Eightball Boogie by Declan Burke, and with an eye to getting to James Lee Burke's The Lost Get-back Boogie soon, since a friend was kind enought to lend it to me recently, it occurred to me to wonder a bit about 'boogie'. I think I assume that 'to boogie on down' somewhere is more or less to hustle on down, and maybe implies a certain degree of rhythm and style. I also assume a boogie is a kind of dance or a type of music, somewhat (though not very much) like a polka or a waltz would be. I also assume it has African-American roots, probably Southern, and maybe even African ones. But what really is a boogie when it's at home, and where did it come from?
Bitten off a bit more than I can chew here, I'm thinking. First off, are we talking about the word 'boogie', or the music 'boogie'? I mean, it all comes together in the end, but from rather divergent sources. The online etymological dictionary is uncharacteristically a little too concise this time around. It says that the verb 'to boogie' comes out of late sixties rock music based on blues chords, which relates to an earlier blues style also called boogie, circa 1941, which goes back to the boogie-woogie style music of around 1928, which hales back to the boogie, or rent-party. Whew. That's a lot of undifferentiated boogieing! And surely boogie is not a translation of rent-party, but a slangy reference to one?
According to Jeremy Siepmann in The Piano, boogie-woogie was specifically an urban style, different from its cousin, barrelhouse, by being quicker--eight beats to a bar versus barrelhouse's four. Like barrelhouse, boogie-woogie was piano music, with a heavily accentuated bass line, which at first imitated banjo and guitar styles of early blues singers, but grew to mimick the sound of the steam railways, so many of which were built by black labor.
As Siepmann has it, boogie-woogie "is rife with extra-musical associations, most of them connected with sex". (Some rent parties they must have been, eh?) Boogie-woogie quite often meant "gettin' it on", with an unfortunate but related meaning of "secondary siphilis". Siepmann says that it was one record, Pinetop Smith's Pinetop's Boogie-Woogie of 1928 that sealed the deal on the name musically. Here's a later but I think faithful version:
Champion Jack Dupree - Pinetop's Boogie Woogie by Delta_Mike
Okay--if this elementary approach to boogie-woogie is a little too elementary for you, you might want to check out this extensive research, which will probably be more your cup of tea. Meanwhile, here we have a few other questions to try and sort out. Because where did boogie come from before it was a Southern urban music style?
There are a couple of different points of view on this. First of all, the musical slant leads back to this word deriving from Black West African English bogi, to dance, which might be related to Hausa buga, to beat drums. Makes sense, right?
But what about this interpretation from Cecil Adams at the Straight Dope? He thinks that the word comes by an extremely long road from the Latin Bulgarus, which meant a person of Bulgaria. He says that the Old French word boulgre referred to a sect of 11th Century Bulgarian heretics, and the word passed into English as bougre, or heretic. This devolved into 'bugger', meaning what we've come to think it means but also more generally, any doer of "despicable acts". 'Bogy' or 'bogie' became another name for the devil, and then other little impish spirits as well. Hence, bogeyman. The thought is that bogey then became yet one more disparaging term for black people, and was later reappropriated by them. Much like that N-word epithet. Fine. Maybe that's it.
But then again, there is this persistent thread of meaning in the idea of moving. As in the French bougir, to move. As in boogie board, and really as in the title of the two books that got this whole topic started. Possibly this idea is discredited, possibly not. James Lee Burke, who writes in and of Louisiana has certainly come across the boogie-woogie connotations of his title. But he is just as likely to have come across some form of the French word in the Cajun French dialect that he and his character, Dave Robicheaux both know and occasionally speak.
Is it possible that the boogie we have today is a kind of amalgamation of all these things?
It would certainly be nice to think so.