There’s a joke that goes:
Q: What do you get if you play a country record backwards?
A: You get your wife back, you get your farm back, your dog comes back to life…
I’m grateful to comedy writing legend Graham Linehan for tweeting the link to this clip with the words “1,000,000 times better than a complaint letter”. It’s a YouTube clip by country musician Dave Carroll who was, as all country musicians are, done badly by someone. His guitar was damaged by airline baggage handlers. On his YouTube page he explains how his band Sons of Maxwell
were traveling to Nebraska
for a one-week tour and my Taylor guitar was witnessed being thrown by
United Airlines baggage handlers in Chicago. I discovered later that
the $3500 guitar was severely damaged. They didn’t deny the experience
occurred but for nine months the various people I communicated with put
the responsibility for dealing with the damage on everyone other than
themselves and finally said they would do nothing to compensate me for
So he’s written a song about it: ‘United Breaks Guitars’. If you play it backwards, I’m not so sure that he gets his guitar back. But just enjoy playing it, cos that’s how he gets United back.
Country and folk music (nowadays usually conflated with blues as ‘Folk, Roots and Blues’) has always had the ability – perhaps even the duty – to document events. A recent event struck me, though, for having been inadvertently documented about thirty years ago, give-or-take. It’s unrelated to the broken guitar story, but I’ve no other segue so just bear with me.
I’ve always loved the Smothers Brothers’ brand of musical comedy, their sibling rivalry somehow adding to the beauty and simplicity of their genre-parodies. I particularly love their song ‘Chocolate’, which I always dragged out when asked to present some examples of recorded comedy on air. The delayed punchline, put on hold for the typically folky ‘lolly-dooo-dummm, lolly-do-dum-day’ repeated refrain, produces greater humour when it finally comes. Since folk (and country) songs frequently lament – in ballad form – tragedies, the ‘death-by-chocolate’ scenario is perfect for the folk parody.
Now a tragedy has occurred that reminds me, with each news update announcement of the event, of this song. I don’t mean to be a heartless bastard – well, I guess I must when I refer to the event as ‘an Augustus Gloop impression’, I suppose… but again, Augustus Gloop was so obviously a comedic device because nobody ever drowns in chocolate!
So I still can’t think of the event without thinking of the comical aspects of it. It’s all down to the incongruity. Indeed, there used to be a restaurant I’d pass daily on the journey between my house and the city, called ‘Death By Chocolate’. You think of it in terms of extreme and deliberate gluttony. Dying in a huge vat of it is not the ideal way to shuffle off this mortal coil. And yet part of me can’t help thinking – what a way to go!