Scrabble-Rousers #6: Garret

23 May

I should preface each edition of Scrabble-Rousers with the concept’s explanation: A word is chosen at random by blindly flipping the pages and finger-pointing a word (in this case “garret”) from a book also chosen at random (in this case The Emperor’s New Clothes by Hans Christian Andersen). This is how Leif Garrett all of a sudden appears on a blog.

Interestingly, my computer’s dictionary defines “garret” as “a top-floor or attic-room, esp. a small dismal one (traditionally inhabited by an artist).” I’m not sure if anyone actually uses the word “garret” anymore, what with “attic” seemingly more available on the brain; I’ll try as hard as I can not to ruminate on musicals and limericks (which most certainly make lyrical use of “garret”).

The Honeydripper

The only song with the word “garret” in the title that exists in my collection (and I was shocked to even see one) was Roosevelt Sykes’ “Skeet and Garret.” Sykes was a blues artist from Arkansas known to music historians as the father of modern blues piano. He was also known as “The Honeydripper.”

“Skeet and Garret” by Roosevelt Sykes

The most popular songs dealing strictly with the subject at hand is the traditional Irish folk song “Old Maid in the Garret.” (The song title is commonly misspelled with two T’s). The song is sung in a cheerful way though the story is of a single, desperate middle-aged woman resigned to her attic. At one point, she welcomes “any man at all that will marry me for pity.” Sign me up. The traditional version, almost always sung by a man, can be construed as a horrid artifact of sexism. This is why Steeleye Span, a folk rock band of 40 years, liberated it with their own rendition featuring two female leads (Maddie Prior and Gay Woods). Here are both:

The Clancy Brothers version:

Steeleye Span version:

Sexism indeed, but try not to chuckle from this lyric: “There’s nothing in this wide world would make me half so cheery/As a wee fat manny who would call me his own deary.”

Time to cheat. There really isn’t much out there musically by way of garrets outside of show tunes, so what happens if we slyly switch synonymously over to “Attic.” Same idea, less ye olde arcane. The instinctive thought of an attic should be the same to everyone – dark, damp, Anne Frank, ghosts, grime, dust, sadness, isolation, old, musty, things forgotten. “Attic Lights” by Atlas Sound has a striking connection to all the aforementioned indirect connotations of an attic. It is a song of great pain, density and sadness, yet has an ending of pure triumph and closure.

The Antlers, when it was still just the solo project of Peter Silberman, released In the Attic of the Universe, an album he has now stated was written during a dark period in his life. In an interview with Ca Va Cool, Silberman said the album “was made at a time that I was really screwing up my life and very unhappy, and for some reason was finding some kind of comfort in the enormity of space. I was really disconnected at the time.” What doesn’t come up is the interview is the juxtaposition of the timelessness/infinite space and the confinement/claustrophobic nature of an attic. However, like Bradford Cox’s “Attic Lights” found paradise, Antlers’ “Stairs to the Attic” found  “The answer, the feeling, and the truth/ That I’m small.” In that cosmic sense, yaknow?

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