Friday, August 24, 2012

Pigs in Song

The humble pig, although not always admired by humans for his better qualities -- that is, the qualities he has other than in being eaten! -- has never the less been celebrated in song many times over the ages. One of the better ditties is that prefaced to the comical rendition of "General Guinness" as recorded by the Boys of the Lough:

'Twas the pig fair last September,
A day I well remember,
I was walking up and down in drunken pride.
When my knees began to flutter
I fell down in the gutter
And a pig came up and lay down by my side.

As I lay there in the gutter,
Thinking thoughts I dared not utter,
I thought I heard a passing lady say:
"You can tell a man who boozes,
By the company he chooses,"
And, with that, the pig got up walked away.

The song is known generally as "The Pig and the Inebriate," and there are many variants, including one -- "The Famous Pig Song" -- which goes on in later stanzas to include quite a few other animals.

Many people, of course, are familiar with George Harrison's "Little Piggies," although technically I would consider this a song about people, with an unkind comparison to pigs, rather than a song about pigs. Alas, the idea that pigs enjoy wallowing in filth is a difficult one to eradicate, as my novel's narrator Toby himself notes:
The belief that Pigs, simply because they appreciate the cooling properties of some lovely clean Mud, are therefore inured to any sort of Refuse, or even love to Gambol in Faeces or Garbage, has such wide circulation among Humans that we could scarce dissuade them from it if we Could speak.
At the same time, there are a few songs which make reference to piggish gambols without prejudice, and one of the best of these is part of a song cycle -- punningly referred to as an "Operina" -- by my old music professor, the late great Dennis Murphy, and entitled "A Perfect Day." In Murphy's vision, each of the stages of human life is represented by a different animal, with childhood, of course, given over to the pig:
We all begin our lives as little pigs
Though most of us grow out of it,
We're few of us so fortunate,
As ever to resume that happy state!
Then, to a background of sounds of "Oink oink oink," the chorus intones:
We are in a mood, to wallow in our food!
We are in a mood, to wallow in our food!
We are in a mood, to wallow in our food!

The piggy is a happy beast
He has a fault to say the least
He likes to roll in mud and goo
And yet he's just as nice as you (or even me).

However small, however big
There's nothing cuter than a pig!
I'm sure that Toby would forgive any mild imputations of bad character in so lighthearted a song, especially given its positive conclusion.

But perhaps one of the finest -- and the saddest -- songs about pigs is one which touches very nearly on Toby's story; this is the Tiger Lilies' mournful ditty, "The Learned Pig," with libretto by the brilliant Edward Gorey. This pig, born at "the turn of the last century," is exhibited at a fairground on a bucket and forced to answer "stupid questions in a profound manner." Surely something of Toby's original story is at work here, although alas this pig meets a much harsher, and sudden end, than did Toby.

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