I just wrote the first draft of a part of the book where Malvina meets Lou Gottlieb of the Limeliters and starts collaborating with him on songs. Lou is gone now, but luckily Ellen interviewed him in the eighties. Lou described the way they worked, “If I got an idea I’d immediately call her up, tell her the idea, and she’d call back within 20 minutes with four to six to eight quatrains. If she agreed with the idea.” He gives an example: “One of the tunes we wrote that we made the most money off of was ‘Vikki Dougan,’ and that took her about 15 minutes once she got the idea. She got half, Amadeo [Lou’s publishing company] got the copyright.” When he introduced the song on stage, he described Miss Dougan as “a starlet who was seen in, and photographed wearing, a gown cut so low in back that it revealed a new cleavage!” Which nowadays wouldn’t rate a second glance, but created a little news sensation then. “Vicky, baby, you rock me/Without you I’m bereft/I’m hypnotized by those crazy eyes/And that callipygian cleft.” The introduction was recorded with the song live at a concert and put on The Slightly Fabulous Limeliters LP, which is why I have it practically memorized. It is one of the great song introductions of all time. I googled Vikki Dougan to check the spelling (I’d gotten it wrong) and found a Vikki Dougan website! And a downloadable mp3 of the song!

I got an email from River of Words, an organization that encourages children to write poetry and create art about nature. They passed on this news:

Dear Friend of River of Words,
Consider this disturbing fact:
the latest edition of the Oxford Junior Dictionary has opted to drop scores of words that refer to nature. Gone are words such as dandelion, stork, otter, magpie, and porcupine. Even beaver, doe, minnow and wren have been removed to make way for blog, broadband, chatroom, and, in an ironic twist, endangered.

It’s hard to find words to express my grief at the loss of children’s connection with nature that this little news item highlights. Losing even dandelions! Not just a nature word, and the name of a wishing tool, but an interesting word in itself, coming from the French for “tooth of the lion.” And minnow! Not big or fierce enough, I guess, to show up in TV nature shows. To me, the most surprising loss, because they do show up on TV, is otter. So here’s a reminder that my CD, Sun, Sun Shine features “Head First and Belly Down,” about the playfulness of river otters, written by my old collaborator, Candy Forest. 

There have been too many events of interest around here lately. One I missed was a tribute to labor folklorist Archie Green, featuring Mike Seeger and Hazel Dickens. Here’s a reference to Green in my mother’s autobiography-that-kept-turning-into-a-journal, talking about her song “Mrs. Clara Sullivan’s Letter,” based on an actual letter:

Dick Reuss of Wayne State remarked on how close I came to Clara Sullivan’s letter in Progressive Labor, and I wrote him that it is no great credit to a writer that he keeps close to his sources, since they are always sharper and more juicy than anything he can fabricate.
I corresponded with him about the song because he was curious as to the source. And I told him the story of Ruthie Gorton. She is a singer who had gotten some fame with singing the Letter--she has a strong, almost harsh style of singing that is like the old mountain way, and because of her doing of this song, she had been called to one of the southern mountain festivals. Archie Green was indignant about the song. “Do you know who she is!” he said of me. “She lives in Berkeley!” No miner’s wife, I. So he seemed to imply that I had no right to make and sing such a song, and he conjectured that the whole story was made up. 
Well, if it was, we agreed, so much better a writer I. But I gave Ruthie a copy of the original letter, and she was so pleased to be able to show it to Archie, who was quite apologetic, and that makes no sense, either. But really, I don’t mind. He is a good and serious critic and specialist, and that’s his quirk.

©2009 by Nancy Schimmelhttp://www.geocities.com/vikkidougan/http://www.geocities.com/vikkidougan/http://www.sisterschoice.com/catalog.htmlhttp://appalshop.org/store/index.php?main_page=product_info&products_id=311http://www.wku.edu/~smithch/MALVINA/mr114.htm
River of Words puts out beautiful little books of children’s art and poetry about water. Check it out!http://www.riverofwords.org/
Tuesday, July 21, 2009