Omnia dicta fortiora si dicta Latina.
For those whose one Latin class was miles away, like me, that means, roughly "Everything sounds more impressive in Latin."
Example: Gal ardentiaque mea est. Gal tui non doodly recumbo.
Translation: "My gal is red hot. Your gal ain't doodly squat."
Today's gal-challenge arrives from 1955, via Billy "The Kid" Emerson, cutting his composition "Red Hot" at a place in Memphis called Sun Records.
You might have heard of it.
You might not have heard of "The Kid," perhaps because he spent longer writing lyrics to "Red Hot" than he did concocting that nickname, but that's a shame, because it's an interesting tale for a mid-September day, while pondering if students can still sunburn at Crimson Tide games in late summer, now that Saban's Walls have risen high enough to be seen from miles around. In Ye Olden Days, aka when some of us reading this were still in school, Denny Stadium, not yet with The Bear attached, allowed in late afternoon sunlight until 5 or 6 before merciful shade rolled over. And who thinks of applying sunscreen in September, at a football game? Football = fall, right? Sweaters and coats and huddling up to stay warm?
So (later the Reverend) Emerson played piano in bands, joined the Army and served in World War II, then moved to Florida, where his playing led to the nickname, so OK, no fault of his own. Music must not have been all that lucrative, as he joined the U.S. Air Force in 1952; after discharge from that service he met a Memphis cat named Ike Turner, known for co-creating rock n' roll with his 1951 song "Rocket 88," and later on for being a pretty terrible person to the voice and legs attached to Tina.
Emerson joined Turner's Kings of Rhythm, and by 1954 had cut a record of his own, "No Teasing Around," for Sun. He hung around Sam Phillips' joint to write ditties such as "Every Woman I Know (Crazy 'Bout Automobiles)" and "When It Rains, It Really Pours."
Clearly this was a gentleman with statements.
But not hits, not for himself anyway, perhaps because of the times, as white groups covering his songs scored. Savvy producer Sam Phillips famously found Elvis Presley while looking for a handsome white man who could "sing like a black man." Emerson's songs got covered by Ry Cooder, Sam the Sham and the Pharoahs, Elvis himself, and many others, mostly white.
"Red Hot" scored as a hit for both Bob Luman and Billy Lee Riley and His Little Green Men (named after his earlier hit "Flyin' Saucers Rock 'n' Roll"), who also should have been better known, had Phillips not thrown full promotional weight behind a pianist named Jerry Lee Lewis, who had backed guitarist Riley on a couple of recordings. Riley returned the favor, adding guitar to Lewis' song "Great Balls of Fire."
Emerson's "Red Hot" — if you're not careful, skimming around the Internet, you'll see it noted as Riley's "Red Hot" — has been covered numerous times since 1955, by Link Wray, Robert Gordon, Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks (with the Band's Levon Helm on drums), Hank C. Burnette and really why aren't you and I covering it right now? Just look at this raw poetry:
"Well, she's the kinda woman who louds around/Spreadin' my business all over town but/My gal is red hot/Your gal ain't doodly squat/Yeah, my gal is red hot/Your gal ain't doodly squat/Well, she ain't got no money/But man, she's a-really got a lot."
Chuck Berry, who wrote "hurry-home drops on her cheek that trickled from her eye," would likely have been proud to claim "louds around."
With knowledge such as the above, one might score at trivia contests, a derivation of the English trivial, itself drawn from the Latin trivialis, meaning common, or found everywhere. Trivialis in turn grew from trivium, meaning the cross paths where three roads met, using the prefix tri- for three, attached to the noun via, meaning way or road. Crossroads, where everyone met, became the home of commonalities. Wherever we all go, there we all are.
Some 16th-17th century English playwright, who despite what conspiracy theories of Baconists and Marlovians huff did actually study Latin as a child back in Stratford, altered our common thinking about trivia in "All's Well That Ends Well": "Our rash faults/Make trivial price of serious things we have/Not knowing them until we know their grave." Also of note, perhaps trivial unless you're trying to perform this in non-original pronunciation: In Shakespeare's day, have and grave rhymed.
Thus we arrive at the sense of trivia as things less than valuable. But tell that to the filthy-rich creators of Trivial Pursuit, and the countless spinoff games played in bars and restaurants throughout these lands, occupying those nights when we're not rocking out to three-chord platitudes back-stomped by a cloud of dust, in the days before another jaunt at Bryant-Denny. It's only trivial if you actually already know it. When the answer eludes you, it's anything but. Mystery is not just a literary genre, but the preoccupation of the mind probably 80 percent of our days. Why? What? Who? Where can I? And of course whatnot.
Because: Omne ignotum pro magnifico.
Everything unknown is believed to be great.
Reach Tusk Editor Mark Hughes Cobb at email@example.com or 205-722-0201.