Discover more from A Flash in the Pan
Can a difference in taste be the end of a promising relationship?
Issue 24, Sunday 30 April 2023
“You’re taking me where? Oh, God, I hate folk music! And you’ve got a freaking guitar strung over your back? Michael, you look like a goddamn hippy!”
His heart sank. This was not a promising start.
It was only their third date. Well, two-and-a-halfth, maybe. The first had really just come about by chance when they found themselves at the same table in the canteen, and spent a glorious hour bitching about their physics professor. He’d fallen for her then, in a big way. He loved her dark eyes, her slender neck. And her passion – her family were Italian. He found that he couldn’t take his eyes off her.
Then they’d had dinner together at the cheap Vietnamese noodle shop he knew. They had discovered a mutual interest in Terry Pratchett’s books, and had spent the time yelling over the hubbub at each other about their favourite characters.
Somehow the subject of music hadn’t come up until now. Stupidly, he’d thought to surprise her. Well, he’d done that all right.
They were still walking together down the street towards the club. At least she hadn’t stormed off, that was something.
“Why do you hate it?” he managed. “Traditional music is important. Well, that is, I like it,” he finished clumsily.
“Oh, I don’t mind the melodies. Some great tunes. It’s just the awful lyrics. All folk songs are about someone dying, or getting killed, or being murdered. Murder ballads, isn’t that what someone called them?”
“Nick Cave,” he said bitterly. “Or at least he put an album out called that.”
Despair was weighing on him. He really, really liked Claudia, had had high hopes. But this was a little like being a Christian and then finding out that your date was a militant atheist. Or that you loved meat and she was a vegan. It was the end of everything.
Desperately, he rallied. “Not all folk songs are like that, not at all. And anyway, there’s a lot of dying in most love stories – Romeo and Juliet, Tristan and…”
“Isolde, yes.” Now she shifted ground, a dangerous sign. “And they all treat women as pathetic objects, always being carted off against their will, or having their fathers or their husbands kill their lovers. Either that, or they are killed themselves for being unfaithful. Mamma Mia!” She added the last just for effect, she spoke hardly any Italian.
“It’s not all like that,” he said stubbornly. “Anyway, what kind of music do you like?”, he asked, hoping to find common ground.
Surprisingly, she seemed slightly abashed, took a moment to answer. “Well… Modern classical, I guess you’d call it. Arvo Pärt, John Tavener. Philip Glass?” She added the last looking up at him with a slight frown. “You must have heard of Philip Glass?”
Hope edged back in him. It seemed as though she did want to find some agreement, too.
“Philip Glass… I saw that film with the funny name, what was it called? Ky… Kow…”
“Koyaanisqatsi,” she finished promptly. “Did you like the music in that?” she asked eagerly.
“Um, well, I liked the film, but I don’t really remember the music, much. Except for the bit at the start, with the guy with the really deep voice, saying Koy… that word.. Over and over again.”
“Oh, Michael!” She literally stopped and stamped her foot. Half of him observed this with curiosity, he’d never actually seen someone do that in reality.
She glared up at him. “What about The Hours?”
“Was that the film where Nicole Kidman…. ”
“…won the Oscar for playing Virginia Woolf. With a false nose. Yes. Did you see that?”
She threw up her hands in disgust.
They were at the club now, and hesitated at the door. “Come on in,” he said. “It’s not a commercial club, or anything, it’s just a few of us, half a dozen, and we each just sing one or two songs. Give it a try. I’ll sing you a folk song that’s not like the ones you were talking about.”
She thought it over. Slowly. Michael mentally had his fingers crossed, hoping.
“Oh, what the hell. Let’s do it.” And they went in.
Unfortunately, the first few songs the others sang fitted all too well into Claudia’s stereotype. Murder ballads. There was the one that went:
Go away from my window
You’ll waken my father
He’s lying now, a-taking his rest,
And in his hands he holds a weapon
To kill the one that my heart loves best.
He glanced across at Claudia. She stuck out her tongue at him and he laughed.
Then a young woman with pierced eyebrows, nose and ears came up to the front and sang a long ballad with yet another tragic ending, Fair Margaret and Sweet William:
Lady Margaret died of pure, pure love
Sweet William died of sorrow
They are buried in one burying ground
Both side and side together
Out of her grave grew a red rose
And out of his a briar
They grew in a twining true lover's knot
The rose and the green briar
Claudia leaned over to him and whispered: “Lovely tune, miserable lyrics!”
Then it was his turn. He picked up his guitar, sat on the stool, and sang her Lord Bateman. He’d chosen it very carefully.
He sang through the story, about how the proud Lord Bateman travels the world but is captured and imprisoned by the Sultan of Turkey. But then…
The Sultan had an only daughter,
The fairest creature eyes did see…
She stole the key to her father’s prison
And said ‘Lord Bateman I will free.’
Sophie, the Sultan’s daughter, frees Lord Bateman, giving him food and drink and stealing him a ship. They farewell each other and both promise not to marry for seven years. That time done, the brave young woman follows him back to England, only to find Lord Bateman just in the process of being married. A traditional folk song would have ended there, with Sophie throwing herself off a tower in despair. Claudia had been right about that.
But in fact the song finishes with Lord Bateman sending his first bride packing and marrying Sophie instead.
Lord Bateman prepared another marriage,
And both their hearts were full of glee.
‘I will range no more to a foreign country
Now since Sophie has a-crossed the sea.’
Claudia was smiling, he saw with relief. He stood up, took her by the hand, and they left.
“Michael!” she said outside. “You have a wonderful voice. And you can actually play that damned thing.”
“Well, yes,” he said. That was the point.
“And I liked your song.” She gazed up at him speculatively. “Come back to my room, and I’ll play you some Philip Glass. The first Violin Concerto, maybe. You might like that.”
“And if I don’t?” Here was the crux of the matter.
“Well,” she said. “I’ve got a great pair of headphones… I can listen to my stuff and you can listen to your stuff. Or you never know, maybe we’ll end up converting each other.”
He strummed a happy chord on the guitar, and they walked on.
© Copyright David R. Grigg. All rights reserved.
(approx. 1,160 words)
About This Story
This was one of a series of stories I wrote in November 2011, 30 stories in 30 days, all based on image prompts posted each day by Becky Raymond as a project for those who were not attempting the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) challenge.
The image for this one was a young man sitting playing an acoustic guitar in some small venue, with a young woman squatting on the floor at his feet.
With this sort of stimulus material it was hard to go much outside of these bounds, and at first I did struggle a little to come up with an idea.
However, I began with the arbitrary assumption that what was being sung was folk music. In trying to come up with an idea for a story, I went to Wikipedia and did some background reading. Somewhere in the Wikipedia entry I came upon the phrase ‘Murder Ballads’ used to describe folk music, and this suggested some ideas (some of them bloody!). But then I fell back on my own experience. Personally I really enjoy traditional folk music, even when treated radically such as by groups like Steeleye Span. But my wife often complains about how depressing the lyrics can often be. The story just grew from there—a love story threatened by a difference in musical tastes and how this might be resolved.
I’ve edited the story a little for its appearance in this newsletter.
And that’s it for this issue. See you next month!