Parting Song

‘The Parting Glass’ tells the story of a bittersweet goodbye combining joy and sorrow in a way that is both sad yet uplifting at the same time.  This Irish traditional farewell song is often sung at the end of a gathering of friends and it is able to conjure the same feelings as the line from Shakespeare’s play Romeo and Juliet “parting is such sweet sorrow”.  It was purportedly the most popular parting song sung in Scotland before Robert Burns wrote ‘Auld Lang Syne’.  The parting glass is offered to a departing guest, as one final drink for their health to fortify them for their travels.  ‘Mary Ann’ is an unusual sailor’s song that comes from the collection of Dr. Marius Barbeau, the dean of Canadian folklorists.  He was a a Canadian ethnographer (person involved in the systematic study of people and cultures) and folklorist who is today considered a founder of Canadian anthropology.  Dr. Barbeau collected hundreds of folktales and he recorded over 500 songs.  He heard the song ‘Mary Ann’ in 1920 in the town of Tadoussac in the province of Quebec.  The ninety year old singer, Edouard Hovington, had been an employee of the Hudson’s Bay Company, the famous fur-trading company which played an important part in Canada’s early history.  Hovington said he had learned it from an Irish sailor who had brought from Quebec by a colonel on board his yacht some seventy years earlier, which would date this back at least to 1850.

‘Mary Ann’ is obviously descended from the old English song, ‘The True Lover’s Farewell’, which is also the ancestor of ‘The Turtle Dove’ and Burns’ ‘My Luve’s Like a Red, Red Rose’, but this is one of the most unusual of the many variants.  The nautical references give it a salty flavor quite appropriate to the Tadoussac region which abounds in tiny fishing villages where you can savor and fully appreciate a multitude of freshly harvested fish and seafood like snow crab, shrimp, lobster, scallops, halibut, turbot and whelks (sea snails).

Some of the same words in the song ‘Mary Ann’ are listed in a book of Victorian Street Ballads edited by W. Henderson and published in London in 1937.  In 1856, Barney Williams an Irish-American actor-comedian wrote the song, ‘My Mary Anne’ for his wife Maria Pray.  ‘My Mary Anne’ also features the fare you well and lobster and bluefish lyrics.  Time changes everything and when a song has been around as long as ‘Mary Ann’ has been, it is common for it to have different versions with different lyrics.  ‘The True Lover’s Farewell’ was popular in both England and in America and it dates back to 1710.  This tells that same old story where two lovers are going to part and one swears to return, even if they are ten thousand miles apart.  ‘Fare Thee Well’ is also known as ‘The Turtle Dove’ and it is an 18th-century English folk ballad, in which a lover bids farewell before setting off on a journey.  Robert Burns heard a folk version of the song ‘My Luve’s Like a Red, Red Rose’ on his travels where a man who must leave his beloved compares her to a rose.  He proclaims that his love will flow until the seas dry up, because she is so beautiful.  He then bids her farewell for a short time, promising to return, no matter the distance between them.  Many of these songs have a lot of identical lyrics and similar themes.

Marianne Faithful sang ‘Mary Ann’ in 1965 on her Decca album Come My Way.  ‘Mary Ann’ is a sad piece, that reveals a sailor’s pain for having to say goodbye to his girl, which he equates with that of the fish on the hook, and the lobster boiling in the pot.  I love eating lobster because it tastes delicious, but I always feel sorry for them although science has yet to determine if they able to feel pain or not.  Pain is mostly determined in the brain and although lobsters along with crabs do have some capacity of learning, it is thought to be unlikely that they can feel pain, according to some study.  Lobster biologists in Maine have maintained for years that the lobster’s primitive nervous system and underdeveloped brain are similar to that of an insect.  As Mark Twain once said, “Too much whiskey is never enough”, but when you are mixing up cocktails, some things are just not done.  Bartenders have come up with every possible combination of gin, whiskey, tequila and vodka, but gin is meant to be mixed with ingredients that will make it taste better and whiskey is not one of them.

Singer, songwriter and actress Marianne Faithfull was born on December 29, 1946, in London, England.  She is the daughter of an Austro-Hungarian baroness and a former British intelligence officer, she started out as a singer in the 1960s when she was in her teens.  Her mother has the dubious distinction of being the grand-niece of Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, author of Venus in Furs, which involves a philosophical discussion about how women’s cruel nature increases man’s desire.  Her paternal grandfather had been a sexologist and inventor of a device called the ‘frigidity machine’ designed to give women orgasms which he tried out on his son’s wife, Marianne’s mother.  The combination of these things in her family severely limited any chance that Marianne might have had to turn out ordinary and conventional.

Marianne Faithful established herself as the wild child of the Sixties leading a Rock ‘n Roll lifestyle noted for her distinctive voice, and her higher registered vocals that produced a sweet melody when she was young, but over the years her voice, roughened up by cigarettes, drink and drugs, to become evocative and captivating.  The convent-educated singer shot to fame in 1964 with her version of the Rolling Stones song ‘As Tears Go By’.  In 1964, Andrew Loog Oldham, the Stones’ manager spotted her at a party while she was still in school and launched her career as a vocalist, producing her first hit, ‘As Tears Go By’, which he helped to write, along with Mick Jagger and Keith Richards.

She fell in love with Jagger at the age of 18, and left John Dunbar an art dealer and her husband with whom she had her baby son Nicholas with.  Faithfull became more famous for her personal life than for her music, becoming the embodiment of eroticism after starring in the underwhelming film Girl on a Motorcycle, of which the trailer said, “You know the thrill of wrapping your legs around a tornado of pumping pistons”.  In 1969, Marianne Faithfull played the part of Ophelia in Tony Richardson’s film of Hamlet.  The combined effect of playing Ophelia and doing heroin did overwhelm her, as she began contemplating drowning herself in the Thames, while she was spiraling deeper into addiction.  She co-wrote the song ‘Sister Morphine’ with Jagger and Richards, which is said to reflect this difficult time in her life.

Jagger was in a relationship was with model Chrissie Shrimpton, and at the same time, he was cheating on her with English singer Marianne Faithfull.  Jagger also cheated on the fragile Marianne with her best friend, Anita Pallenberg, among many other women.  When Jagger left Faithfull not long after she had a miscarriage in Ireland with Jagger’s child, Marianne slowly started to fall apart.  She had problems with hard drugs, she developed anorexia and had nervous breakdowns for 15 years after.  There is a story about Marianne saying the words “wild horses couldn’t drag me away” as she grimly came out of a drug coma in 1969, which were allegedly supplied to her by Jagger.

Fare thee well, my own true love
Fare thee well a while,
For the ship is a-waiting and the wind blows free
And I am bound away for the sea,
Mary Ann.

If I had a flask of gin,
Whiskey there for two
And a great big bowl for to mix them in
I’d mix a drink for you my dear
Mary Ann.

The lobster boiling in the pot,
The bluefish on the hook;
The pain they bear is nothing like
The ache I bear for you, my dear
Mary Ann.

Fare thee well, my own true love
Fare thee well a while,
For though I go I’ll surely come again
Though it be ten thousand miles, my dear
Mary Ann.

Fare thee well, my own true love
Fare thee well, my dear,
For the ship is a-waiting and the wind blows free
And I am bound away for the sea,
Mary Ann.

Written for FOWC with Fandango – Melody, for Sheryl’s A New Daily Post Word Prompt – Overwhelm and for Word of the Day Challenge Prompt – Dubious.

25 thoughts on “Parting Song

  1. Such a wealth of information. This fellow, “Dr. Marius Barbeau, the dean of Canadian folklorists.” sounds like he’d be a good one to look up and learn more about. Marianne Faithfull has the voice of an angel, wow, she sings it so effortlessly, like second nature. Mick Jagger was a jerk for doing her wrong. Two beautiful selections!

    Liked by 1 person

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