Bottle of Wine (nostalgie de la boue)

Tom Paxton again, as anyone who was around for the folk revival very well knows.

dave-&-tomAmong 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 Graeme AllwrightI 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.