Much virtual ink has been spilled over the past days over the WRFU’s removal of ‘Delilah’ from the official repertoire list. It’s a topic on which a lot of people have had much to say - Longrider and JuliaM and their readers, for instance - but one of the most sensible opinions publicly expressed on the subject came from Feargal Sharkey - former Undertone turned environmental campaigner and clearly an intelligent and reasonable chap - who pointed out that these isles have a long-standing tradition of murder ballads which served both as entertainment and cautionary tales in days gone by.
I’d already raised the historical existence of such songs myself in a comment, but I admit I hadn’t considered the cautionary aspect. As Sharkey implies, the song is neither condoning nor celebrating the murder; inescapable retribution is on its way and the killer, craving forgiveness from his victim, is about to pay the price of his deed. There’s a lot of it about; crimes of passion and their consequences have inspired everything from grand opera to backstreet ballad-sellers, not to mention a large number of folk songs and, in latter days, Country and Western staples.
That the lyrics are, like any tragic plot line, intended to entertain rather than provide an endorsement of such behaviour or insult to real-life murder victims seems to have been obvious to generations of our predecessors; even the German author Thomas Mann - a stolid heavyweight in literary terms - exercises a certain wry wit in his description of children learning a song about Rudolf ‘who drew a knife, drew a knife, drew a knife and thereby came to a nasty end’ presumably not unconnected with the golden-haired girl of an earlier verse.
If you are resolutely po-faced about something which even Thomas Mann considers a fitting subject for humour, your sense of proportion has surely long since headed for the hills - a condition I like to think of as ‘guardianitis’ or ‘Witch-finder General’s knee’. I suspect that at the root of it lies a desire to obliterate and censor as much of our cultural heritage as possible to make way for their own restrictive values and a joyless society of complacent drones.
That being so, we applaud the fans - and Sir Tom Jones - for the continuing performance of a cracking tune. There’s only one downside; if my own household is anything to go by, the abundant news coverage has almost certainly instilled an all-encompassing National Earworm on an unprecedented scale and we’ll find ourselves repeatedly humming it for weeks to come - all together now: “My, my, my Delilah...”
SInce a bit of Tom Lehrer never goes amiss, here’s a charming little number on a not entirely unrelated theme;