Saturday, February 23, 2008

Constructivist Family Sing-along: My Grandfather's Clock

Actually never heard of this until the Full Metal Archivist got curious about the English lyrics to the song she was teaching onechan in Japanese. Thought I'd include some things I found along the way, just to show that I can at times be more than a one-note blogger during the golf season! (But how about that Paula Creamer making 4 birdies on her last 5 holes to overtake Jeong Jang at the Fields Open? Wow!)

First the Johnny Cash version:



Interesting how the grandfather basically calls for...robots near the 1876 song's end, eh?

Then some Vanilla Mood:



Next, the daikon slide whistle:



And finally, the MTV generation learns Japanese:



No, wait--let's not forget the NHK generation!



In Japan, the song is all about the loyalty of the clock (kinda like that song about the dog), whereas in America the same general idea gets expressed more negatively. Any historians have a bead on the cultural politics of the song as a post-slavery lament? Or have a sense of its transmission lines to Meiji Japan and just how and when it got transformed in translation?

6 comments:

Patricia said...

I love My Grandfather's Clock! Thanks for posting it. My French husband had only ever heard me sing it before and he didn't like it. Now he likes it.

Yeah, Paula was awesome with all those birdiies.

The Constructivist said...

Patricia, how long have you known of it? I feel like I come from a weird parallel universe or something not having even heard of it before!

Ahistoricality said...

It's an old standby in folk circles, but didn't make the big jump to American children's music until the 80s, I think.

I don't see the portrayal of the clock as negative, though, in the American context. I didn't realize that it went back as far as it did, or was the origin of the very term "Grandfather Clock." It seems odd to put it in the context of slavery, though, since the author was from Connecticut and a noted abolitionist.

The Constructivist said...

Ah, to clarify one thing and expand upon your correction, the protrayal of the clock is positive in both songs, but check out the Johnny Cash version for what seems like two stanzas devoted to grandfather's "you can't get good help these days" laments. So while your point that the author was a noted abolitionist is well-taken, perhaps the song is a little less than reverent toward "the old man" rather than endorsing his sentiments, as I originally supposed. Which makes it a much more interesting song--ambivalence toward the grandfather's generation would make perfexct sense entering the last quarter of the 19th C, eh? Could it have something to do with immigration, then, too?

Rob MacD said...

I remember singing this song in elementary school music class. I know that's not the incisive US history / 19th century robots comment you were looking for (I'm inclined to fold that into a discussion of Frank Reade and the various Steam-Men of the plains) but I can't get the sound to work, so I'm using that as an excuse.

The Constructivist said...

No excuses, sir! Just go straight to teh U2bes by double clicking on any of the links.

I really wish YouTube would go back to making its embed URL a permalink. Must be some copyright-related thang. Annoying!