Musical Advice from 1900: Don’t Be a Gold Digger

1 May

Now that I’m graduating from college, I’ve gotten some joking (I hope) comments from friends and family that I’m going to grad school far, far away on the East coast in order to find some rich WASP-y law student to marry.  Because that’s why people get PhDs.  Seven years hunched over books in a library carrel just screams “Marry me!”

Anyway, all this reminds me of my favorite Victorian-era sentimental ballad: “A Bird in a Gilded Cage.”  Like virtually all 19th/early-20th century tear-jerkers, it features a beautiful woman dying of despair because she gets trapped in a bad relationship (in this case, she’s a gold digger who marries an old guy for his money).

I know we tend to think of “the olden days” as a time when women necessarily married for money and then pined away for love all the rest of their days, but in the 19th century ideas of romantic love and “companionate marriage” were superseding the old patriarchal model of arranged, economic marriages.  This was the golden age of all things sentimental.  I can’t listen to this song without laughing, but if I were a Victorian lady, I’d probably be bawling my eyes out.

So here it is:

Bonus Story!  The day I defended my thesis (a couple weeks ago) I called up my elder sister Kate the Lostie and sang this song into her voicemail. Later I sang it into a webcam for my bemused family (and they’re the only ones who will ever, ever see it).  Apparently after doing some Wikipedia-ing, her response was thus:

“According to Von Tilzer, he was approached in 1899 by Lamb with the lyrics for a song. Although Von Tilzer liked it, he asked Lamb to change some of the words to make it clear that the woman in the song was married and not a mistress. Later that evening, as he worked out a melody at a piano in a public house with some friends, he noticed that many of the girls nearby were crying, which convinced him the song could be a hit.”

haha maybe they were crying bc they could relate

Insightful and eloquent as always, my sister.

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