A.M. Juster’s Scandinavian Homesick Blues

I just finished reading contemporary poet A.M. Juster’s Wonder & Wrath (Paul Dry Books, 2020). The delightful collection ends with some translations (from Oromo, French, Middle Welsh, Latin, and Chinese) and two parodies, one of Billy Collins and the other of Bob Dylan.

The Dylan parody spoofs “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” just as “Weird Al” Yankovic did in “Bob” on 2003’s Poodle Hat.

Juster begins: “Olaf’s up in Stockholm slurpin’ down the Bordeaux.” In point of fact, Dylan’s preferred red wine during the period in which “Subterranean Homesick Blues” was written was, according to Clinton Heylin in The Double Life of Bod Dylan: A Restless, Hungry Feeling (1941-1966) (Little, Brown and Company, 2021), Beaujolais–about which, incidentally, The Alan Parsons Project has a song. But “Beaujolais” wouldn’t have worked metrically here, and in any case Juster is writing, I suppose, not about Dylan, but about the Germanically mysterious Olaf.

Speaking of meter, this kind of parody is not easy work. Dylan’s lyric is metrically irregular and variously complex, with rhymes built in in counterintuitive ways. To see how closely Juster nails it, compare his first stanza (which I’ve relined to match the lyric) to Dylan’s.

First, Dylan:

Johnny’s in the basement
Mixing up the medicine
I’m on the pavement
Thinking about the government
The man in the trench coat
Badge out, laid off
Says he’s got a bad cough
Wants to get it paid off
Look out kid
It’s somethin’ you did
God knows when
But you’re doin’ it again
You better duck down the alley way
Lookin’ for a new friend
The man in the coon-skin cap
By the big pen
Wants eleven dollar bills
You only got ten

Now, Juster:

Olaf’s up in Stockholm

Slurpin’ down the Bourdeaux

I’ve got a syndrome

Thinkin’ ’bout the styrofoam

The man with the medal,

Long name, long speech

Says don’t be outa reach,

Cancels me at Long Beach

Look out Swede,

There’s nothin’ I need

Gates knows when

But you’re textin’ me again

You better freak out at Wikileaks

Making up a new trend

The man with the Trump Now! tat

In his big den

Wants eleven million five,

But you only got ten

To read the rest, pick up a copy of Wonder & Wrath.

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