Back in the 1990s, Woody Guthrie’s daughter Nora got in touch with our man Billy, and asked him to write music for a whole treasure-trove of lyrics that Guthrie himself had never had a chance to set to music.
Which is to say: The torch was passed.
Bragg recorded these songs with Chicago-based band Wilco in the Mermaid Avenue project, and they’re probably the best known of his work in the US — but as they’re not “his” songs, I don’t really much associate them with him. Which is madness, really, and I’m sure he’d tell me so.
Be that as it may, there is one song that emerged from those recordings that I particularly love: “Way Over Yonder in the Minor Key.” The other day I commenced to look for a video — only to stumble upon the following, a truly random and delightful slice of Canadian pop culture: Billy Bragg performing on the (apparently) defunct kids show “Peggy’s Cove” (or, possibly, “The Peggy Show.” I’ll have to ask one of my Canadians to clarify this matter for me).
Did I say “performing”? I meant: Singing to a dancing lobster (ok, it’s really more of a rhythmic swaying that the lobster does, rather than a dance — he’s a puppet, after all), who eventually offers to row our Billy back to England. The visual quality isn’t quite HD, but the clip is really quite outstanding, nonetheless.
And the song, as ever, lovely.
I lived in a place called Okfuskee
and I had a little girl in a holler tree
I said, little girl, it’s plain to see,
there ain’t nobody that can sing like me
She said it’s hard for me to see
how one little boy got so ugly
Yes, my little girly, that might be,
But there ain’t nobody that can sing like me
Ain’t nobody that can sing like me
way over yonder in the minor key
Way over yonder in the minor key
there ain’t nobody that can sing like me.