Seven Deadly Bardic Sins – Part 5

by brendanthebard

5. Inappropriateness

The Clue Bus.  Is it in your neighborhood?  Would you recognize it?  Can you haul your sorry, soggy self  on board (see “Another Aside” in #3)?  You might need to.

I have shut down a performer exactly ONCE.
Some years ago I hosted a bardic circle at a big event.  The format was “Who’s next?” and  the mood of the moment was very much the most noble aspects of the Society.  We were celebrating those things that set the SCA apart from other social groups, and it was way too early for rowdy and bawdy.

And then some fellow seemingly well into his cups lit into a piece called, “The Night of the King’s Castration” (It may have been the only thing he knew – see above.)

If you’ve been fortunate enough to have never heard this thing, it’s a double-plus-awful poem (in “dogtrot” meter no less) stuffed with really bad, very obscene puns.  Now, I like puns.  I like facepalmingly-bad puns.  I appreciate well-done double-entendres.  I even appreciate kennings (so long as they’re not so obscure that I don’t get them.)

IOW, I’m a big fan of clever wordplay. But gutter-ball-just-flat-out-vulgar, not so much.  And this poor clueless sot went there.  I stopped him.  Cut him off.  Shut him down, HARD.  “My lord, excuse me, but NO.”  I have no regrets about that. Never have.

More recently, a fellow (also rather deep in his cups) performed a piece that was clearly not appropriate for children, *after* performers had been reminded that A) it was still relatively early in the evening and B) children were in fact present.  People were clearly discomfited.  Why didn’t i step up and stop him?   A) It wasn’t my circle and B) the story appeared to be sailing over the heads of the children present (I could see their faces, and they seemed attentive but uncomprehending, their faces blank.  The story featured phrases such as “covered in whale spooge” rather than blatant Anglo-Saxonisms.)

I was up after him, and so I did something deliberately kid-friendly, taking pains to draw the children in with eye contact, body language, etc..  My intent was to provide some brain-bleach to counter the content to which they’d just been exposed.

“Why all this eagerness to shut down performers you don’t like, Brendan?  Who appointed you as Moral Arbiter of Bardic Circles?”  A fair question.  It’s simple:  I’m a parent.  Next question?  Now then, when there are no kids around (and the venue is right, e.g. the Knotty Dragon tavern at Northern Oaken War Maneuvers), I’ll happily belt out “The Lusty Young Smith” and invite the audience to jingle-bang along.

Performing something that’s glaringly bawdy when children are present is probably the most egregious example of this Bardic Deadly Sin.  (An aside – while “Bardic Deadly Sins” is mostly a convenient construct for discussing unforced errors, this one has the potential to be REALLY bad.  Imagine a newcomer, having been assured that the SCA is “family friendly,” bringing her 13 yo daughter to a circle where someone launches into the The Moose Song.  Think they’ll come back?)

But there are other ways to be inappropriate.

Throwing something silly and light into a mood that’s heroic and epic will get you the stink-eye.  Likewise, injecting a tragic piece into a raucous party will certainly earn you no friends.  And piling sad upon on sad can be bad as well.  (As Master Owen Alun puts it, “Going from ‘ose’ to ‘more-ose’.”)  Two “Calontiri love songs” in a row is okay.  Three is too much.

The lesson here is that it’s A Good Thing to have some depth to your repertoire.  (See previous post.)

An experienced bard can sense the mood of the venue and go with the flow, understanding that sometimes a change in direction is exactly what’s needed.  There is no science to this, no formula.  It takes experience and judgement.  I can offer no advice other than to go to a lot of bardic circles and observe.  As Yogi Berra said, “You can observe a lot just by watching.”

Someone once asked Andrew Carnegie (one of the most successful businessmen of the 20th century) how he learned to make good decisions.  “Experience,” he replied.  “But how do you get experience?” the questioner persisted.  Carnegie replied, “You get experience by making bad decisions.”

Bad decisions.  I’m a private pilot (and you thought the SCA was an expensive hobby….)  Bad decisions in *that* arena can make you – and others – very seriously dead.  So pilots tend to be avid readers of accident reports.  Not because we’re morbid, but because we Really Don’t Want To Be That Guy.  The guy who ran out of fuel over the mountains for lack of planning.  Who tried to take off from a too-short runway, or in an overloaded plane.  Who skipped the preflight inspection and missed the loose nut on a control surface.

No one’s gonna die if you sing the Moose Song to preschoolers.  But poor decisions have consequences nonetheless, which is why I’m writing this series.

As I said up front, I’ve been That Guy.

Read.  Learn.  Be better than me.