The Little Man Who Wasn’t There

Photo by Chema Madoz

 
 

ANTIGONISH

Yesterday, upon the stair,
I met a man who wasn’t there.
He wasn’t there again today,
I wish, I wish he’d go away…

When I came home last night at three,
The man was waiting there for me
But when I looked around the hall,
I couldn’t see him there at all!
Go away, go away, don’t you come back any more!
Go away, go away, and please don’t slam the door…

Last night I saw upon the stair,
A little man who wasn’t there,
He wasn’t there again today
Oh, how I wish he’d go away…

Hughes Mearns

 
 

Inspired by reports of a ghost of a man roaming the stairs of a haunted house in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada, the poem Antigonish (also known as The Little Man Who Wasn’t There) was originally part of a play called The Psyco-ed which Mearns had written for an English class at Harvard University about 1899. In 1910, Mearns put on the play with the Plays and Players, an amateur theatrical group and, on 27 March 1922, newspaper columnist FPA printed the poem in The Conning Tower, his column in the New York World.

In 1939, Antigonish was adapted as a popular song titled The Little Man Who Wasn’t There by Harold Adamson with music by Bernie Hanighen, both of whom received the songwriting credits. A 12 July 1939 recording of the song by the Glenn Miller Orchestra with vocals by Tex Beneke became an 11-week hit on Your Hit Parade reaching #7. Other versions were recorded by Larry Clinton & His Orchestra with vocals by Ford Leary, Bob Crosby & His Orchestra with vocals by Teddy Grace, Jack Teagarden & His Orchestra with vocals by Teagarden, and Mildred Bailey. Mearns ‘ Antigonish has been used numerous times in popular culture, including Velvet Goldmine (Todd Haynes, 1998) often with slight variations in the lines.

Similar lyrics can be heard in the song The Man Who Sold the World by David Bowie:

“We passed upon the stair
We spoke of was and when
Although I wasn’t there
He said I was his friend…”

Advertisements

One More Cup of Coffee

 
 

Your breath is sweet
Your eyes are like two jewels in the sky
Your back is straight, your hair is smooth
On the pillow where you lie

But I don’t sense affection
No gratitude or love
Your loyalty is not to me
But to the stars above

 
 

 
 

One more cup of coffee for the road
One more cup of coffee ‘fore I go
To the valley below

Your daddy, he’s an outlaw
And a wanderer by trade
He’ll teach you how to pick and choose
And how to throw the blade

He oversees his kingdom
So no stranger does intrude
His voice, it trembles as he calls out
For another plate of food

 
 

 
 

One more cup of coffee for the road
One more cup of coffee ‘fore I go
To the valley below

Your sister sees the future
Like your mama and yourself
You’ve never learned to read or write
There’s no books upon your shelf

 
 

 
 

And your pleasure knows no limits
Your voice is like a meadowlark
But your heart is like an ocean
Mysterious and dark

One more cup of coffee for the road
One more cup of coffee ‘fore I go
To the valley below

 

Bob Dylan
Desire (1976)
Track 4

 
 

One More Cup of Coffee tells the tale of a girl whose family are gypsies and drifters, and of the man who must leave her to enter the “valley below”. The narrator describes a character who is beautiful. The song deals with themes of abandonment; the apparent end of a relationship and the concept of a coming journey. The song could be seen as a metaphor for Dylan’s relationship with Sara, however, this is unsubstantiated. The song is also thought to have been inspired by a visit Dylan made to Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer in Provence, France, where there is an annual gathering of Romany people who venerate Saint Sarah the Egyptian. This would seem to point to another link to Sara Dylan.

The song is a duet between Dylan and Emmylou Harris; as an incidental to its use of the natural minor scale it has a decidedly Middle Eastern flavor in the vocal melody. It was covered by The White Stripes on their eponymous debut album. Furthermore there is a version by Roger McGuinn and Calexico for the 2007 film I’m Not There (Todd Haynes, 2007). Calexico also perform the song at their concerts. Robert Plant covered the song in his 2002 album Dreamland.

To watch the version performed by The White Stripes, please check out The Genealogy of Style’s Facebok page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Genealogy-of-Style/597542157001228?ref=hl