Bobby Short: Lydia the Tattooed Lady

After watching “The Fisher King” recently, I’ve gotten the song “Lydia the Tattooed Lady” stuck in my head. I’ll admit, it’s an odd one. A small step up from having Sea Shanties stuck in my head, perhaps.

While Groucho Marx’s version is the better known, I was drawn to this version by Bobby Short.

You can learn a lot from Lydia
She can give you a view of the world
In tattoo if you step up and tell her where
For a dime you can see Kankakee or Paree
Or Washington crossing the Delaware

I think at the heart of things, I’m still remembering Robin Williams’ version of the song, from the movie. And that little diner scene, when he starts singing. The playful comedy at the start, transitioning into a very touching moment. Even with Short’s version, it’s Williams version I am imagining.

Small bit of trivia: in the original song the lyrics are: “When her muscles start relaxin’ / Up the hill comes Andrew Jackson.” But in the movie, Williams decides to change up the line to be: “When her muscles start relaxin’ / Up the hill comes Michael Jackson.”

I’m also reminded a lot of one of my favorite short stories: “It’s Bad Luck to Die,” by Elizabeth McCracken. You can read the opening here, when the story first appeared in Michigan Quarterly Review.

Related:
The Fisher King
Openings: A Collection of First Lines from Everything (Books, Movies, Poems)

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