Drifting and striding, in Hollywood and elsewhere, with Geoff Nicholson - author of The Lost Art of Walking, and Walking in Ruins withcholson, author of Toff Nidrifting and stomping withcholson, author of The Lost Art of Walking, considers the narrower and wider shores of obsessive pedestrianism.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

IF IT WALKS LIKE A DUCK


I was listening to variant versions of Chuck Berry’s song “Brown Eyed Handsome Man”  - sometimes brown-eyed gets hyphenated, and sometimes it doesn’t.  It’s an interesting song.  As I’m not the first to observe, at this point in history you inevitably hear it as a song about race: he’s really singing about skin color, not eye color.  The fact that the song could be a hit in America 1956 is some measure of its double-coding and perhaps of its deniability.


I can’t find a great Chuck Berry live version, but here he is performing the song with Robert Cray (no, I can't work out how to put the video itself on my blog):

The lyric that interests us here comes in the second verse

Flying across the desert in a TWA,
I saw a woman walking across the sand
She been a walkin' thirty miles en route to Bombay
To get a brown eyed handsome man
Her destination was a brown eyed handsome man

*
Well, Bombay (or Mumbai as we now know it) is of course a pretty good place to find a brown-skinned or indeed brown-eyed man, though I don’t know that there’s a lot of sand in precisely that part of India.  



Now, the song has been much covered by people of varying eye and skin color – Buddy Holly, Paul McCartney, Lyall Lovett – they all sang the line about Bombay; but Waylon Jennings in his own countrified version sings it thus, in 1970 – yep he really dressed like that in 1970, but he got over it:


The lyrics in question:
Flying cross the desert in a TWA
Saw a woman walking cross the sand
She’s been walking thirty miles en route to L.A. to get
A brown eyed handsome man
The destination was a brown eyed handsome man

Now obviously you get a very different class of brown-eyed man in LA than you do in Bombay, and you’re in with a better chance of finding sand.  The song also works perfectly well when sung by a woman, Fontella Bass sang Bombay (it’s a great version), and Tanya Tucker sang LA.



So, a question: did Jennings change the line in the interests of topographic accuracy?  Or did he think that walking to Bombay was just too darn exotic, maybe even Orientalist, for his country fans?  I’m guessing the latter.

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