Tom Paxton again, as anyone who was around for the folk revival very well knows.
Among the many things Dave Van Ronk taught me was the phrase “nostalgie de la boue,” which The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable defines roughly as follows:
nostalgie de la boue: a desire for degradation and depravity. The French phrase, meaning literally “nostalgia/longing for the mud,” was coined by the French poet and dramatist Émile Augier (1820–89), in Le Mariage d’Olympe. In response to the comment that a duck placed on a lake with swans will miss his pond and eventually return to it, the character Montrichard replies, “La nostalgie de la boue!”
Folksingers have a strong tendency towards nostalgie de la boue, as do more than a few musicians of other sorts, from jazz saxophonists to opera singers, not to mention painters and novelists. Van Ronk had his moments of it, God knows, but by the time I met him he was trying to stifle that particular propensity, replacing it with astonishing dinners, fine cigars, and the motto: “Nothing is too good for the working class.”
Be that as it may, “Bottle of Wine” is a fine example of nostalgie de la boue set to a catchy tune: the protagonist is panhandling, crashing in bug-infested flophouses, and hopping freight trains, due to his addiction to the bottle, and we all want to sing along. I learned this around age ten or eleven, but didn’t start singing it with any frequency until I went to France, where people kept requesting it. It had been a huge hit, as “Jolie Boutteille, Sacrée Bouteille,” for Graeme Allwright — and if you don’t know who Graeme Allwright is, you weren’t in France with an acoustic guitar in the 1970s.
It was also a pretty fair hit in the United States, for the Fireballs, a surf guitar band from Raton, New Mexico, who doubled as the Crickets on Buddy Holly’s posthumous releases. I had the pleasure of interviewing the Fireballs’ lead guitarist, George Tomsco, a couple of years ago but we were talking about New Mexico electric guitar classics — in particular, “Bulldog” — and this song didn’t come up.