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Folklore: Meaning of Flower Lady (Phil Ochs)

27 Oct 09 - 04:48 PM (#2753873)
Subject: Folklore: Meaning of Flower Lady
From: Arkie

Phil Ochs is mentioned with some frequency here and the lyrics to The Flower Lady are in the DT. Is there some significance to the imagery of the flower lady? Any suggestions as to the meaning of the song.

Flower Lady
(Phil Ochs)

Millionaires and paupers walk the hungry street
Rich and poor companions of the restless feet.
Strangers in a foreign land
Strike a match with a trembling hand
Learned too much to ever understand.
But nobody's buying flowers from the flower lady.

Lovers quarrel, snarl away their happiness,
Kisses crumble in a web of lonliness.
It's written by the poison pen, voices break before they bend
The door is slammed, it's over once again.
But nobody's buying flowers from the flower lady.

Poets agonize, they cannot find the words.
The stone stares at the sculptor, asks are you absurd?
The painter paints his brushes black, through the canvas runs a crack
The portrait of the pain never answers back.
But nobody's buying flowers from the flower lady.

Soldiers disillusioned come home from the war.
Sarcastic students tell them not to fight no more;
And they argue through the night
Black is black, and white is white,
Walk away both knowing they are right.
Still nobody's buying flowers from the flower lady.

Smoke dreams of escaping soul are drifting by.
Dull the pain of living as they slowly die.
Smiles change into a sneer, washed away by whiskey tears.
In the quicksand of their minds they disappear.
But nobody's buying flowers from the flower lady.

Feeble aged people almost to their knees
Complain about the present using memories.
Never found their pot of gold, wrinked hands pound weary holes.
Each line screams out you're old, you're old, you're old.
But nobody's buying flowers from the flower lady.

And the flower lady hobbles home without a sale.
Tattered shreds of petals leave a fading trail.
Not a pause to hold a rose, even she no longer knows.
The lamp goes out, the evening now is closed.
And nobody's buying flowers from the flower lady.


27 Oct 09 - 05:35 PM (#2753914)
Subject: RE: Folklore: Meaning of Flower Lady
From: GUEST,Gerry

It means we're too wrapped up in our own problems to help those who need our help.


27 Oct 09 - 05:43 PM (#2753923)
Subject: RE: Folklore: Meaning of Flower Lady
From: Amos

Gerry nailed it--a paean against self-absorption.


A


27 Oct 09 - 06:17 PM (#2753942)
Subject: RE: Folklore: Meaning of Flower Lady
From: Mark Ross

Actually, her name was Mary and she would make her way from bar to bar in Greenwich Village in the '60's & '70's when I was there. Dave Van Ronk saidthat he saw her getting into Cadillac with Jersey plates one night on an out of the way side street.


Mark Ross


27 Oct 09 - 06:22 PM (#2753947)
Subject: RE: Folklore: Meaning of Flower Lady
From: McGrath of Harlow

Also, surely, that we get so taken up by our troubles and other stuff that we don't notice beautiful things that might be in our reach.


27 Oct 09 - 07:16 PM (#2753985)
Subject: RE: Folklore: Meaning of Flower Lady
From: semi-submersible

Selling bouquets was (is?) an unskilled trade not requiring heavy labour or large investment. For centuries, I understand country folk would walk or hitch rides into towns, carrying fresh posies of wild or cultivated flowers. Depending on the time they had to spend and profit they expected, they could either peddle the nosegays on the street or wholesale them to city dwellers who would do the same. Because the flowers were so perishable the small profits would be chancy and labour-intensive. It's hard to imagine any but the poorest of people spending their days in this trade. The famous fictional character Eliza Doolittle when she gets the chance aims to sell flowers from a shop instead.

Q recently posted a similar tear-jerker from about 1800 about a flower lady, with the chorus:

With afflicted heart I dejected cry,
Come buy my violets, who'll buy, who'll buy.

In both songs, the passersby seem to be expected to buy flowers out of charity: not because the posy is worth their penny, but because the seller needs financial help. Yet the flower girl offers a token in return instead of merely begging. Though poor and needy, she retains some dignity.

I think both songs imply that the purchase of a little bunch of flowers enacts a deeply symbolic contact between wealth and want, resources exchanged for gratitude, to mutual satisfaction. Do seller's need and buyer's relative wealth draw a class barrier between them, or do they two for an instant meet as human beings?


28 Oct 09 - 07:58 PM (#2754461)
Subject: RE: Folklore: Meaning of Flower Lady (Phil Ochs)
From: Arkie

Thanks to all for the comments. They are helpful in finding some meaning to the lyrics. It is possible that no meaning was intended but Ochs was a poet and he did usually have something to say. I have been curious about the possibility of the flower lady or flowers representing a symbol of sorts. In some ancient wisdom literature, the rosebush has suggested wisdom. The flower has also been used to represent beauty as well as Spring and rebirth or even love. I read somewhere that in the Middle Ages the rosegarden was used to represent human love. I also read something about the rose representing spirituality in some writings from the Middle Ages. The rose also came to be associated with Mary the mother of Jesus and with Jesus, himself at some point in the Middle Ages. My reading in this area is sketchy at best and my memory is not all that reliable.

The stark contrast between the content of the verses and the last line suggest to me that Ochs had something in mind. And I could believe he was inspired by someone he knew in Greenwich Vilage.


28 Oct 09 - 09:28 PM (#2754537)
Subject: RE: Folklore: Meaning of Flower Lady (Phil Ochs)
From: Jack Campin

One very well-known 19th century song on the theme was "Won't You Buy My Pretty Flowers?" - look on the EFDSS's Folkopedia for the details.

A few years after Ochs's song, the Moonies moved in on the flower-selling business. They were plaguing restaurants in Pittsburgh when I was there in the mid-1970s and the Pittsburgh photo collection Azizi linked to recently shows a guy selling what looks very like the same sort of flowers as they did, presumably very recently. They must have driven local poor people who were doing it even deeper into destitution.


28 May 16 - 09:18 PM (#3792699)
Subject: RE: Folklore: Meaning of Flower Lady (Phil Ochs)
From: GUEST,Paul Stamler

The one time I heard Ochs sing "Flower Lady" in concert (in about 1968) he introduced it by saying, "President Johnson should be impeached...not for Viet Nam, but for the way he and the war have coarsened the society." Then he sang the song.


29 May 16 - 08:28 AM (#3792719)
Subject: RE: Folklore: Meaning of Flower Lady (Phil Ochs)
From: mkebenn

As an admitted word wonk I am ashamed to admit that I've let this song drift serenely through me mind without really listening to it! Forgive me, mr Ochs. I somehow suspect that the bearley solvent would make her best customers. Mike


22 Mar 18 - 12:08 AM (#3912392)
Subject: RE: Folklore: Meaning of Flower Lady (Phil Ochs)
From: GUEST

I have heard it somewhere that the Flower Lady is LBJ.