why is it that were always told not to get tattoos at a young age because we “will regret it later on” when we are basically told to choose a career path by age 18? i’d rather be 40 years old with a tattoo that meant something to me when i was young than be 40 years old not wanting to get out of bed to go to a job that i hate because i was forced to decide on a career in my teens
While this is decidedly a modern version, this song has its roots in a murder ballad at least as old as the 1600s. Literally dozens of variants of this ballad exist under various and sundry names, such as “The Twa Sisters,” “Cruel Sister,” “Minnorie,” “Binnorie,” “The Wind and the Rain,” “The Bonny Swans,” and even more. Check some of the variant lyrics here.
Throughout the different versions, what remains constant is that two sisters walk along a body of water, and the older pushes the younger in, who drowns. The details and motives vary; usually it is jealousy, sometimes out of vanity—i.e., the dark-haired older sister is jealous of the younger’s golden hair—but often is is sexual jealousy, as the two sisters compete for the hand of a certain gentleman.
The Bird version of the ballad follows the more supernatural (and thus more appealing to me, of course) version of events: the sister’s bones wash up on shore and are—obviously—made into a musical instrument, which, when played, decries the sister’s murder rather than kicking out sweet jams.
Alternate versions do not feature a haunted instrument (boooo), but instead end with someone finding the body, taking some stuff (i.e., jewelry) from the corpse, and ultimately getting hanged while the murderous sister gets away scot free. The Tom Waits rendition of the song presents such a version. Check it out to hear how different it is lyrically from the Bird version while still being linked thematically.
(Don’t worry; there are also versions where the older sister is boiled in lead.)
Dozens of recorded versions of this song exist in dozens of different languages. Putting it on your Halloween party playlist adds some pedigree you just can’t get from “Dragula,” you know?