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[FAQ] Lyrics for The Birthday Dirge

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Archive-name: music/birthday-dirge-faq
Posting-Frequency: monthly
Last-modified: 1997.10.13
Version: 1.03

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Table of Contents
   1. What is "The Birthday Dirge"?
   2. What are the lyrics?
   3. Where did it originate?
   4. Why?

1. What is "The Birthday Dirge"?
"The Birthday Dirge" is sung to the tune of "The Volga Boatmen".  If you
don't know the tune by name, you know it by sound.  It's the depressing
sounding Russian folk tune that nearly everyone has heard at one time
or another.  The resounding thud that follows each "Happy Birthday!" is
traditionally accompanied by a "HUHN"-like grunt.  The sort of groaning
grunt that workers lifting heavy loads might find natural.

2. What are the lyrics?
The Dirge is know know in various circles as "The Barbarian Birthday Song",
"The Viking Birthday Sang", "The SCA Birthday Dirge", etc.  Those lyrics
most common are listed first.  Variations and additional lyrics follow.
Feel free to pick and choose those verses that best suit the group you
are with and the person being serenaded.

                      THE BIRTHDAY DIRGE
                     tune: "Volga Boatmen"
          Happy Birthday! <thud!> Happy Birthday! <thud!>
     1.   Now you've aged another year
          Now you know that Death is near
          Happy Birthday! <thud!> Happy Birthday! <thud!>
          1a.   So you've aged another year
                Now you know that Death is near
     2.   Children dying far and near  
          They say that cancer's caused by bheer

	  2a.   Children dying everywhere
	        Women crying in despair
     3.   Death, destruction, and despair
          People dying everywhere
          3a.   Doom and gloom and dark despair
                People dying everywhere!
          3b.   Doom, destruction, and despair
                Grief and sorrow fill the air
          3c.   Doom, destruction, and despair
                People dying everywhere
          3d.   Death and gloom and black despair
                People dying everywhere
          3e.   Pain destruction and despair
                People dying everywhere
     4.   Typhoid, plague and polio
          Coffins lined up in a row
     5.   Now that you're the age you are
          Your demise cannot be far
          5a.   Now you are the age you are
                Your demise cannot be far
          5b.   When you've reached the age you are
                Your demise cannot be far
Other Common Verses:
     6.   Black Death has just struck your town
          You yourself feel quite run-down
          6a.   Pestilence has struck your town
                You yourself feel quite run-down
     7.   Birthdays come but once a year
          Marking time as Death draws near
     8.   Long ago your hair turned grey
          Now it's falling out, they say
          8a.   Soon your hair will all turn grey
                Then fall out (or so they say)
The Viking/Barbarian Verses:
     9.   Burn the castle and storm the keep
          Kill the women, but save the sheep
          9a.   Hear the women wail and weep
                Kill them all, but spare the sheep
          9b.   May the women wail and weep
                kill them all, but save the sheep
     10.  Burn, then rape by firelight
          Add _romance_ to life tonight
     11.  Indigestion's what you get
          From the enemies you 'et
     12.  May the candles on your cake
          Burn like cities in your wake.
          12a.  May the cities in your wake
                Burn like candles on your cake,
     13.  May the children in the street
          Be your barbequeing meat
          13a.  We love children, yes we do
                Baked or broiled or in a stew
     14.  May your deeds with sheep and yaks
          Equal those with sword and axe
          14a.  May your deeds with sword and axe
                Equal those with sheep and yaks
     15.  They stole your sword, your gold, your house
          Took your sheep but not your spouse
     16.  This one lesson you must learn
          First you pillage, then you burn
     17.  While you eat your birthday stew
          We will loot the town for you,
The SCA Verses:
     18.  We brought linen, white as cloud
          Now we'll sit and sew your shroud
     19.  You're a period cook, its true
          Ask the beetles in the stew
     20.  Your servants steal, your wife's untrue
          Your children plot to murder you
Other Verses:
     21.  Fear and gloom and darkness but
          No one found out you-know-what
          21a.  Just be glad the friends you've got
                Haven't found out you-know-what
     22.  I'm a leper, can't you see
          Have a birthday kiss from me
     23.  It's your birthday never fear
          You'll be dead this time next year
     24.  Now another year has passed
          Don't look now they're gaining fast!
          24a.  So far Death you have bypassed
                Don't look back, he's gaining fast
     25.  Now you've lived another year
          Age to you is like stale beer
     26.  Now your jail-bait days are done
          Let's go out and have some fun
     27.  See the wrinkles on your face
          Like the pattern of fine lace
     28.  Were I sitting in your shoes
          I'd go out and sing the blues
     29.  So you're 29 again
          Don't tell lies to your good friend
          29a.  Tho you're turning 29
                Age to you is like fine wine
     30.  You must marry very soon
          Baby's due the next full moon
     31.  When you've reached this age you know
          That the mind is first to go

3. Where did it originate?
The origins are shrouded in mystery.  My first exposure to it was around
1983 or 1984.  I've heard various forms of the tune performed by various
organizations (e.g. SF fandom, SCA).  This threatens to remain one of
those unanswerable frequently asked questions.

4. Why?
After several sessions of trying to remember what the lyrics were, I
decided to start writing them down.  Then I began to see other versions
on various newsgroups.  Collecting and grouping the verses has become one
of my hobbies.  After enough people asked for copies, I decided to start
posting the collection.

---- --- -- - -  -   -    -     -      -       -        -         -          -
This compilation is Copyright 1997 by B. Gabriel Helou (
If you forward, repost, or print this message, please include this notice.

User Contributions:

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Tom Lawson
Dec 9, 2021 @ 3:15 pm
The first time I heard the first verse was in 1965 at Valley College in San Bernardino, CA

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