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“O Sting, Where is Thy Death?”: O Poet, Where is Thy Originality?

August 24, 2010 \am\31 12:35 am

I am a fan of the New Yorker and a longtime subscriber, but I was brought up short by David Musgrave’s poem from the August 30th issue, entitled “On the Inevitable Decline into Mediocrity of the Popular Musician Who Attains a Comfortable Middle Age,” the entirety of which appears in the subject line of this post.

Appropriation and originality in poetry and in fiction have been hot topics on this weblog of late. What are we to make of a poem that, setting aside the fact that Sting jokes were old hat before the Berlin Wall fell, consists entirely of a joke that was used as a headline in the Washington City Paper in 2007, the Guardian in 2006 and New York Magazine in 1999?

A Google Books search turns up earlier appearances of the joke in film reviews by Joe Queenan (1999) and Douglas Pratt (1992), and some online sources credit the quote to Queenan originally.

Photo: David Shankbone.

  1. Keith S. Wilson permalink
    August 24, 2010 \am\31 2:26 am 2:26 am

    I’m pretty uninformed about rock in general. Surprisingly so. So it comes as no surprise to me that I’ve never heard this joke.

    But seeing its appearance so many times in the past, I am left wondering the same thing as you. In what way is that poem worthy of publication in the New Yorker?

  2. August 25, 2010 \am\31 3:46 am 3:46 am

    To be completely fair, I think the humor here depends not only on the “punchline,” but the contrast of the length of the utterance in relation to the overly pedantic and verbose title. I’m sure that Muldoon was drawn to the humor of that contrast, and I, for one, can forgive both the poet and the editor for not being aware that the line had been used before. I’d give the poet the benefit of the doubt. If he thought it was an old joke, then he would have anticipated your protest, I’m sure. Although it does seem odd that no one — the poet included, apparently — thought to at least do a cursory google check on the phrase. In any case, it’s not a great poem, and it’s not meant to be — just something fun, I think. A lot like the single-panel comics the New Yorker has always been so inordinately fond of.

  3. Paul Ryall permalink
    September 11, 2010 \pm\30 6:47 pm 6:47 pm

    Joe Queenan’s line is- “Sting, where is thy death?” and dates back to 1992- however, the English band, “I, Ludicrous” had the complete line, “Oh Sting Where is thy death” from the following verse-
    “The girls all like him
    he looks like Sting
    but I despise him with all my being
    oh Sting where is thy death”
    The song from which the verse comes is, “When The Computer Engineer comes- written in 1991 and released in 1992 on the album Idiots Savants.
    The song is available on amazon as part of I, Ludicrous’s ’20 years in showbusiness’ compilation.

    Whatever- David Musgrave is clearly a plagiarist.

  4. Paul Ryall permalink
    September 11, 2010 \pm\30 6:49 pm 6:49 pm

    Correction, Joe Queenan- not David- completely different fellow.

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