“A Roundabout Quest for Gathering the Meaning behind Ted Leo’s ‘Tell Balgeary, Balgury is Dead’”

I think it’s safe to say that, from releasing the Tell Balgeary, Balgury is Dead EP in subsequence to the album from which this titled track originally culls, Hearts of Oak, Leo might have been attempting to draw critical attention to what the title means, also points to. Actually Rob Mitchum cited the strange release (typically the EP precedes the album eventually furnishing of overlapping songs) hilariously for pitchfork: that it was “timed to remind all us crits to remember Hearts of Oak for our year-end lists” [1], but he might have been overlooking some general dullness in absorbing the album’s meaning on the part of the populace. Part of why this is tragic of course is that you’d think pitchfork would pride itself on honing these especially nerdy, readerly facets of music criticism; but then, let’s be honest, the whole thing is a tall task and from what I understand those individuals had to review a lot of albums.
Famously, at least it’s famous in my own mind, pitchfork allotted The Tyranny of Distance as Leo’s best album ORIGINALLY, for contemporaneous reviews and YEAR-end lists, only to retract that distinction and hail its 2003 predecessor Hearts of Oak as Leo’s defining statement, for purposes of their “The Top 200 Albums of the 2000s.” Considering that they mention Leo’s former band Chisel in like every other sentence when talking about him, it’s surprising that they took so long to discover the superiority of Leo’s “punkier” effort: but that’s exactly what Hearts of Oak is, addition by subtraction, the victory of guts over talent. Also, it wields the advantage of increased personal experience, as “The Ballad of the Sin Eater” is a travelogue of an experience in Europe. In addition, the album follows 9/11 (though barely preceding the war, which would be a topic handled on later effort Shake the Sheets). Although I have no idea what that means. But I’m sure it means something.
Well, “Tell Balgeary, Balgury is Dead” originally comes on Hearts of Oak, and I dunno ‘bout you but I am STARVING for a new Ted Leo album, so I figured the next best thing I could do would be to blab about him for a while on my ol’ tired-format music crit site. Interestingly, I looked up “Balgeary” on wikipedia, treating said entity like an actual hard-copy “encyclopedia” from the early ‘90s which we all know can be a hazardous endeavor, and the first result I got was actually Ted Leo’s “Tell Balgeary, Balgury is Dead,” not the song but the EP which later came out which, as I allude to earlier, people should care about for primarily the fact of its implying artist critique of “critic” critique (the latter having apparently perilously ignored its topic matter). Even the second result on this top-secret wiki search was a Leo song, “The Sword in the Stone” (Christ what a dorky title). Hmmph. Well if wikipedia can’t help me in life I think I’m doomed, as they say in bloggerland. Again, disappointingly, pitchfork in their reviews makes no mention of the importance of the meaning of, let alone actually parsing the meaning of, the title “Tell Balgeary, Balgury is Dead.” Maybe I’ll try google mapping this da**ed hullabaloo.
Examining the lyrics themselves of the song is indeed ungratifying toward this EXACT endeavor of figuring out its meaning, although verbally it is a fairly fulfilling enterprise, ranging from immediate and abstract as it does to distant and fictitious (“There’s no end in sight to this darkening night / And that’s a sad fact”; “If you’ll only meet me wearing a red flower in your hair / In the graveyard at Inchigeela / In black clothing I’ll be there”. Ooh, I dunno about you but graveyards really weird me out. I’m getting less and less curious about this MEANING thing as the moments go by. Eh, I’m’a try googling this “Inchigeela” thing see what I can’t turn up with. It’s a municipality in County Cork, Ireland. Looks like a lot of really green grass and stone, to the unseasoned or un-spiritualized American (like me, for instance). Oh, and it’s actually spelled “Inchigeelagh.”
I mean, there is something beating me over the head regarding this whole effort of parsing the meaning of this song (other than of course the simple fact that I’m using myriad grammatical faux-pas’ and hazard of vernacular): which is that the meaning obviously isn’t MEANT to be derived, it’s more like found art, or rather art with the express PURPOSE of something that, if located without the help of the song itself, would obviously be assembled in presentation as found, not originally derived with artistic meaning. What this obviates for the artist’s mind I suppose is a lack of extant exotic in indie rock, or in mainstream culture itself — but this is also a complex issue seeing as this was just an incredible feat these artists were attempting in somehow harkening to Big Star and the Buzzcocks while creating nascent punk to satiate our constitutions while also remaining professional and careful in doing so, even in light of the moral nadir of mainstream rock (Bloodhound Gang, Nelly et. al.) One thing is for sure: as good as The Brutalist Bricks was (it really is underrated, not least for its penchant for artistically conversing with, and so even putting itself on the same qualitative plane as, Hearts of Oak for the former’s “Bottled in Cork,” sequel of sorts to “The Ballad of the Sin Eater”), it’s impossible not to see this 2003 caterwaul of punk greatness as what is still Leo’s defining statement. “Tell Balgeary, Balgury is Dead,” as it turns out, represents a particular instance of MUSCLE within the album — which it has to, because it both follows and precedes songs which are almost exactly like it (much of the album either slows down, goes without percussion, or both, or lightens the guitars). This lack of stylistic variation, also, probably denotes originally on the part of the artist the effort to draw attention to lyrics. And it did. But it’s circular reasoning, because wiki searches just end up back in Leo’s lap. Just more tyrannical hegemonic ploys on the part of musical megastars, I guess.
Addenda: Finally discovering the meaning on wikipedia (which I hadn’t originally thought to do).
I noticed upon second glance that the wikipedia blurb for Tell Balgeary, Balgury is Dead (EP) does offer a scant explanation of its meaning: that “the lyrics of the title track are a reference to an Irish version of an old folk story called ‘The King of the Cats.’” It provides this information with no citation and no actual explanation or establishment of the connection. I guess this would, though, explain the illustration of the two small felines on the EP’s cover and although this whole thing does little to tie in symbolism dealing with important political matters. It just threw me off that wikipedia would actually provide this objective commentary on something which is theoretically subjective: the exact discourse inspiring the creation of a song, just going to show that I need to constantly imbibe as spectral a combination of information sources as possible. The reason why the searches for “Balgeary,” et. al. were futile in leading to any titular significance is that the “name” one allots for such a thing is arbitrary: the whole “King of the Cats” tradition is based on the activity of “saying to tell someone (often an odd name, presumably unknown to the character) that someone else (normally a similarly odd name) has died, though other versions simply have the traveller see a group of cats holding a royal funeral. He reaches his destination and recounts what happened, when suddenly the housecat cries something like ‘Then I am the king of the cats!’, rushes up the chimney or out of the door, and is never seen again.” [2] Whoo! Leo threw me for a loop here, haha. I’d never expected the title to be this playful: it just shows you how thoroughly the artist had indeed internalized the norms of other countries on his trip to Europe, only to, as we see, be so painfully ostracized.
[1] http://pitchfork.com/reviews/albums/4740-tell-balgeary-balgury-is-dead-ep/.
[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_King_of_the_Cats.

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