[Ads-l] "psychedelic" music (1964)

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Wed Apr 29 00:42:32 UTC 2020

> On Apr 28, 2020, at 2:46 PM, Ben Zimmer <bgzimmer at gmail.com> wrote:
> Larry, do you know the regional distribution of the "or...or" construction?
> While Steve Weber was the one who was "born in Pennsylvania," it's
> Milwaukee-born Peter Stampfel who sings the "or...or" bit.
No, I don’t know that it’s a dialectal feature at all. The line always struck me because of its resemblance to analogous disjunctive constructions like Fr. “ou…ou” and Lat. “aut…aut”, as opposed to mainstream Eng. “either…or”.  I was wondering if the first “or” was dropped in to fit the meter.  But for what it’s worth I see the double “or” does show up on Genius (https://genius.com/The-holy-modal-rounders-hesitation-blues-lyrics), along with the observation from xmdvx that 'This is the first use of the word “psychedelic” in popular music.’ According to another commenter, Stampfel credits the Charlie Poole version, but in that one (“If the river was whiskey”, as in "If the river was whiskey and I was a duck/I'd dive to the bottom and I'd never come up"; cf. https://genius.com/Charlie-poole-and-the-north-carolina-ramblers-if-the-river-was-whiskey-lyrics), the chorus definitely goes as follows (as I just confirmed from my recording from Old Time Songs 1926-1930, Vol. 2)

Oh can I get you now
Must I hesitate
Maybe Stampfel heard Charlie’s “Oh” as “or” and filled in the second “or”? DARE doesn’t have a relevant use; the only non-phonological variant is the use of “or” as an exceptive attested in KY and TN, as in:

What shall we do—or stay here? = Is there anything we can do except stay home?


> On Tue, Apr 28, 2020 at 2:04 PM Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at yale.edu>
> wrote:
>> Yes, theirs is an interesting take on Hesitation Blues, a traditional song
>> with very unstable lyrics--no two versions seem exactly alike.  For
>> example, besides the "psychedelic" bit (at 1:46), this couplet at the
>> beginning is apparently unique to the HMR version:
>> I was born in Pennsylvania, I was raised in France
>> I'm a dirty old man and I wear silk pants.
>> I was always struck by the HMR's "or...or" construction in the chorus (each
>> time it returns):
>> Tell me how long do I have to wait
>> Or can I get you now, or must I hesitate
>> No other version has that initial "Or"
>> LH
>> On Tue, Apr 28, 2020 at 12:23 PM Ben Zimmer <bgzimmer at gmail.com> wrote:
>>> OED3's earliest citation for sense 2a of "psychedelic" ("designating a
>>> style of popular music inspired or influenced by the effects of
>> psychedelic
>>> drugs") is from November 1965. On the self-titled debut album by The Holy
>>> Modal Rounders (Peter Stampfel & Steve Weber), released in October 1964,
>>> the song "Hesitation Blues" includes these lyrics:
>>> "Got my psychedelic feet in my psychedelic shoes
>>> I believe, Lordy mama, I got the psychedelic blues."
>>> The song is an old blues standard, but these lines were added by Stampfel
>>> as an intentional application of the word "psychedelic" to music.
>> (Stampfel
>>> discusses this in the 2006 documentary "The Holy Modal Rounders: Bound to
>>> Lose.")
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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