Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Decemberists -- "The Rake's Song" (2009)

No more a rake and no more a bachelor
I was wedded and it whetted my thirst 
Until her womb started spilling out babies 
Only then did I reckon my curse

[NOTE: This is the fifth in a series of posts about the Decemberists' The Hazards of LoveClick here to read the first in the series.]

In the previous 2 or 3 lines, we learned that the Queen of the Forest -- who granted our hero William immortality when she found him as a babe, deserted in a reedy glen -- agrees to give him one night with his beloved Margaret in exchange for his promise to return the next morning and place his life in the Queen's hands forever.

Given what we know of the Queen -- she's a jealous and possessive mother, unwilling to give an inch to make her adoptive son happy, and determined to have the debt he owes her for the gift of life repaid in full -- it comes as no surprise that she reneges on her promise and breaks her contract with William.

The instrument she uses to frustrate William's desire to be with Margaret is a nasty piece of work known as "The Rake."

You may think that hardcore gangsta rap is violent and brutish, but it don't have nothin' on "The Rake's Song," which contains perhaps the most appalling lyrics ever sung in a pop song.  (The Decemberists' Colin Meloy voices the Rake as well as William.  A lot of people think it would have be better to have had two different singers sing the two roles.)

The Decemberists' Colin Meloy speaks at
his alma mater, the University of Montana
The Rake married when he is 21, and at first all was well.  But what usually follows hard on the heels of marriage?  A baby -- or babies -- in a baby carriage, of course.

In the lyrics quoted above, we learn that that the Rake enjoyed the regular hey nonny nonny he was getting after he was married until the truth of the old playground chant -- "First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes . . ." -- was demonstrated to him.  Once his bride's "womb started spilling out babies," he began to "reckon his curse."

The Rake's unfortunate wife delivered three brats, but finally showed him some consideration by dying in childbirth -- as did the couple's fourth child:

First came Isaiah with his crinkled little fingers 
Then came Charlotte and that wretched girl Dawn 
Ugly Myfanwy died on delivery
Mercifully taking her mother along

The Rake's unfortunate family
Now that the little lady lies cold as the clay, the Rake didn't have to worry about any more babies coming along.  But about the three he already had?  What the hell was he supposed to do with them?

What can one do when one is a widower
Shamefully saddled with three little pests
All that I wanted was the freedom of a new life 
So my burden I began to divest

Where there's a will, there's a way -- and our friend had plenty of will.  He got right to work and took care of his three little problems in short order:

Charlotte I buried after feeding her foxglove 
Dawn was easy: she was drowned in the bath 
Isaiah fought but was easily bested
Burned his body for incurring my wrath

Foxglove flowers
The foxglove plant is the source of digitalis, which has been used as a cardiac medicine for over 200 years.  But an overdose of digitalis can cause vomiting, tremors, seizures, and even death.  Here's a picture of the Rake from the album -- the tall flowers growing on either side of him are foxgloves:

The Rake
Problem solved!  The Rake was a man without worries once again -- "living so easy and free" -- and he felt just fine about the whole deal.  (What, me worry?)

I expect that you think that I should be haunted 
But it never really bothers me

The evil Queen of the Forest then sics the Rake on poor unsuspecting Margaret.  In "The Abduction of Margarte," we learn that the Rake lies in wait in the very same forest bower where William and Margaret have enjoyed their "amorous entwine" until Margaret happens by.  He grabs her and heads for the river "all a-gallop with Margaret slung rude 'cross [the] withers" of his trusty steed until he reaches the banks of Annan Water, a wild and seemingly uncrossable river.

In "The Queen's Rebuke/The Crossing," the appreciative Queen intervenes and helps her evil henchman ford the river:

And you have removed this temptation 
That’s troubled my innocent child
To abduct and abuse 
And to render her rift and defiled 
But the river is deep to the banks 
And the water is wild 
I will fly you the far side

When William heard of his true love's abduction, he rushes after the Rake.  In "Annan Water," our desperate hero makes a deal with the raging river.  You'd think he would have learned from his one-sided negotiations with his mother -- but no!

So calm your waves and slow the churn
And you may have my precious bones on my return

Here's "The Rake's Song":

Click here to hear "The Queen's Rebuke/The Crossing."

Click here to hear "Annan Water."

Click here to go to the next post in this series.

Click below to order The Hazards of Love from Amazon:

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