monday - potatoes,
on Tuesday and Wednesday - potatoes, on
Friday - potatoes, on Sabbath - a novelty, the
potato kugel. On Sunday - potatoes again.
Bread with potatoes, meat with potatoes, lunch
and dinner. Potatoes, potatoes over and over
One meal is a novelty - the potato pie.
On Sunday -- potatoes again

I couldn't find an "official" lyric sheet of Nothing, but Joel Feingold's excellent article about the song, A Whole Lotta Nothin', offers what seems to be a pretty accurate transcription...

Monday nothing, Tuesday nothing, Wednesday and Thursday nothing, Friday for a change, a little more nothing, Saturday once more nothing.
Sunday nothing, Monday nothing, Tuesday and Wednesday, nothing, Thursday for a change, a little more nothing, Friday once more nothing.
Montik gornisht, dinstik gornisht, mitvokh un donershtik gornisht, fraytik for a novehneh, gornisht gigeleh, Shabbos vider gornisht.
Lunes nada, martes nada, miercoles y jueves nada, viernes por cambio un poco mas nada, sabado otra vez nada.
Na na nana, na na nana ...
Oh, Village Voice nothing, New Yorker nothing, sing out in folk ways nothing. Harry Smith [the goyishe kabalist/folk wonk who produced the record] and Allen Ginsberg [Tuli’s only fan], nothing nothing nothing.
Poetry nothing, music nothing, thinking and dancing nothing. The world’s great books, a great set of nothing. Haughty and foddy, nothing.
Fucking nothing, sucking nothing, flesh and sex nothing. Church and Times Square, all a lot of nothing. Nothing, nothing, nothing!
Stevenson nothing, Humphrey nothing, Averell Harriman nothing. John Stuart Mill nill-nill, Franklin Delano Nothing.
Carlos Marx nothing, Engels nothing, Bakunin Kropotkin — nyuthing! Leon Trotsky, lots of nothing. Stalin less than nothing!
Nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing, a whole lot of, a whole lot of nothing. Nothing, lots and lots of nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing.
Not a goddamn thing.

Note the name-check of Harry Smith (labeled a goyishe wonk by Feingold), who was probably better-known for the seminal Anthology of American Folk Music.


Anonymous said...

Hi fred
loved this article, are there articles for all the shows as i cant seem to find anything else apart from Nothing, and i am interested in reading stuff like the poetry and emails/phone calls

Fred@Dreamtime said...

Hi Anon.

I occasionally transcribe the phone calls/emails if something has piqued my interest, but not that regularly.

Poke around a bit using the search box (try "Carol Was Right" or "email" or "def poetry" as search terms for instance), and you should find a few more.

Another good source of info on calls/emails/poetry is the "Annotated TTRH" site at...

Anonymous said...

cheers fred