Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Book One

I was given this blank book as a present by my parents. As a child I could not spell. In high-school aptitude tests my results for grammar were shockingly low. One english teacher was impressed with the content of an essay, however, and encouraged me to revise, correct, and re-type it. It won an award and my parents, sensing there might be a scribbler in the house, a notion encouraged by my love of dusty secondhand bookshops, bought me a blank book for my next birthday.

I filled the book over two years, largely with terse poems and observations in the style of Leonard Cohen's "The Energy of Slaves." On a dreary winter day in 1998 I looked through it and found it's contents to be largely embarrassing and so, after tearing out two pages with some song lyrics I wanted to keep, I burned it.

I mentioned this to a friend. She said she understood, but told me that; "if you could have kept it for another ten years you would have likely changed your mind." Time has proven her correct.

The song lyrics are from a band that used to play in London Ontario called "Feast of the Mau Mau's." They named themselves after a Screamin' Jay Hawkins song, and among the permanent members were Frank Ridsdale and Jack Whiteside. They did a ballad in the spirit of Gordon Lightfoot's "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" called "The Ballad of Ned the Killer." It didn't take itself very seriously - being about a killer smelt. I'm glad I kept these pages. I don't know why but the lyrics still amuse me.

The Ballad of Ned the Killer

The talk has been told from Whiteshead to Mish
of a fish in Lake Erie waters

The tale was found in Port Stanley town
the home town of old Ken Palmer

I heard a man shout that the smelt were about
I knew that he wasn't funnin'

The ice broke like starch on a cold day in March
it was then I knew of their runnin'

Oh, flautists use flutes and fishermen use boots
each has a tool of his trade

He's only three inches long, though no nets been as strong
enough to hold Ned that's been made

Fifty-four years old, with his blood that runs cold
like a bad dream Ned keeps recurrin'

Year after year fishermen tremble with fear
when to Ned, someone's referin'

For many show signs of a bruise or a welt
from trying to capture Ned ...
The KILLER SMELT

Mish's brother Paul. He was the bravest of all
and he said to the lads there a' drinkin'

"Well that killer smelt Ned, well tomorrow he'll be dead!
On this, I've been doin' some thinkin'"

Jack said, "Don't forget!" as he picked up his net
"That many men have died just a' tryin'

"That fish is an omen, like a evil wind blowin'
"I'm in no mood to see you a' dyin'

For many show signs of a bruise or a welt
From trying to capture Ned ...
The KILLER SMELT

Well there was barely a cough, when they heard Paul scoff
and he said, "I'm gettin' kinda tired

I'm bagin' some Zees cause tonight you'll freeze
and you don't catch any fish when you're wired

So Paul went to bed and he was dreamin' of Ned
and he dreamt of bells ringin' and ringin'

He dreamt about death and loosing his breath
and his hide on a plaque just a' hangin'

Well steel be the will, when the waters that chill
rise up above crotch level

But paul had no time to pay it any mind
when lookin' for a fish that's a rebel

He was barely five minutes in when he spotted that fin
that holds the scars of the ages

Well all the rest ran, but Paul stood fast and man
did he ever look courageous

Together they splashed and together they thrashed
in the chillin' Lake Erie waters

And excitement was abound in Port Stanley town
the home town of old Ken Palmer

Well the fight went on all night long
and the residents grew weary and retired

When the sun hits their eyes, in the morning they arise
just to see what had transpired

And what they saw, Oh it should a' been against the law
cause it looked so damn horrendous

Well the women they cried and the men they sighed
Lord God, please defend us

Well Paul was dead, but so was Ned
he hit him with a ball peen hammer (whump!)

And the bells did sound in Port Stanley Town
the hometown of old Ken Palmer

We'll you've all heard of Ken, he plays mandolin
in a band called the Dixie Flyers

By the Flyers he gets paid, and by the Flyers he'll stay
Until the day he expires

... two, three, four
Ned the killer smelt! Ned the killer smelt! Ohhhh Ned Ned Ned Ned the killer smelt!  etc.

- Frank Ridsdale.

Here is a list of the books.

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