Monday, 13 July 2009

Sexuality of Unborn Male Child

A nice sexual rumour that I heard in the ticket queue at Waterloo Station on the 1st August 2005:

Two white women in their early 20s, either students or recent graduates, were discussing families and gay children. One mentioned a belief that if you have unprotected sex whilst pregnant with a boy, he will grow up to be gay. Neither of the women believed this.

I had not heard it before or since, and I wondered how widespread it might be.

Monday, 6 July 2009

The Ghost of Michael Jackson

The death of Michael Jackson has triggered a frenzy of folkloric activity. Tasteless jokes are already proliferating, as they do after any personal tragedy. Rumours are circulating about his death and burial.
It was not surprising then when television footage appeared that seemed to show a ghostly figure stalking Neverland. As a folklorist researching belief in ghosts, I'm much more interested in the responses on message boards than I am in the footage itself. Where parapsychologists study the reality or otherwise of the phenomenon, folklorists look, as Linda Dégh put it, at 'the nature of human creativity to be discerned through the report of such experience'. (1)
So from the perspective of my research, it's fascinating to see the very people who are most devoted to the memory of Michael Jackson also being the most critical in their assessment of the images on the film. News reports from the message boards have covered a wide range of responses, from the simple analysis of the phenomenon per se ('It's clearly not a shadow because ... there's no one there to make a shadow, plus it's completely see through'), via the hopeful ('Maybe it was Michael, telling us that he is still here with us in spirit'), right through to the dismissive ('You guys are craaaaaazy! It's too tall to be Michael ...')
What was most striking about the last quoted correspondent, RebeccaMJ, was that her comments rested on a body of implicit belief about spirit activity. Michael Jackson wasn't roaming Neverland, she wrote, because his spirit is "resting and at peace. Only disturbed souls creep around'. RebeccaMJ is clearly expressing a hope for the star's post mortem peace, but she is also dismissing this particular ghostly phenomenon by validating a much wider set of beliefs. I've come across this narrative device before, and I'm interested in probing it further.
1: Linda Dégh, 'Foreword', in Leea Virtanen, "That Must Have Been ESP!": An Examination of Psychic Experiences, trans. John Atkinson and Thomas Dubois (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1990), p.xii

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Bob Lewis CD review

Ahead of next week's Folklore Society event involving Bob Lewis, I'm reposting here a review I wrote in Folk London of Bob's 2003 CD The Painful Plough. Apart from the link to the Veteran Music site, it's as written and published at the time.

THE PAINFUL PLOUGH – Bob Lewis (Foxide Music, RUST105, available from Veteran Music)

I’m always surprised that so few people seem to listen to recordings of traditional singers. There are some really excellent traditional singers still around, and Bob Lewis from Sussex is amongst the very best.

Like his earlier release, A Sweet Country Life for Veteran, the new CD contains songs that Bob learned from his mother, along with songs picked up from other Sussex singers like George Belton and Cyril Phillips.

Bob Lewis has a wonderfully warm voice. His delivery, too, is an absolute treat – understated and with minimal adornment, he concentrates on getting each song across with maximum clarity. This allows him a huge flexibility with his material. He is, I think, at his best on some of the intense and melancholy pieces he had from his mother (Live All Alone and Spread The Green Branches are standout songs which can only cause regret that Bob’s mother – a shy woman, apparently, but with an astonishing repertoire of great songs – was never recorded herself).

He also handles more rumbustious material well. Although not a barnstormer like Gordon Hall, he puts over comic songs like Farmer Giles or A Trip to Southend with great charm and humour. This fits neatly with Vic Smith’s useful notes describing him finding the intensity and formality of folk clubs as ‘rather strange’.

There are 16 songs (and a recipe!) on this CD. From the wistful to the comical, they are all characterised by Bob’s supreme mastery as a singer. This CD is an utter delight, repaying repeated listening. Go and buy one.