Thursday, February 5, 2009

Adventures in amateur Egyptology (and my best friend's girl)

Yesterday I started a new praise series devoted to Heidi Dean on the Poetry Scores blog. I want to elaborate her many and beautiful contributions to our collective projects over the years, as an excuse to point people to her new blog, Married to the Masala.

I started with some notes on an ancient Egyptian hymn to Hathor that I scored (in English translation, of course) with the band Three Fried Men, when Heidi was the main vocalist in that band. That is, I sang the leads, but she was the singer people actually came to hear.

It occurred to me, as I was putting together those notes, that I must have had a thing for Hathor, once upon a time. One of the first songs I wrote alone on guitar for my previous band, Eleanor Roosevelt, was a setting of another hymn to the cow-headed goddess of fertility and beer, "O Hathor".

As I was Googling fragments of the lyrics, hoping to find the source I had used, I hit upon an essay by a bloke named David Whitwell that pointed to a much-thumbed and now out-of-print book in my collection, Music and Musicians in Ancient Egypt by Lise Manniche. I think she is responsible for the English translation of these hieroglyphics from the Tomb of Nebamun (whomever old Nebamun might have been) at Thebes.

The beauty of your face shines, you appear, you come in peace
One gets drunk by looking at you,
You who are as beautiful as gold, O Hathor
May I be given a fresh mouth with the water you have provided.
Those are grand love lyrics. I'll toot my own horn enough to enjoy the way I played with that last line, turning it into ...

May I be given a fresh mouth
To drink the water you provided me.

Not often I'll take anything of mine over the ancients, but I prefer the tweak.

As for the other lines in the song that dont appear in this hymn - "dance like the planets in the sky" - I'm sure they are adaptations of other amateur readings in Egyptology, which I was all about at the time (in the mid-'90s).

As for the Hathor thing, it must have helped (or hurt) that there was a girl named Heather in my life at the time whom I loved very much, but I couldn't have her, her having been my best friend's girl.

Yeah ... yeah. She was as beautiful as gold.

Free mp3
"O Hathor"
(Chris King)
Eleanor Roosevelt)

We recorded this song for Crumbling in the Rain but then left it off the record, so this is an unreleased rarity.


The image is a detail of the tomb painting where these hieroglyphics were inscribed, now British Museum 37984," Lise notes, leading me to the thing.

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