NOBODY KNOWS who wrote the first drinking song, but it’s a good bet that Zane Lamprey won’t write the last.
The booze hound/TV host is touring the country this fall in “Sing the Booze,” a musical-comedy performance that showcases his decidedly dirty, inebriated songs. (“Beer, I Love You” imagines actual copulation with a cold glass of beer. “Baby, You’re Beautiful When I’m Drunk” is a testament to the power of beer goggles. )
Now, it’s easy to write off Lamprey’s show, stumbling into Philly tonight, as simple, dopey frat-boy humor. I know a lot of serious beer geeks who cringe every time they see him getting sloshed on his drink-and-travel cable TV series, “Three Sheets” and “Drinking Made Easy. ” Even he laughingly acknowledges, “The more I drink, the better I sound. “
Three things, though:
First, the guy knows his beer. A few weeks ago, I caught him on “Last Call With Carson Daly,” explaining the historical background of Yards Brewing Co.’s Ales of the Revolution. The beers are based on old recipes from Franklin, Jefferson and Washington, he carefully explained, while he and Daly guzzled on air.
Second, part of beer is the buzz. As Lamprey told me in a telephone interview before a performance in Las Vegas late last month, “You have to walk a fine line. . . . It’s not just about guys going out and getting hammered. ” On the other hand, he added, “Learning about alcohol, wine or beer doesn’t have to be boring. “
Third, man has been drinking and singing forever – and I’m not just talking about “99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall. “
The oldest written drinking songs can be found in a 13th-century Latin text known as “Carmina Burana. ” The document contains scores of poems and songs that mock the church and praise debauchery.
One called “Mihi est Propositum” (described by one Latin scholar as “surely the greatest drinking song in the world”) declares:
My proposal is to die in the tavern Where the wine will be near my dying mouth.
Another song opens with the observation, In taberna quando sumus, non curamus quid sit humus, which means: “When we are in the tavern, we do not think how we go to dust. “
Centuries later, a German songwriter would echo the sentiment with the polka favorite “Im Himmel gibt’s kein Bier” (“In Heaven There Is No Beer”).
In his 1920 anthology, “A Tankard of Ale,” English historian Theodore Maynard wrote that the best drinking songs reflect “the simple seriousness of the genuine boozer. ” In one 16th-century song, he noted, revelers would rather spend for drink than clothes:
Back and side go bare, go bare!
Both foot and hand go cold!
But, belly, God send thee gold ale enough.
Whether it be new or old.
Maynard worried, though, that drinking songs would die with Prohibition. If teetotalers “have not altogether succeeded in putting down beer,” he wrote, ” . . . they have at least succeeded in throwing a blight over our songs. “
He needn’t have worried.
Drinking songs are alive and well in the 21st century, from Lamprey’s “Sing the Booze” to George Thorogood’s jukebox anthem, “One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer,” to “Margaritaville” on the karaoke machine, to the University of California Marching Band’s “California Drinking Song”:
And when the game is over,
We will buy a keg of booze And drink to California ’til we wobble in our shoes.
And if that’s not enough, let’s not forget the music to the beloved drinking song they teach kids from their very first day in school, “To Anacreon in Heaven. “
You probably know the tune better by its American title, “The Star-Spangled Banner. “
Lamprey’s “Sing the Booze” visits the Theatre of Living Art at 7:30 tonight (334 South St., $25, four-pack $75, 215-922-1011, www.livenation.com). Lamprey’s “Drinking Made Easy” airs at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday on HDNet.