Sub sole nihil novi est

Posted in caught by juliobesq on November 25, 2009

More digressions, but read on for there will be murder, sex and swearing.

Times change, and nothing changes.

I am an advocate of Freecycle and when an attic’s worth of sixties poetry books were put on offer I reciprocated, thinking them a suitable gift for my darling who spins a rhyming pen. Amongst the gems, which included humourous poems for vicars (a niche market), was ‘Other Man’s Flowers’ by Field Marshall Viscount A. P. Wavell, later Lord Wavell, I marveled at the title. That times have changed and such a title would not past muster today without a marketing strategist pointing out that ‘Other Man’s Flowers’ may indeed have homoerotic connotations. As an aside I still marvel at the beautiful typesetting of the title.

Further down the pile lay ‘A Treasury of Ribaldry’ which promised gay and robust reading. Oh the times really have moved on I thought. And took a look inside. To find a song called ‘Frankie and Johnny’, which follows…

Frankie and Johnny were sweethearts, O Lordy, how they could love!
Swore to be true to each other, true as the stars above.
He was her man, but he done her wrong

Frankie she was a good woman, just like everybody knows;
She gave her man a hundred dollars to buy himself a suit of clothes
He was her man, but he done her wrong

Frankie and Johnny went walking, Johnny in his brand new suit.
“Oh, good Lord” says Frankie, “don’t my Johnny look cute?”
He was her man, but he done her wrong

Frankie went down to Memphis, she went on the evening train.
She paid one hundred dollars for Johnny a watch and chain.
He was her man, but he done her wrong

Frankie lived in the crib-house, crib-house had only two doors;
Gave all her money to Johnny, who spent it on parlor whores.
He was her man, but he done her wrong

Frankie went down to the corner to buy a class of beer,
Says to the fat bartender, “Has my lovingest man been here?”
He was her man, but he done her wrong

“Ain’t going to tell you no story; ain”t going to tell you no lie;
I seen your man ’bout an hour ago with a girl named Nellie Bly.
If he’s your man, he’s doing you wrong.”

Frankie went down to the pawnshop, she didn’t go there for fun;
She hocked all of her jewelery, brought a pearl-handled forty-four gun
For to get her man, who was doing her wrong.

Frankie went down to the hotel, she rang that hotel bell.
“Stand back, all you chippies, or I’ll blow you straight to hell.
I want my man, who’s doing me wrong”

Frankie went up to the parlor, looked over the transom so high;
There on the bed was her Johnny a-lovin’ up Nellie Bly.
He was her man, but he done her wrong

Frankie threw back her kimono, she took out her forty-four,
Root-a-toot three times she shot right through that hotel door
She was after her man, who done her wrong

Johnny grabbed his Stetson, “Oh, good Lord, Frankie, don’t shoot!”
But Frankie pulled the trigger and the gun went root-a-toot-toot.
He was her man, but she shot him down

“Roll me over easy; roll me over slow;
Roll me over on my left hand; for the bullet is hurting me so.
I was her man, but I done her wrong”

Oh, bring on your rubber-tired hearses; bring on your rubber-tired hacks;
They’re taking Johnny to the cemetery, and they ain’t a-bringing him back.
He was her man, but he done her wrong

Now it was not murder in the second degree; it was not murder in the third.
That woman simply dropped her man, like a hunter drops her bird.

“Oh, put me in that dungeon. Oh, put me in that cell.
Put me where the northeast wind blows from the southwest corner of hell.
I shot my man, ’cause he done me wrong.”

Frankie walked up the scaffold, as calm as a girl can be,
And turning her eyes to heaven she said “Good Lord, I’m coming to Thee.
Her was my man, and I done him wrong.”

This story got no moral, this story has got no end.
This story only goes to show that there ain’t no good in men.
He was her man, but he done her wrong

Reading through I was struck by the modernity of it, how they would not sound out of place being spat of the mouth of Nick Cave, who indeed covered Stagger Lee written a few decades later. Perhaps I am being naive but I was surprised to learn that these lyrics were composed in 1850. The song is thought to have been penned about Frankie Baker, no relation. If you haven’t heard it, a word of advice – don’t. It’s awful. I made that mistake and sought a copy to discover it’s a horrendous upbeat clippity clop affair.

Instead create your version, perhaps as the indubitable Mr Cave might croon, below is ‘Obvious is Obvious’ by The Dirty Three. A group featuring Warren Ellis on violin who moonlights as a Bad Seed. If the music appeals to you may I also recommend Cave and Ellis’s instrumental soundtrack to ‘The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford’, but I digress. Hit play and interpret a true rendition of Frankie and Johnnie. If it’s a hit remember to invite me to the aftershow party.

Of course I should not have been surprised by the age of this tale of sex and murder, for they have a pedigree and heritage as old as humanity. During a visit to Pompeii I was struck at how little cities have changed in 2000 years – for clearly visible were signage for both bakers and brothels. In fact the Frankie ballad pales into an insignificance suitable only to amuse a vicar in light verse compared to this ditty by Catullus, composed in Latin circa 79 BC

I will bugger you and face-fuck you.
Cock-sucker Aurelius and catamite Furius,
You who think, because my verses
Are delicate, that I am a sissy.
For it’s right for the devoted poet to be chaste
Himself, but it’s not necessary for his verses to be so.
Verses which then have taste and charm,
If they are delicate and sexy,
And can incite an itch,
And I don’t mean in boys, but in those hairy old men
Who can’t get their flaccid dicks up.
You, because you have read of my thousand kisses,
You think I’m a sissy?
I will bugger you and face-fuck you.

If times have not changed, the meaning of the odd word may have, for now if you were offended at being called sissy, which in terms of insults is usually on the gay axis, you probably wouldn’t threaten to bugger them.

Having said that, when I read Catullus’s ode to verse and anal rape on Synthetic Pubes (a wonderful tumblr, whose denizen scours Flickr daily for beautiful erotica: tough work I know but they are doing for us, so be thankful) – I knew it would be a suitable candidate for the Monday morning dirty poem from Bookkake. Moral compunction forced me to email the editor a link, who kindly thanked me and enquired whether I had heard of it via

So, apart from Mr Lowe then. If you are thinking of laying into someone in Latin maybe a different cuss? I recommend where I cribbed the post’s title from.

Visit to read more poetic filth or subscribe for a start of the working week email literary lubricator.

Speaking of marketing strategists and book titles I am surprised no-one raised their hand during the publishing meetings for this.

And the picture of Billy the Kid has no real relevance to any of this, I just think it’s rather superb.

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