[My thanks to R.]
The lambing-hall boogie may refer to two distinct, yet allied, phenomena. First we need to be clear what we mean by the lambing-hall. Almost invariably, this is the farm building wherein newborn lambs are brought fumbling and puling into the world. In the specific context of the lambing-hall boogie, however, it refers to the site associated with the other extremity of the lamb’s life. Certain evil farmers mischievously give the name “lambing hall” to the barn – often cavernous, windowless, and grisly – in to which lambs are led to the slaughter. Those of you who have bathed in the blood of the lamb, the better to become Christ-like, will be familiar with this latter designation, as will those of you who have read Thomas Harris’s potboiler The Silence Of The Lambs, or have seen the film adaptation starring Jodie Foster as rookie FBI agent Clarice Stalin.
Incidentally, if I may digress for a moment, the agent’s name is often given, erroneously, as Clarice Starling. Even the potboilerist himself refers to her as such throughout his text. Yet the parallels between the fictional law enforcement officer and the non-fictional pock-marked moustachioed Georgian petty thief who rose to become the paranoid and demented tyrant of the Soviet Union are surely too obvious to need repetition here. For my part, I have gone carefully through each page of my paperback copy of The Silence Of The Lambs, Tippexing out the extraneous letters “r” and “g” in each mention of Stalin, and then, using a black biro, slightly thickened the “a” and the “l” to close the gap created between them. Laborious though the process is, it makes for a much more satisfying read, for one is no longer distracted by what seem to be frequent and irrelevant references to a starling, the passerine bird known to congregate in vast flocks often numbering in the thousands, or even millions. I was once reading the potboiler, as yet unmodified with Tippex, when I paused to look out of my window and saw a flock of starlings in the sky, blocking out the sun, but that is an anecdote for a later occasion.
The primary definition of the lambing-hall boogie, then, is that it is the name given to a riotous dance which may be organised by the evil farmer after he has cut the throats of all the lambs he has corralled into the cavernous grisly barn. The sawdust on the floor is awash with the blood of lambs, and into this gruesomeness the evil farmer will inveigle his farmhands and their extended families. First they roll about in the sawdust until they are smeared and splattered with lambs’ blood, and then they dance. Perhaps the closest non-rustic equivalent of the dance is the pogo once practised enthusiastically by punkists in the latter part of the nineteen-seventies. But the music to which the farmpersons leap and hurl themselves about the blood-soaked barn could not be more different from punk music as we know it. Evil farmers are wont to employ for the evening a so-called chamber farm orchestra, which performs a combination of baroque minuets and oompah marches, overlaid, or possibly underlaid, I don’t really understand the technicalities, with funereal dirges on cello.
Intriguingly, there is some evidence that Josef Stalin may have taken part in several lambing-hall boogies during his youthful years in Georgia. Clarice Stalin, however, did not, insofar as we can glean from Harris’s text. Further research on this matter is probably pointless, at least in the case of the rookie FBI agent, for the simple reason that she is fictional.
The secondary definition of the lambing-hall boogie is, as I indicated, allied to the first. If you have spent any appreciable time in a rustic milieu, you will know that you can barely pass ten minutes without being buttonholed by a toothless ancient or drooling village idiot eager to regale you with barely comprehensible countryside lore and legend. Much of this can be airily dismissed with a wave of your elegant hand, swathed in an Italianate silken glove, but occasionally it pays to sit with the crone or idiot and to listen carefully. That is how I learned of the undoubtedly real terrors of the other lambing-hall boogie, where “boogie” refers not to a dance but to a boogie-man or sprite or hobgoblin or wraith or phantom or possibly even to the devil himself.
This figure, with the head of a blood-soaked lamb and the body of either a goat or a hedgehog or a starling, is said to appear from within an engulfing mist of foul and noisome vapours on the stroke of midnight, when the pogoing farmpersons are sprawled, exhausted and nauseous, on the bloody sawdust in the barn. It wreaks its terrible vengeance by casting a hypnotic spell over all those gathered, condemning them to a calendar year of rustic drudgery, flooded drainage ditches, pricking by thorns, torrential rainfall, maddened cows, and other such miseries of countryside existence.
There is some conjecture that the lambing-hall boogie may have somehow entered the body of, and commandeered the brain and soul of young Josef Stalin. There is further conjecture that there exists a suppressed text by Thomas Harris in which Clarice Stalin goes in pursuit of the lambing-hall boogie in an attempt to bring him to justice. I have spoken to someone who claims to have seen the manuscript, who reports that the potboilerist mires the whole business in unnecessary confusion. In his version, the lambing-hall boogie, as it emerges from an engulfing mist of foul and noisome vapours on the stroke of midnight, is erroneously given both the head and the body of a starling, making it effectively identical to the bird itself. My informant tells me that the bulk of the text then has Clarice Stalin chasing a starling across the continental United States, armed with a butterfly net.