Saturday, June 14, 2014

Down Among The Dead Men (various media, various dates)

I'm reading a fascinating book, Electric Eden, by Rob Young, that chronicles "Britain's visionary music", by which it seems to mean, so far, folk music. I've learned a bunch which I may write about in due course, but today, let's talk about Down Among The Dead Men.

In a discussion of Fairport Convention's Liege and Lief, he refers to the deep folk content of that record. The Padstow Obby Oss and Pace Egging, for example. Then he says,

"Other artefacts include John Dyer's poem, "Down Among The Dead Men", and a postcard (discovered in the Farley House attic) of the gravestone of Thomas Thetcher, a grenadier whose preserved tombstone is situated in the churchyard of nearby Winchester Cathedral. Savage death and ritual resurrection: upon those lodestones was Liege and Lief erected."

Now Down Among The Dead Men is also the name of one my favorite science fiction stories.  It's a story about a military commander whose men are built from already dead warriors and therefore perfect fighting men in body. It turns out they are not necessarily perfect fighting bodies in, er, mind.

I had no idea that the title was from a poem, but who was I kidding? Half of SF titles are from a poem somewhere. So I looked it up on the Goog.

The John Dyer poem itself, is not about heroism.

It's actually a metaphor - drink, and throw your empty bottles on the floor with the other dead men (bottles). No combat is implied, nor for that matter savage death and/or ritual resurrection.

No aspersions to cast on the Electric Eden book, which I love so far, but it's interesting to me what I can get out of chasing a reference down the internet rabbit hole. How amazing to live in a world where "folk music" that tentatively got "saved" - or not - a hundred years ago is amenable to annotations by someone in an armchair.

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