Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Scrutable [Song Lyric] Corner: "Mother's Home Again!"

Throughout 1928 The New Yorker ran a sporadic "song lyrics we'd like to hear" section, most of them satirizing the over-sentimental "moon/June" ballads of the time. In the 1928 Christmas issue (December 22) Don Marquis gave us this screwball ditty called "Mother's Home Again!"

I know that this is hardly the time for Christmas cheer, but view this as a window into the secret lives of your sweet, innocent grandparents. It's a surprisingly nasty piece of work.
'Twas on the Eve of Christmas
A face against the pane
Peered in at the firelight;
'Twas worn with vice, and plain;
But all the children shouted:
"Mother's home again!"

Mother's out of jail, Dad!
Let us ask her in!
Make her Christmas merry,
With food and fire and gin!
Mother's out of jail, Dad,
Let us ask her in!

She's watching through the window
Her babes in happy play;
Do not call a copper
To club the Jane* away--
Remember, ere you strike her,
That once her hair was gray!**

Soon at some new night-club
She'll be pinched again,
For Mother is so popular
With all the dancing men--
Invite her in to visit,
Mother's home again!

She's staring through the window
At the Yuletide glow!
Oh, do not throw the old wife
Back into the snow!
She bore you all your children,
And oft has told you so.

Mother's in the street, Dad!
She is out of jail!
Put morphine in the needles,
And some ether in the ale,
Mother's home for Christmas,
Mother's out of jail!
* I assume this is from the 1920's slang word for "sweetheart," but may also reference a 1925 New Republic article called "Flapper Jane."

** Either a forced rhyme, or Mother dyes her hair now, or maybe she got her head shaved at the jail?


Anonymous said...

Somehow reminded me of Dickens whom I recently unfairly slanderized as over-rated. :-)

Since you are on a history of pioneering computer mavens kick, random stuff that I know you will get a kick out of:



Anonymous said...

Gee, it sort of has a Dorothy Parker edge to it.

"Jane" - perhaps analogous to a female "John"? Or just put there to give the intimation of less-than-legitimate employment (like Shirley MacLane's 'taxi dancer-plus' role in Sweet Charity?

I know that Don Marquis was a favorite author of E. B. White. Even though perhaps not a member of the Algonquin Roundtable (I don't know for certain), I would imagine that this cynical-funny poem shows some of that group's influence - expecially Parker.

If you take out the "holly jolly" from the Burl Ives song, and substitute "boozy woozy," you could have a new-old Christmas hit on your hands - at least in some circles!

And, yes, in some ways it beats the "moonie/Junies"!

Adam Thornton said...

Yeah, there's something fascinating about the way a trademark ("Xerox") becomes a generic verb ("xerox it!"). Those books about computer technology talk about this a lot, since the research labs involved were always scrambling for the next big patent.

Related trivia: I just LOVE that the first trackball was manufactured in Canada...out of a 5-pin bowling ball. :)

Adam Thornton said...

This is the first time that Don Marquis has jumped into my consciousness...I'll have to look into his cartoons a bit.

The poem had quite a few references that I found a little weird, and yeah, "Jane" was one of them. Maybe it meant "Jane Doe?"

I'm betting on "Flapper Jane," since the descriptions of the mom all centered around and wild-running mother (who needs to constantly reassure the father that the babies are his). But it's still ambiguous.

Anonymous said...

A man after my own heart! I am impressed!

Kimber said...

"food and fire and gin" - that sounds like my kinda Christmas.

Adam Thornton said...

Next time you're in town, I'll stock up on the ether.