Sunday, October 01, 2006

Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme. (Also: Dirty, rotten Yankee scoundrels.)

This is a story of betrayal and reconciliation. Martin Carthy was a rather famous folk singer in the UK circa the mid 60s. It was Carthy from whom Paul Simon, who was on tour there around then, learned the very Brit, very trad ballad from the Middle Ages, Scarborough Fair. Simon and Garfunkel’s Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme was a hit single of 1966 and also a part of The Graduate soundtrack qua Scarborough Fair. Missing from the credits, though, was any mention of Carthy’s contribution. Well, S&G weren’t the only dirty, rotten scoundrels. Their compatriot, Bob Dylan, too was a pirate in the true Yankee tradition (or, shall we say more accurately, lack of tradition and/or culture?). The aforesaid worthy went boldly where no American had gone before and pinched “Remember me to the one who lives there./She once was a true love of mine.” for his Girl of the North Country [Copyright 1963. © by Witmark & Sons]. One thing about this episode puzzles me, though. Scarborough Fair, presumably about a love affair between a boy who left Scarborough to seek a better life and the girl he left behind, was originally written by some unknown medieval ballad singer or bard or ‘shaper’ as they were known in their own times. Unless Martin Carthy had irrefutable proof he was that bloke’s modern day reincarnation, why did he take offence at Simon’s ‘remix’ of 'his' creation sans credit to him? By the way, Scarborough Fair was a 45-day-long trade meet starting 15 August in the prosperous mercantile town that attracted traders from all over England and Europe. The Royal Charter that gave permission to hold the Scarborough Fair was granted in 1253. If you’re wondering what the self-respecting herbs, parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme are doing in the ballad, let me share some borrowed wisdom. Parsley = an aid to digestion, in the physiological as well as spiritual sense. Sage = strength. Rosemary = faithfulness, love and remembrance. Thyme = courage. Got it? Now go figure it out. Wonder where I pinched all this stuff from? Go to,, & (P.S.: Simon’s peace offering to Carthy was an offer to do a duet with him in a London concert in 2000.)

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