August 10, 2013 by The Friday Facts
“Let’s face it: everything is a lot more horrifying than you thought when you were a kid”
I’ve heard that grown men have gone insane trying to put into words the genius of early episodes of The Simpsons. But if I could highlight just one thing the Greatest TV Show of All Time ™ does brilliantly, it would have to be its almost child-like ability to articulate those tiny little nuances of our culture that we’ve always known were there, but had never really devoted any conscious thought to.
In one of the earliest ever Simpsons moments – while it was still a Tracey Ullman sideshow, and the characters looked weird – Marge croons Maggie to sleep with the most famous lullaby of all time: Rock a Bye Baby. As Marge sings, Maggie visualizes the song’s words: when the wind blows/the cradle will rock/when the bough breaks/the cradle will fall/down will come baby/cradle and all. She kisses Maggie softly on the forehead and exits the room, leaving her baby alone, in the dark, eyes out on stalks and the fear of god in her face*.
Rock-a-Bye Baby may not technically be a nursery rhyme, but it shares with them the fact that the sheer violence and horror of it seems to have been lost on the entire human race. We happily expose our children to these brutal rhymes with one hand, whilst neurotically shielding from far more trivial things with the other. Maybe we’re just running with the hope that by the time they’re old enough to understand these words they’ll be old enough to deal with them.
Plaque. Wait. I mean … Plague
It’s well known that Ring-a-Ring o Roses is about the Bubonic plague. I guess “A tissue, a tissue” sounded punchier than “weeping wounds and the loss of all bodily functions”. And I guess also that “we all fall down” seemed more marketable than “we all die slowly, alone and festering in a barn somewhere.”
But it doesn’t stop there. Jack and Jill is about teen suicide (a huge issue in the 1340s) and Old McDonald is about bestiality.
Ok, so I made those last two up.
Still, if one of the most popular and enduring nursery rhymes of all time was written about a genocidal uber-contagion I think it’s fair to say that all bets are off when it comes to nursery rhyme subtext.
Between name-dropping London hipster hamlets, Oranges and Lemons casually refers to beheadings, apparently of children, while notorious ‘hacktivist’ group Anonymous and their little Guy Falkes masks have left us in no doubt that Remember, Remember refers to an attempt to blow Parliament House to smithereens.
Why Ya Buggin’?
And then there’s Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary**. Jesus, where do I start here?
Firstly, spoiler alert: this diddy’s not about gardening.
You’re probably thinking “Christ, what now? I suppose you’re going to tell me that Mary, Mary is about – Oh, I don’t know – torture or something?”
Well, yes, not to put too fine a point on it. “Fair Maidens” is a reference to Iron Maidens (and if you think I’m talking about an early 80s hair metal band that played Sonisphere Festival 2013, then you need to brush up on your medieval history). And Cockleshells? Google is a little bit grey on this, but we know that it’s a torture instrument and we know that it gets attached to your genitals somehow. Silverbells are just thumbscrews, so they’re relatively innocent by comparison. But still … fucken hell! When consider all of this you might be less interested in asking Mary how her garden grows and more interested in asking her why she’s such a fucking psycho!
Her garden, by the way, is a graveyard. Now you see how it grows.
And these are just the nursery rhymes we know! There was a movement during the 1950s to sanitise some of the nursery rhymes that, over the past few centuries, had become part of the furniture. Nursery rhymes that promoted misogyny, racism, domestic violence and all other manner of shit were systematically obliterated from the face of the earth. And you have to wonder, If people in the 50s thought these nursery rhymes were fucked up, just how seriously fucked up were they? We’re talking about a generation that thought this was cool.
Much Ado About Muttons
To be honest, I could have left this post right here. We’ve had some fun, right? Some shits and giggles, a few little factoids you may or may not have known? All good harmless fun?
But in my research for this post I discovered that there are actually a lot of blogs that talk about controversial nursery rhyme lyrics. In fact most of what you’ve just read is ripped directly from them, and that makes me feel dirty. So I figure that the only way to one-up them all is to pen a nursery rhyme of my own.
So here I present a nursery rhyme that comes less from the soul, and more from a lab. This is a clinical dissection of every nursery rhyme that has ever existed, followed by a calculated re-construction of the elements common to all. This is a counterfactual psycho-construction and hypnogogic thought process, mixed with some good old fashioned fucked up shit. I don’t understand anything I just said. Enjoy…
The Drake and the Mutton Birds
Pretty little mutton birds, fluttering free
Miffy, Bonnie, Boo, 1-2-3
Along came the Drake, so smitten to see
Three little mutton birds so fancy free
Said the Drake “I am lord of all you see,
Pretty little mutton birds come with me”
Said the birds to the Drake “Why can’t you see?
We’re just happy here fluttering free”
The very next day, around muffin time and tea
Miffy Mutton lay with her skull split in three
The first one to find her was Mr Pottle Duck
He saw her lying there and exclaimed “What the fuck!”
Soon the townsfolk were there, for they all had heard
The terrible fate of this little mutton bird
They came to console Miffy’s sisters two
But none could find Bonnie Mutton Bird, only Boo
In the valleys they all searched, and the forests and the brook
‘Til Mr Pottle Duck shouted lately “Jesus, look!”
And just as night turns to day, and two and one are three
There was Bonnie Mutton, on a rope in the tree
Her skin it was grey and her mouth lay agape
As the rope stretched taught from the branch to her nape
And there’s another little tidbit I feel I should divulge:
From right out of their sockets her little eyeballs bulged
All the townspeople gasped and exclaimed “This can’t be!”
Little Boo came a-bawling and she cried “Woe is me!”
Along came the King and said “What’s the good word!”
And the townsfolk yelled “Someone’s offing mutton birds!”
Little Boo took atop a perch and screamed “It was Drake!
I know it was, it must be, the a treacherous snake!
When he saw us in our tree he quite fancied his chances
But he seemed quite put out when we rejected his advances.”
“That’s absurd” Said the Drake “What a lark, shame on you”
We all know who the killer is; the killer is you, Boo!”
Shouted all the townsfolk “Let’s burn-the-bitch!”
“Why?” Said the King
“Cus she’s a motherfucking witch!”
The townsfolk took up their pitchforks and burning sticks
And spread word, one and all, of the hag in their midst
Through the streets they carried little Boo, shackled and maimed
‘Til they reached the city square and put her on a mighty flame
As her clothes turned to soot and she smelled like a roast
Her skin melted and popped just as cheese o’er toast
More kindling on the fire the good people did pour
Til the last little Mutton sister was no more
The townsfolk cried out with joy and they danced through the night
‘Til Pottle Duck pointed out a ghastly sight
It was another mutton bird being hacked up by Drake
The King paused, then he said “We’ve made an awful mistake”
“Blind eyes have we all turned to Drake and his wrath
But who were we to know he may well be a sociopath”
The liege and his minions all whispered “this is awkward.
But let’s not be burdened by the past, I think we should move forward”
“We’ll say a prayer for the mutton birds, 1-2-3;
Do a whip around for flowers for their friends and family
As for the Drake we’ll take him out back for a frightful slapping
Then we’ll all carry on as though none of this stuff happened”
Now the kingdom is at peace, they won a tidy-town award!
And not a whisper heard about those little mutton birds
So the moral of this story, if you can’t already see
Is never be a mutton bird, cute and fancy free
So… what did you think? Don’t be shy. Too subtle? It took me seven months to come up with that shit. I had to quit my job and I lost three wives over it. Ok, so it may be a little over long, but we can work on that.
One of the key ingredients was a punchy opening. That way, little girls in playgrounds across the land could jump ropes to the first few lines whilst having no fucking idea how the rest of it went and what it all meant. Oranges and Lemons, anyone?
Like I said before, this rhyme was all scientific: three equal parts – violence, ye olde talke and rhyming. The nursery rhymes we sing today, which use exactly the same formula, date back to the 1600s. So as far as I’m concerned, if they’re not still singing this song in the 2400s, I’ve failed.