Friday, December 11, 2009

Strength Lies In Improvisation

These are the days when no one should rely unduly on his “competence.” Strength lies in improvisation. All the decisive blows are struck left-handed. – Walter Benjamin

The day before yesterday, I blogged on the long forgotten British band Hard Meat. As is usually the case, having written about a particular topic, inevitably my thoughts are preoccupied by it for several days or even weeks after. This morning I woke up thinking about the final song on the second (and final) album Hard Meat released (Through A Window), a song titled “The Ballad of Marmalade Emma and Teddy Grimes,” and it occurred to me that the song may have been based on an actual couple. (Why the thought had never occurred to me before I have no idea, but I’ve become a firm believer in Salvador Dali’s paranoiac-critical method.) It struck me that perhaps Marmalade Emma and Teddy Grimes possibly might have been the British equivalent of Bonnie and Clyde. Hence I was compelled this morning to do a web search, and sure enough, there was a British couple named Marmalade Emma and Teddy Grimes (pictured), although they were not outlaws of the Bonnie and Clyde sort.

Happily, as a result of my search I came across the weblog of Martin Newell—“Performance Poet, Author and Pop-Genius”—who reveals that he had been researching the late Victorian/early Edwardian-era couple and finally uncovered their story. I encourage readers to click on the above link to his blog and read his fascinating post about the couple that inspired Hard Meat’s ballad. Although you can read it there, I was so struck by Mr. Newell’s eloquent analysis of the mendicant couple that I am compelled to reproduce it here:

Still, though, Marmalade Emma and Teddy Grimes stare out from that wintry picture in a world far removed from the one in which we now live. They’d probably be given short shrift if they existed today. Their begging would be strongly discouraged. On one hand, they’d be descended upon by those agencies whose job it is to sort such problems out. On the other, they’d be at serious risk of attack from any team of drunken yobs who came across them. Hounded from the rural haunts now gentrified and peppered with Neighbourhood Watch stickers, simply bedding-down in the country would be difficult. People would be frightened of them. That haunting old photograph of the pair, however, radiates a robust dignity which you'd be hard-pushed to find in their modern counterparts. It tells you that for all of our improvements, state benefits and social safety-nets, certain elements of individual freedom and basic charity which they knew, have almost completely vanished during the past century.

If there is a problem with my reproducing the image of the couple on my blog (taken from Martin Newell's blog), please contact me about the matter and I’ll remove it.

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