The Making of Backroad Carnival, chapter 2: Picayune Baliverne

June 15, 2017


Picayune Baliverne. The title comes from two words I like a lot that could roughly translate as “Insignificant Nonsense”. I thought this was an amusing way to kick things off.
Here are the actual definitions.
Picayune: 1. adjective informal petty; worthless. 2. noun a small coin of little value, especially a 5-cent piece. 3. informal an insignificant person or thing. ORIGIN
early 19th century: from French picaillon, denoting a Piedmontese copper coin, also used to mean ‘cash,’ from Provençal picaioun, of unknown ultimate origin.

Baliverne: 1.− Fam. (gén. au plur.). Propos ou écrits futiles et souvent erronés. 2. Idées, croyances, coutumes, institutions, etc., sans grand fondement ou considérées comme telles. 3. Plus rarement. Action, comportement, occupation puérils ou stupides et sans grand intérêt.ÉTYMOL. ET HIST. − 1464 (Maistre Pierre Pathelin, éd. Richard T. Holbrook, 810 : Hé! quelz bailleurs de balivernes sont ce cy?). Orig. obsc.; peut-être déverbal de baliverner*, malgré un écart chronol. (Guir. Étymol., p. 13). Le rapprochement avec le prov. mod. baiuverno « étincelle », proposé par Schuchardt dans Z. rom. Philol., t. 28, p. 144, est peu vraisemblable, ce mot paraissant d’autre part récent et lui-même d’étymol. obsc. (v. REW3, 3226).

The title could be construed as a melding of Oscar Wilde’s “all art is useless” theme and Jonathan Franzen’s Richard Katz character who talks about how writing songs is like being in the “chiclet-manufacturing business“. But read into it how you like – there are no lyrics, and the song lasts less than 2 minutes. Perhaps I just liked the way the words roll off the tongue 🙂

The music was spawned while working on a bunch of instrumental music for Fabrice Macaux’s documentary on the UN bombing in Iraq in 2003, La Diplomatie du silence. A comical junkyard western ditty in 5/4 that channels Ennio Morricone and Tom Waits, it clearly was the odd man out vis-à-vis the rest of the music for the documentary. So I plucked it from that context and thrust it at the top of Backroad Carnival as a little introductory piece to set the scene for the oncoming madness.
It all flowed out of me fairly quickly – I recorded the guitars, bass, piano and banjo all in my little glasshouse studio in Addis Ababa last year over the course of a day. We then gave it a treatment at Tonehouse Studio, adding some dirty percussion/drums and shouts, and perfecting the mix before it made the cut and joined the rest of the Backroad Carnival team.

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