King Arthur In Music Continued…

For those of you following my previous post, here are my final words.

The lyrics to the song are definitely part of what made it such a huge success. While the song starts with the chorus, the second verse is what gives the song its first hint that it is about the Arthurian tale. The verse states, “And I’ll be wearing white when I come into your kingdom. I’m as green as the ring on my little cold finger. I’ve never known the loving of a man, but it sure felt nice when he was holding my hand.” In the Malory story with Lancelot and the second Elaine, she floats into Camelot, which would be the kingdom in the song. The next lyric can be interpreted as jealousy, sometimes using green as a synonym, which could have led her to the downfall. In the legend, Elaine was jealous of Guinevere because of Lancelot’s affection for her and so when he left she was so hurt she stopped functioning which led to her death. The next half of the verse where it states she’s never known the loving of a man directly relates to the story as well, because Elaine thought she and Lancelot were meant for each other and would live happily ever after, especially after she had his child. While he was there with her, she was very happy and overjoyed because it seemed like her fantasies had a chance at becoming a reality. When he left, everything crashed down and she realized, as the song said, she had never known the loving of a man. It was all just a big tease in a way.

Another lyric that is significant would be “Funny when you’re dead how people start listening”. In the interactions in the Malory tale, the affair between Lancelot and Elaine caused Guinevere to shun him and want nothing to do with him, despite his attempts at explaining himself. When the corpse floated down the river into their kingdom and they say what had happened and the note she was clenching, all of a sudden Guinevere believed Lancelot and everything was mostly okay. Though in the context of the song, this lyric primarily means that it’s ironic how many people show that they care after the life of somebody, when in relation to the tale it can be taken literally because while Elaine was alive, Guinevere thought Lancelot was a cheating liar, but after she was dead suddenly it was alright  and he was telling the truth, thus she started listening.

Next, the chorus of the song gives a near perfect description of the scenario described in the Lady of Shallot and in Lancelot and Elaine’s scandal. The chorus contains the lyrics “If I die young, bury me in satin. Lay me down on a bed of roses. Sink me in the river at dawn. Send me away with the words of a love song.” When Elaine died, she was put into the river to float away to Camelot holding her letter wearing a nice outfit. This may seem coincidental to some, however, anyone that watches the music video can clearly see the inspiration behind the song and video. In the first scenes of the video, Kimberly, the vocalist for The Band Perry, can be seen in a boat on a river holding a book of Tennyson poems. In the final scenes, she is laid to rest and the book is open and slowly the camera zooms in to show the title of the poem being “Lady of Shallot”. This is the most obvious reference to stories in Arthurian legends and their time in music in the recent years.

Because the song has a rather dark undertone to it, when speaking of death at a young age, it can be rather concerning that the song was such a big hit. However today, what Elaine did in Malory would be considered a form of suicide and rates among young people are increasing due to the amount of bullying and social stigmas that go along with mental illness, which doesn’t seem to appear in Malory’s work very much. Especially today, the minds of younger people are a lot more malleable to love and if things don’t work out the way they had hoped, it is easy for them to take the blame and put it on themselves to where it leads to their self destruction, such as Elaine did. Today though, there is the added pressure form the media and society as a whole telling them that they have to meet specific criteria in order to be worth it, while Elaine took it upon herself to believe that. In either circumstance, though, it is a reference to just how destructive mental illnesses can be when not handled properly and the song portrays that message well, especially in the bridge that contains the lyric “Funny when you’re dead, how people start listening”, which gives light to the fact that people tend to care more when they can’t show it to anyone.

On a lighter, happier side of contemporary music related references of Arthurian legends, Las Vegas, Nevada is home to the Excalibur hotel and casino, which has a wide variety of both vague and extremely obvious Arthurian references (Sklar). One of these references, however is in the form of a typical show that one would associate with Las Vegas, called the Tournament of Kings. This is a very colorful production that features jousting, invading armies, magic, all of which one would naturally think an Arthurian performance would entail, and dancing and singing. The performance even includes some of the main characters in the tales, such as Mordred. There are minimal videos of the show online to look at any plot of the it, though it can be determined that they loosely base it off of actual legends, complete with a character dressed as a stereotypical wizard, which we are led to believe would be the Merlin of the production (Excalibur.com). The musical aspect of this show gives it a more flashy vibe that one would expect from a show in Las Vegas, but it also gets the audience involved with sing-a­ longs and incorporating the use of each audience for each show within the performance through the help of the music. This breaks the fourth wall of theater and gives the audience a stronger connection, though possibly a loose one, to the stories of King Arthur and perhaps may spark an interest in them to go find out more. If there was no interaction or catchy musical numbers, the audience would quickly lose interest, which shows just how entertainment based society is today and furthers the importance of music and how much it can have an effect on any given topic.

Overall, whether modem day culture knows it or not, Arthurian legends have infiltrated music for decades.  Form early performances in the 1600s to the folk hits of Crosby, Stills, and Nash and Heather Dale to the contemporary top 40 piece by The Band Perry, it really is all around us and the meaning of these stories can still reflect modem day issues in society, which makes the stories even more important and shows how it is possible to learn so much from these tales when dug into. The help of music gives them a universal appeal and when combined, the force that Arthurian references in music creates is not to be questioned. These references do not appear to be slowing down at any point in the future. King Arthur in music has proven to be the Lancelot of the spreading of these tales, and will continue to be for years to come.

Sources

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