Laura Ruth Bidwell began her career as an artist with a painting major from the University of Akron and, after a career as a graphic designer in advertising, works on photography, video and on-demand book projects.
As an artist-in-residence at Zygote Press, she has created a body of work called “Mondegreen”. A mondegreen is a mis-hearing of words or phrases. The pieces made at Zygote reference a childhood mis-hearing of the lyrics to Eartha Kitt’s “C’est Si Bon”. The works also refer to the unreliability of memory.
One way a mondegreen is created is when a person incorrectly hears a song lyric and then substitutes words that sound similar and make some kind of sense. American writer Sylvia Wright coined the term in 1954, writing about how as a girl she had misheard the lyric “…and laid him on the green” in a Scottish ballad as “…and Lady Mondegreen”.
This also applies to memory. As time passes, we roll the recollection of events into a compact ball as details fall away and a hardened belief remains. Fictions become fact and the truth emerges from dreamlike details. In 1961, we moved to Detroit for one year. I was 7 years old. It was far enough away from comfort and filled with enough anxiety that I do not remember much about that time. What I do remember is a damp basement filled with toys that ultimately mildewed and a red portable record player.
I had moved on from dramatic readings of Jack and The Beanstalk and a 1941 version of A Christmas Carol when I discovered a 45rpm record of Eartha Kitt singing “C’est si Bon” in the record stack. The record sleeve had no photo but I knew immediately from the French lyrics and her eerie, idling voice that she stood for glamour. And adulthood. Once she started confiding in you about Cadillac cars, mink coats, and des bijoux the stars were there to reach for.
The mix of one slightly muffled speaker and baffling French lyrics combined to create a song that was still grand enough for swanning around in plastic high heels and castoff jewelry. I offer the following versions of C’est Si Bon – the original opening verses and the remnants my youthful version.
C’est si bon
De partir n’importe où
Bras dessus, bras dessous
En chantant des chansons
C’est si bon
De se dire des mots doux
De petits riens du tout
Mais qui en disent long
Say see bone
Ah bactine ah backtoo
Waddah choo waddah choo
Casey and Dee