JISHOU, HUNAN — My seniors just had their all-important Test for English Majors level 8 (TEM8), which now means many feel adrift with no overwhelming burdens on their shoulders.
For months, they have been plowing through books, boning up (for some) the postgraduate examination in January and (for all) the TEM8 this weekend. A good mark on the postgrad exam opens the way to further education; a passing mark on the TEM8 allows them to qualify for better jobs after graduation.
One cast-adrift student texted me this afternoon. Bored with nothing to do now, she was wandering around campus and said she wanted to stop by and visit me. Trouble is, I wasn’t home at the time. She signed off, complaining she had nothing to do, and unbidden, a fragment of a song long forgotten floated up: “Playing Solitaire till dawn with the deck of 51/Smoking cigarettes and watching Captain Kangaroo/Now don’t tell me, I’ve nothing to do.”
Predictably, it was a top 40 hit from my early childhood and I am sure I must have heard it over and over again on the radio. The Statler Brothers recorded “Flowers on the Wall” in 1965, and rose to be a hit on both the country-western and Top 40 charts. From YouTube, a performance from the Johnny Cash TV show:
If you don’t which one is Johnny Cash, be ashamed. He’s the Man in Black. (This song also turns up in Pulp Fiction, just before Bruce Willis creams a guy with his car.)
While I was poking around the Intertubes, I googled another song fragment, “Baby, let your hair hang down.” Why I associated the two songs together, I haven’t a clue. “Walk Right In,” from 1963, was originally recorded by a folk trio called The Rooftop Singers. It’s been covered many times, but that version is the one I remember best.
Maybe this is why: according to Wikipedia, it was perhaps the first big hit that featured 12-string guitars. Group member Erik Darling wanted a distinctive sound, so he ordered two 12-strings from the Gibson company. Back then, they were apparently as rare as hen’s teeth.
Here’s a vintage YouTube video for your listening pleasure. Ironically, none of these singers have hair that would hang down at all.
This is the original recording (no video). The guitars are more prominent in this version, which is on the Forrest Gump soundtrack.
So, if you play the 12-string guitar, thank that song. Their availability rose quickly after people heard them on the radio and saw them on national TV.