Author: Campbell, Bruce

Did You Hear What I Just Heard?

One of the very best things about bluegrass is the stories in the songs, and naturally, those stories are usually told by the lyrics. Most times, it’s pretty straightforward, but sometimes, credulity is challenged and occasionally entirely denied. Below are some examples - readers can tell me where the lyrics are truly weird, or I’m just ignorant.

Sophronie - a GREAT Jimmy Martin song (and I’m a huge Jimmy fan). That lyric “Love 'em and leave ‘em / kiss 'em and grieve 'em / that used to be my motto so high..” Does that reflect the way ANYONE talks or is Jimmy inventing new expressions. Does is anybody else EVER refer to their “motto so high”?In casual conversation, does anybody describe their motto, and declare a particular motto their highest one?

Willie as the murderer - from a variety of songs, a fellow named “Wilie” emerges as a heartless person whose only emotional response to rejection is cold-blooded murder. This occurs usuallyeven after the victim begs for mercy, mentioning Willie by name, declaring they’re not “prepared to die” (as if that’s a common condition). Depending the song, Willie’s former betrothed might be beaten with a stick, or maybe just pushed into the river. The outcome does not vary - Willie is invariably caught the very next morning. The question is - did guys named Willie find themselves unable to get dates as a result of this?

Roaming as a Search Technique - I’ve mentioned this before, I think. Several bluegrass songs feature brokenhearted protagonists who feel compelled to “roam around” and look for their lost love. Is there a lower-percentage endeavor than this? It’s a mighty big world. What are the odds of “roaming around” and finding a particular person? I suspect this is really a part of another recurring theme in bluegrass. (See below)

Spite-based Death The most famous example of this is “Bury Me Beneath the Willow”, where the singer longs to be interred beneath a willow in the hope that his lost love will weep for him (perhaps). Useless roaming falls within this realm of hopeless pitiful action as the result of being jilted. Women are not exempt from this course of action, but according to bluegrass, they are more prone to hurl themselves into the sea. Usually from the banks.. which leads to…

The Banks of the Deep Blue Sea - does anybody - has anybody - referred to the seashore as the “banks of the sea” in regular conversation? Rivers have banks, but the sea? The banks of the river are shaped by uni-directional flow of water through the centuries. The seashore is shaped by the relentless pounding of waves and tides - who calls the seashore “the banks of the sea” except in bluegrass songs? Really?

Finally, (I know I’m rambling a bit here), I have a terrific record by the Kathy Kallick Band, in which a lyric refers to someone (I swear his name is Willie) going “all square-backed on me”. Well, this sounds truly regrettable, and I keep hoping to run into Kathy to ask her what this means. To date I haven’t had the chance. Does anybody out there know what this expression means?

The odd lyrics in bluegrass makes these songs a lot of fun to sing, and although I like to poke fun at the idiosyncrasies, they really add to the uniqueness and charm of bluegrass. I actually enjoy enunciating these lyrics to see if anyone’s listening!

Posted:  9/11/2013

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