Sunday, 24 April 2011
Sunday music is... Tamás Cseh, I was born in Hungary
Tamás Cheh (1943-2009)
For L and G, dear friends in Hungary. There is a little anecdote before the song starts
Antoine and Désiré sit down in the great hall at the Eastern terminal at a table near an old drunk with a glass in his hand. There's a singer singing an ancient old tango on a raised stage and Antoine leans over and says to Désiré, See how much they drink, these old guys. Let's see if we can have some fun at the older generation's expense, and in the same movement he pushes the old guy and says to him, Don't you think it's a bit much, always sitting here and getting drunk? How old are you? Two hundred? Isn't it a bit much, surviving everything? Antoine briefly parodies the clichés of old men who boast of living through wars and are full of racy stories.
The old man grins back then the song begins, which is about being born in Hungary, and being seventy-seven, growing confused between how many measures of drinks he has put down and how many political regimes he has survived. He has in fact lived through two wars. He sings of having left thirty-nine women and of being left by the same number. He talks of sheltering and of eating horse-flesh and yet surviving. There is, he sings, an alarm clock in is head and that at he was indeed a soldier though his legs are ruined. He tells how his son has turned out a neurotic, unable to bear the many changes, and when he looks at his grandson he reckons hims a weakling. How could they be survivors? he wonders. He questions whether anyone will speak Hungarian at all in a hundred years time. And when I look at you two (he sings) you don't look too hard either. One puff of wind will blow you away. And what will become of you then? He returns to the alarm clock theme and stresses that though he was once a soldier, and though his legs have gone, he survives and stands before them now.
The anecdote concludes with the old man getting up and leaving.
So, what to make of this? Cheh was enormously popular, Hungary's singing bard, full of charm, dry wit, melancholy, lyrical grace, and wry observation. The old man, who is the subject of this song, may be a little drunk and sententious, but there is enough self-deprecation and wit in Cseh's performance to defuse the subject's potential self-pity. After all, the times have, as he says, made him hard rather than soft, unlike the younger generations. And real history is the platform he stands on.
I will find more Cseh at some time. I haven't the time to render the song lyrics as verse. I think Cseh represents the better, more admirable aspect of Hungary - and I don't think that aspect is gone. A little in abeyance for now.