Poe's "The Raven," translated into 50s hipster argot

One of the reasons we called our daughter "Poesy" was so that we could shorten her name to "Poe," as in "Edgar Allan," and since the early days, we've recited bits of The Raven and others to her (I like saying "The Bells" while I'm trying to get her to sleep). One of my favorite Poe adaptations is jazz poet Lord Buckley's "The Bugbird," a too-awesome-to-be-believed translation into the "semantic of the hip," circa 1950. It's really fun to recite and the kid LOVES it.

It was a real drug midnight
swoooooooooooooooah dreary
I was goofing
Beat and weary
Over many a freakish volume of forgotten score
When suddenly there came a tapping
As if some cat were gently riffing
Knocking rhythm at my pad's door.
Ah, "'tis the landlady," I muttered
On her broom she flies the rounding
Sounding for her rent
WITCH only this and nothing more

Ehh, ooh, will I ever get out of this feeling?
Emmm, emmmm,

Ah, so solid I remember,
It was in that wrought December
And it's swingin', jumpin' ember
Blew it's phantom upon the floor
Groovily I woo'd the morrow
Still hung I sought to borrow
From my book kicks
To knock the sorrow
Sorrow for my gone Lenore
For that sweet, square but swingin' maiden
Whom the fly chicks tagged Lenore
Nameless here forevermore

The Bugbird ("The Raven"), A Most Immaculately Hip Aristocrat (CD)


  1. His Julius Caesar is excellent too:
    “Hipsters, flipsters and fingerpoppin’ daddies, Knock me your lobes…”

    There’s a great story about a gig he did at Al Capone’s club. During his act, he asked for the fur coats of the companions of Capone and his associates. Having got the furs on stage, he poured petrol over them, set them alight, ran backstage and got the next train out of Chicago.

  2. How many of your remember:

    Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
    Over user guides and handbooks piled up on the desk and floor —
    As I nodded, after nine or ten straight hours of design,
    I finely drew the final line, then pulled a floppy out to store —
    Locked and loaded, then, I saved, and waited for the disc to store;
    Only this and nothing more.

    Ah, distinctly I kept hearing such a sound it set me fearing,
    Fearing as I sat there peering at the Saved Percentage score,
    Fearing, as the disc kept turning, turning with a grinding, churning
    Sound while I was yearning — yearning as I’d never yearned before,
    “Save!” I yearned again, but hopeless, read the words I’d feared before:
    Read: “Abort, Retry, Ignore.”

    “What is this?” I barely muttered, “What’s this message you have uttered,
    Uttered as my floppy fluttered, fluttered locked inside your door?”
    But there came no soothing voices helping me among these choices,
    With these unfamiliar choices, just the cursor’s either/or —
    Just the cursor blinking, blinking for my choice of either/or
    From “Abort, Retry, Ignore.”

    Much I marveled: this repeating cursor like a heartbeat beating
    Answered nothing, thus defeating all attempts to re-explore
    Whether I’d done something sloppy — what had happened to that floppy
    I’d inserted there to copy all the work I’d done before —
    What had happened to the art, the artwork I had done before,
    Before “Abort, Retry, Ignore.”?
    Art, not software, is my calling; it’s particularly galling
    To be hesitating, stalling, stalling over one key more
    When, instead of starkly staring, stunned, at high-tech so uncaring,
    High-tech blindly overbearing, I could open up my drawer,
    Get my low-tech colored pencils from their matching low-tech drawer
    Beneath “Abort, Retry, Ignore.”

    But no, I had to get ambitious, buy some modern meretricious
    Merchandise that leaves me vicious messages that seem to roar,
    Well, not really roar, but tease, as, fingers trembling over keys,
    I finally choose from one of these atrocious choices I abhor
    A choice I know will be atrocious, one I finally must abhor
    Among “Abort, Retry, Ignore.”

    No result! So twice as hard, to try and catch the thing off-guard,
    I pressed, but still the same canard appeared until I nearly swore.
    Frantically in desperation, pushing keys in combination,
    Getting tintinabulation: “Beep beep beep”, and nothing more,
    Cacaphonous concatenation, “Beep beep beep”, and nothing more;
    Except “Abort, Retry, Ignore.”

    Then I thought I heard the thunder, felt the thunder rumble under,
    Through, the floorboards, and no wonder! Lightning split the dark night’s core!
    Lightning piercing lightning slashing through the night like sword- wounds gashing
    Darkness deeply, when my flashing cursor flashed! — then flashed no more;
    Flashed a final time and then — erased itself to flash no more;
    Erased “Abort, Retry, Ignore.”

    The lights went out, then came back on, and in the cold grey light of dawn
    Profit and design were gone; gone, returning: nevermore –.
    Gone my imitation Titian, like a ghost or apparition,
    But gone as well the admonition I must choose and choose once more
    Gone: the price of manumission from demands to choose once more
    Among “Abort, Retry, Ignore.”

    Now my cursor still is blinking; is it winking? Yes! It’s winking! —
    Winking at me from the screen beside the disc that wouldn’t store;
    Winking at me from the black, though nothing else comes blinking back
    Along the phosphorescent track that throws a shadow on the floor;
    And my art, from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
    Shall be found now — nevermore!

  3. I like the idea of naming a child Poe, but Poesy?

    having said that, my surname is Allan, and brifly flirted with naming our unborn child Edgar for similar reasons.

  4. If you’re planning on sending your child to school (and as an unschooler, I hope not) then I beg you to develop some other nickname for your daughter.

    It’s a dead cert she will be Poo or Po, meaning chamber pot or toilet, before her first day is out.

  5. I’m sure many of you have seen it already, but there’s a CD – called “Closed on Account of Rabies”, of course – with a series of Poe poems and short stories read by Iggy Pop, Abel Ferrara and others. Chris Walken’s “Raven” is the highlight though.

  6. Fee, you’re dead wrong. Kids aren’t called names because they have funny names: they’re called names because they are unpopular. I went to school with a kid whose surname, “Cox,” has bottomless potential for comedy. No one made fun of it. He was popular. Another person at school had “Greene” for a surname, and she was viciously teased, called “Greener,” (a Canadian slang term for mucousy spittle) and the kids would make horking noises when she walked by. Needless to say, she was also not very popular.

    Your name could be “Bumblefuck Shitheel” and if you were confident, smart and good-looking, the kids would call you “Big B!” You could be called “Rob Jones” and if you were weird-looking, socially awkward, or otherwise uncharismatic, the kids would call you “Asshole Rob.”

    The idea that funny names are the source of real teasing (as opposed to a little wordplay) comes from John Hughes movies, not reality. Real teasing — the teasing that hurts — reflects social divisions that are not based on names, but rather on awkwardnesses in personality or appearance.

  7. Thanks for the links.
    I had heard the Hip Gan but did not know
    who or how to get
    now I do
    and so
    I have done and now to waiting
    breathless for the post to bring
    music from a guy who doesn’t sing
    but swing he does, with Poe.

  8. “A Most Immaculately Hip Aristocrat” was one of my most treasured possessions in high school. When people got tired of Firesign Theater at parties, Lord Buckley could wow them like no other.

    And while Lord Buckley is funny, he’s not ‘funny’ — you might laugh at individual lines, but the overall reaction I usually see is awe — people listen silently because they don’t want to miss a word.

    His ‘hipsomatic’ dialect sounded like beatnik jive, but few people besides Shakespeare could turn a phrase as taut, inventive, and rhythmic. Like ‘the petticoats of Paris’ for ‘outskirts’ — it has rhythm, wit, and a linguistic truth. Or when someone explodes, ‘like Ve-SU-vius reaching for Pom-PEI!”

  9. um, corey, i beg to differ with you. my experience was that i was right in the middle — not popular, not horribly unpopular, and i still got “frankenstein,” “frankoamerican,” “frankfurter,” “frankfarter,” and who knows what else. kids can be cruel, and they will twist any name to get a rise out of any other kid. some just brush it off, but the ones who already happen to have self-esteem issues find that it hurts deeply.

  10. One of my favorites is his version of “A Christmas Carol.” When I was growing up in the 80s Vin Scelsa used to play it every year on his NYC radio show. Later on when I got older I read about this him. Man was he in outer space. What a life he lived. So brilliant.

  11. I’m a volunteer DJ at a community-access station here in the cornrow wilds of central Illinois, and I’m gonna be playing Lord Buckley’s version of “The Raven” this Halloween….along with stuff like Lord Sutch’s “Jack The Ripper”, Howlin’ Wolf’s “I Ain’t Superstitious”, Roky Erickson’s “If You Have Ghosts”, the Hoodoo Guru’s “Dig It Up”, Maggie Estep’s “Ingeborg, Mistress of the Dark”, the Dictator’s “Science Gone Too Far!” and the Donner Party’s “When You Die, Your Eyes Pop Out.”

    All are welcome……..

  12. I play Lord Buckley on my spoken word channel/station in the UK. Can you give out links for that?

    Anyway, I stumbled upon Lord Buckley when I was 16 years old. He has been a companion ever since.

    He was the best, since the Nazz…..

  13. It’s also on eMusic, so if you’ve never had a membership, and don’t mind signing up for a trial with a credit card, you can get it for “free” (at the risk of continuing a membership after the trial expires.)

    If you’ve got a subcription, it’s only 5 downloads.

    Also, eMusic is not Amazon.

  14. His favorite dialect was “American Beauty Negro.” His 50’s lp, “Euphoria”, sold mostly in black record shops and was mistakenly classified by many as a “race record.” I knew a number of black people who were surprised to learn he was white. He did a spot-on imitation of Louis Armstrong (a friend) and worked clubs with Lenny Bruce. His influence on other comedians was enormous and underground.

    “Jonah And The Whale” is about Jonah smoking weed in the whale’s belly and getting it high.

    “Nero” is a send-up of the movie “Quo Vadis,” with a freaky, kicks-seeking Nero persecuting Xians.

    “The Naz” is a hip telling of the Jesus miracles with a laid-back super cool Nazarene.

    “The All-Hip Mahatma” is a paean to Gandhi.

    There are many, many more gems of humor, compassion, and love in this man’s truly unique repertoire.

    All of his recorded works are available in one form or another. The problem was that most of his stuff was too controversial at the time to be televised, and he died at the beginning of the 60’s before a more “open” format became available.

    Google this astonishing and overlooked genius.

    @#1 BEANOLINI: The Al Capone story is wrong. Capone actually liked Lord Buckley.

  15. This reminds me of Don Morrow’s “Like Rumpelstiltskin”, which I’d say is the best version of the fairy tale I’ve heard. I found it on a box set called “The Beat Generation” that one of my exes in college had. There is some Lord Buckley on there too.

  16. Sly Stone when he had a Sunday Night radio show in San Francisco would play the Naz. When some indignant lady called he’d put the conversation on the air with the Naz in the background.
    There are more stanzas to the Bug Bird than printed here. I have a tape of Buckley doing it for the late Pat Henry. You can hear Pat Henry laughing in the background.

  17. #20, Buddy66:

    I first heard that story in a Radio 4 documentary about Buckley. Oliver Trager, who wrote the ‘Dig Infinity’ biography of Buckley, tells it thus:

    “Tell me about Capone and Lord Buckley,” I urged, and he laid down a tale too gone to be fiction. “Capone set Buckley up in his own club, Chez Buckley, in Chicago,” Trager explained. “Buckley put everything together — found the place, the furnishings, ordered the liquor. Problem was he got so involved in launching the club that he didn’t really prepare his act for opening night. Everybody was there — the gangsters, their molls, even the Boss showed up, a doll on each arm.

    “Some horn player was on the stage wailing. Suddenly Buckley comes out, but he’s unprepared, see, so he goes through this whole Svengali-like double-talk routine, ‘When is a flame not a flame?’ and ‘What you see is not what you really see.’ He’s vamping. Then he coaxes the gangsters’ babes to pile their fur coats on the stage. He sprinkles lighter fluid on the coats and sets them on fire. At which point Buckley jumps onto the bar and does a tap-dance. And the bartender says to him, ‘You know, when Capone stops laughing, I wouldn’t want to be around here exactly.’ Buckley says, ‘You know, you’re right.’ So he dances to the end of the bar, jumps off, runs out the door and never returns.

  18. Well . . . maybe. I don’t want to get into Prince Oliver’s thang, but “authorities” differ on the accuracy of Buckley’s Chicago stories, or a lot of others for that matter. I’d be happy to have my doubts allayed, however, because he was one of the wildest, wailingest cats that ever stomped on this solid green sphere. No doubt about.

    Lots of stuff about him (and by him) on Lord Buckley.com

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