As Bob and I travel the world in our role as thiefhunters, we hang with outlaws and shady characters. The Tiger Lillies sing songs about the underworld culture we study. I like their twisted take on taboo subjects, their lullabies of filth and scandal. Their genre is macabre cabaret: upside down ballads of misery and despair. Lots of songs about pimps, pushers, prostitutes, pickpockets, and other perps and perverts — but they’re sung disarmingly sweet and harmonic, with catchy rhythms.
National Public Radio has a little segment in its Weekend America series called Weekend Soundtrack. Listeners submit a favorite song for weekend listening and talk about it on the radio.
Back in October, I submitted a song. I wanted to get The Tiger Lillies some good exposure, and I know how good NPR exposure can be. When we were on our book sales spiked and we got calls from media around the world.
A week after my submission, Michael Raphael, from AmericanPublicMedia.org, emailed:
Bambi, I would love to talk to you about your weekend soundtrack. When are you available?
I gave him some open windows but heard nothing back. I wrote him a few times and got replies like:
Sorry Bambi, I’ve been swamped. Are you in the US this week?
Sorry Bambi — it has been a mad scramble toward the end of the year hear [sic]. I will be out of town until 1/5. I hate to do this, but let’s try and pick this up the week of 1/7.
After that I gave up.
Shucks. I really wanted to do it. I’m surprised at the rude behavior of American Public Media, too. Screw ’em, though.
When my “weekend” comes around, I like to play Souvenirs, by The Tiger Lillies. I like the body-twitching sound of it. I like the unusual voice of singer Martyn Jacques and — who would expect to love accordion as accompaniment? Go ahead—click the link to play the song, if you dare.
The song is about someone who has a huge collection of souvenirs from around the world, but they’re all scars and sicknesses. Bob and I travel around the world about 250 days a year, so we have a lot of souvenirs, too. None as ghoulish, though. My collection is mostly intangible and made of memories, cultural experiences, and awareness of the wider world.
The character in the song now has a regular job — he works in a fairground — and he deals with people he has little in common with, people with ordinary lives and jobs. He has trouble relating to these people, and would rather find an excuse to tell about his travels. Being on the road and out of the U.S. so much for the past 15 years, I’m mostly out of touch with popular culture and can’t participate in conversations about television shows, celebrities, or sports.
For me, the “weekend” is really a trip-end, no matter the day of the week. Souvenirs is my unpacking song, as I sort the laundry from the unworn, put away things, and pull out my own souvenirs. Over the years we’ve brought home a lot. No diseases that we know about, and no serious injuries, as in the song.
The Tiger Lillies made a wonderful record based on unpublished poems given to them by Edward Gorey, recorded with the Kronos Quartet, called The Gorey End. My favorite Tiger Lillies songs are a bit too risque for radio: Maria, about a murdered woman, Trampled Lily, about a girl who gets sucked into a life of abuse and prostitution and dies young; Angel, and Pretty Lisa, both with similar themes, and Weeping Chandelier (the Gorey End version), which is a beautiful and haunting tango with Kronos Quartet. I guess their lyrics keep The Tiger Lillies off the radio, which is a terrible shame. Since I started listening to them only two years ago, I find other music rather boring. Lucky for me, the Tiger Lillies have more than 20 albums out.
Here are some of the souvenirs I’ve carried home:
- Lamps from Holland, South Africa, Spain,
Germany, and Poland.
- Beaded necklaces from Kenya, Italy, South Africa,
Peru, Tahiti, and Costa Rica. Amber from the Baltic,
and old silver from India.
- Masks from Borneo, Indonesia, Thailand, Peru,
Alaska, Papua New Guinea, and Panama.
I’d like to hear what you think of Souvenirs. Care to comment?