Category Archives: Broadway

The Perfume of a Rose

“The Factory” (listen below!) is a strange song. There, I said it, so you don’t have to. Perhaps its strangeness comes from the fact that it was inspired, in equal parts, by (1) an abandoned brick factory, (2) the song “Sixteen Tons,” (3) the Romantic poet Lord Byron, and (4) the musical Hadestown.

brick factory

Why an abandoned brick factory?

Ruins are hauntingly cool.

Last November, I saw a photo of an old brick factory located in the Hudson River Valley of New York. At the end of the 19th century, this region was the largest brick manufacturer in the world. In the photo, the factory’s front wall (made of brick, naturally) was overgrown by trees, plants, and vines. It had no idea it was about to become a metaphor in a strange song.

Merle Travis

Why the song “Sixteen Tons”?

It’s gritty and refers to arduous manual labor.

When I thought about the back-breaking business of brickmaking, Merle Travis’s 1947 folk classic about a coal miner came to mind. I was familiar with a modern cover of the song, which appears in the opening credits of one of my favorite movies, Joe Versus the Volcano. I wrote my song to the melody of “Sixteen Tons,” interjecting my own melody later.

Lord Byron

Why the Romantic poet Lord Byron?

I was an English major.

In the song’s third verse, “Way back in eighty-eight” refers to 1788, the year in which Lord Byron was born—not to the ’88 in which padded-shoulder power suits were popular.


Why the musical Hadestown?

It depicts the underworld as a machine shop.

As the mood for “The Factory” developed, I thought, “Why does this feel familiar?” I realized my supremely unique creation was reminiscent of Hadestown, the Tony-winning musical that retells two Greek myths related to the underworld. The orchestra in the Broadway production I saw several years ago had included seven musicians, playing piano, violin, cello, guitar, trombone, glockenspiel, double bass, and percussion. So, that’s exactly the instrumentation you will find in “The Factory”—with the addition of regular old bass guitar.

What? No Shakespeare?

“The Factory” contains references to The Merchant of Venice, Much Ado about Nothing, and Julius Caesar.

What? No sound effects?

“The Factory” contains four sound effects, from

The Factory


“The Factory”



An abandoned brick factory, “Sixteen Tons,” Lord Byron, Hadestown

A minor

What I imagine a brick might say:

  • “I can guarantee you not one brick was consulted in the making of this song.”
  • “The ‘bricky’ sound effects in the bridge are just insulting.”
  • “I resent the use of bricks as a metaphor. Much prefer a nice brick fireplace. Or even mailbox stand.”
  • “‘Pile of bricks’? Pile of s#*t.”


The way you double-cross me got me tied up in knots
Your mama was a leopard, get a look at those spots
You never did a thing—but to bring me pain
Your mercy don’t come like a summer rain

There’s a pile of bricks (oh) this side of your heart
Pump them out just to keep us apart
Ain’t glad to report from what I can see
It’s business as usual at the factory

You squeezed my little fingers as you planted your horns
The perfume of a rose though you were only the thorns
You judge me guilty of—keeping love from you
And, oh, did your maker forsake you, too?

There’s a pile of bricks (oh) this side of your heart
Pump them out just to keep us apart
Ain’t glad to report from what I can see
It’s business as usual at the factory

It’s like talking to a wall
Will it take a ton of bricks to fall?
Are you hearing me at all?

Way back in eighty-eight the Fates made merry your birth
A wanderlust would carry you all over God’s earth
Before you wore a beard you got yourself some fame
But mine’s the rhyme that got you to a household name
A Hero and a Brutus—got to look the same
Cuz, Lord, I’m Judas in your book of blame

There’s a pile of bricks (oh) this side of your heart
Pump them out just to keep us apart
Ain’t glad to report from what I can see
It’s business as usual—

There’s a pile of dust (oh) that used to be bricks
Wonder how you’re gonna get your kicks
I’m sad to report from where I can see
Ain’t nothing no more of your factory

Yes! We Have No Banana’s*

*Superfluous apostrophe intentional—please, no angry letters.

A recording of the Broadway revue tune “Yes! We Have No Bananas” spent five weeks at number one in 1923 (which speaks to a simpler time, I think). It tells of a greengrocer who has string beans, onions, cabbages, scallions, tomatoes, potatoes, coconuts, walnuts, and two kinds of red herring but is out of bananas. An agreeable fellow, “he never bananas_cutoutanswers ‘no,’” so when customers request the tropical yellow fruit, he responds with the famous titular line. Believe it or not, there is a tenuous connection between this novelty song and superfluous apostrophes in plural words. Can you possibly imagine what it is?

The insertion of an apostrophe before the final s in a plural noun is a common pet peeve among the “apostrophe intelligent.” But did you know this contentious grammatical error has a name—a really cute one? It’s called a “greengrocer’s apostrophe,” after the misuse of apostrophes on the often handwritten signs in greengrocers’ shops: “FRESH ENGLISH PEA’S,” “SEEDLESS GRAPE’S,” “JUICY NECTARINE’S,” “LEMON’S, 25¢ EACH.” By the way, I am not insinuating that Jimmy Costas, the Long Island greengrocer who allegedly inspired the song about out-of-stock bananas made this blunder himself—he was just an interest-creating device.

In case it’s news to you that apostrophes have no place in plurals, or you are a greengrocer, let’s review the rule for creating standard plural forms (from The Chicago Manual of Style):

Most nouns form their plural by adding s or—if they end in chjsshx, or z—by adding esFor example:

  • boy/boys
  • apple/apples
  • watch/watches
  • dish/dishes
  • tax/taxes

But what would a rule be without exceptions? For some words, you just have to learn the correct plural form or (as a last resort) consult a dictionary:

Words ending in y that changes to ies

  • ruby/rubies
  • family/families

Certain words ending in o

  • tomato/tomatoes
  • hero/heroes

Certain words of Latin or Greek origin

  • bacterium/bacteria
  • crisis/crises

All words with irregular plurals

  • child/children
  • ox/oxen

Of course, there are additional nuances—we are talking about the English language. For example, Chicago recommends using the singular form for the plural for names ending in an unpronounced s or x, as in “the seventeen Louis of France.” There is also one instance in which an apostrophe should be used to indicate a plural, to aid in comprehension: for lowercase letters used as words, such as “x’s and y’s.” On a related note, capital letters used as words, numerals used as nouns, and abbreviations form the plural by simply adding s: “two As and three Bs,” “the 1970s,” “PCs.” There are exceptions to this rule, as well, but we won’t get into those here.

Today’s takeaway: don’t be possessive about plurals!