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> Issue 42 > Page 60 - "George Alfred Beckett": Story & Song

Page 60 - "George Alfred Beckett": Story & Song

Published by Ronald Caplan on 1986/6/1 (254 reads)

song. We think part of the key is Ray's "anything serious happened." Besides mur? der songs, Phil Penney wrote a song about the shipwreck of the Wat ford. (The story of that wreck was told by Sara MacLean in Issue 16 of Cape Breton's Magazine.) And he wrote humorous songs, such as one Ray discusses below about "Dirty Danny"--humor? ous, but about a serious happening all the s ame. In the case of "George Beckett's Lament," the song, in its restraint, strikes us at first as an artful condensation of Beck? ett's story. Penney probably knew consider? ably more about Beckett than even the news? papers told. He had taken such interest, as Ray told us, that he even went to the hanging in Sydney, getting there early e- nough to see Beckett going to the gallows. And then there must have been many rumours in Glace Bay that a topical songwriter could use. But Penney deliberately limited himself. He did not, for instance, dwell on the gore of the murder, nor mention Beckett's long string of previous crimes. It is Beckett himself speaking in the song, a Beckett already resigned and accepting, praising and forgiving others--but a song? writer hoping to win over his audience might have included a little sensational? ism, such as mention of Beckett's wife's sexual disloyalty, his girl friend of low repute, the post-murder partying, and the hard trek home. This was the stuff that sold newspapers, and Penney chose not to include it in his song. Apparently, Phil Penney's goal was neither to tell the "whole" story nor to portray the "real" Beckett. And this is not said critically. We would suggest that using such detail was not part of Penney's goal. Penney's concern was with his living com? munity. He skilfully used the event of mur? der/hanging to get people's attention and drive home moral information. He used the event to reaffirm certain community stan? dards. And lA'hile it is impossible to say how much of this was conscious, we do know that he felt a social calling--that of songmaker. We know the kinds of subjects he chose--no less than 4 murders and a shipwreck in the 7 songs we've heard about so far. When he made the song, his moral ideas--not rumours and news accounts--were his principal guides. And in the case of "George Beckett's La? ment"- -but not in all his songs--Penney was also guided by a knowledge of tradi? tional songs still quite popular in the 1930s. A comparison of his songs to tradi? tional songs that he may have known re? veals that he carried considerable informa? tion about the old songs. We hope to dis? cuss this in more detail in a future arti? cle, after we have gathered more of Pen? ney 's songs. But looking at "George Beck? ett's Lament," there are the obvious phrases from traditional songs--lines such as "My parents reared me tenderly"; the "My name is..." opening; the series of e- vents often found in old songs: the moth? er 's unheeded advice, the stanza of warn? ing ("Don't ever murder anyone"), and the naming of the murdered person in the final stanza. And we would suggest that his mor? al ideas plus the old songs that supplied - HERE TO HELP - Wift (Sifxlixm*B Aiii S'orietfl of (Hape l&vttan; 9 "A UNITED WAV SERVICE AGENCY" THESE ARE SOME COMMUNITY SERVICES: INTAKE information' problem identification, & appropriate referral for service PROTECTION home visits, support services, & crisis intervention to maintain adequate child care Suite 7, Provincial Building 360 Prince Street Sydney, Nova Scotia B1P 5L1 HOME STUDIES custody reports, social histories for other agencies, private adoption reports SINGLE MOTHERS information, counselling, support, & assistance in decision-making during pregnancy ADOPTION placement of children of all ages in permanent homes FOSTER HOMES selection & support of temporary & long-term homes for children in care of the agency CHILDREN IN CARE individual counselling & support services for children in care of the agency THE COMMUNITY'S RESPONSIBILITY IS TO PROTECT OUR CHILDREN President Mr. Robin B. Campbell Executive Director: Mr. Cyril Reddy Canada Beautiful, Intelligent and Peaceful ALEXANDER GRAHAM BELL NATIONAL HISTORIC PARK No Adnnission Charge 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. Year Round 9 a.m. - 9 p.m. July 1 to Sept. 30 Open 7 Days a Week I '1' Environment Environnement Canada Parks Canada Pares Children Can Build & Fly a Bell Kite Spetial Evening Presentatior Inquire 295-2069 for Times GUIDE SERVICE AVAILABLE Baddeck N.S. 75 km. west of Sydney on Route lOE BELL THE MAN * BELL THE EXPERIMENTER * HYDROFOIL HAL
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