You may have heard me say once, or twice, “a storyteller can spot another storyteller from many miles away.” If not, now you know I’ve said it. This week’s blog is an ode to another storyteller, whose skills are admirable and deserve the recognition from another wordsmith.
Some backstory: I am, in the literary sense, a “pantser.” That means I don’t plot, I write from the seat of my pants. The blessing, and curse, of being a pantser is that I can see something innocuous and make a connections from it. That skill is how I bullshit my way through speech classes and wrote excellent book reports. Storytelling, after all, is the skill of weaving together semi-plausible events in fantastic ways, right? If I was blessed given a divine gift, that would be it.
A storyteller can spot another storyteller from many miles away.
Enter: Andy Partridge. As an American, I’d never heard the name in any popular fashion before. I’d heard his work, but hadn’t been able to put a name to it. In 1994, the movie “Dumb & Dumber,” starring Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels, was released. On the tactical missile of a soundtrack was the song “The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead,” by the Crash Test Dummies (famous for their song “Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm”). Peter Pumpkinhead opened the soundtrack and my ear for melody immediately gravitated towards that song.
After some reading, I find the song was originally was originally recorded by XTC, written by Andy Partridge. Even better than finding a new band, was finding out how the song was written! A ballad, by definition is “a simple narrative poem of folk origin, composed in short stanzas, and adapted for singing.”1
[WARNING] – Spoilers
The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead is about a morally pure political figure coming to town to improve the lives of citizens and the government tries to beat the man down to improve their positions. They try lies, slander, even sex scandals, but Pete is teflon! Eventually, Big Brother gets his way and Pete gets the “Hard Goodbye,” and the narrator points out that Pete looks a lot like everyone in the crowd.
That’s a good story, in and of itself, but how the idea for the story came to be is the real genius. Andy Partridge wrote the song after walking by a jack-0’-lantern, noting the smile on the pumpkin, and the stages of decay. Andy’s brilliant storyteller brain comes up with the narrative of a saint coming in to town and how the populus would react to such a flawless person. THAT is how I like to think my brain works!
From one storyteller, many miles away, my hat is off to you, Andy Partridge! If you’re reading this, here’s hoping you’ve enjoyed your trip across the Millerverse.
Songs listened to while writing this blog:
- The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead – XTC
- Dear God – XTC
- The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead – Crash Test Dummies
- Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm – Crash Test Dummies
- Runaway Train – Soul Asylum