Author: Varner, Mark

There was a big round moon...
Dear friends,

Well, I could take this opportunity to jump into the hullaballu about pets at Grass Valley. My gosh, what a tempest in a teapot. A few RV folks who travel with their tea cup chijuajuas will be camping way the heck on the edge of the fairgrounds where no one ever goes. Sheesh.

Moving on….

I got the following from Orrin Star, well known musical educator and performer. It kind of highlights the disconnect we grassers and old-timey types have with the origin of some of our oft performed songs. Jim Moss hits on a commonly misunderstood song in the bluegrass pantheon. It’s always been one of my favorite songs: great melody and its got nice rhythm and dynamics and a fun chorus everyone knows to join in. To me it’s sweet because it’s a love song, a rare beast in the bluegrass lexicon. It has a sanguine ending that is not gloomy. UNLESS! you’re a dyed in the wool, tragedy keening, murder ballad singing grasser.

In the end of the song the object of the singer’s affection is “up in heaven”. The point of contention is when she got there. I guess the thinking is that when he found her in the snow she was dead. Everything in the song runs counter to this, however. (Why would this be a “happy day”?!) Clearly what happened is that he traced her little footprints in the snow, found her, saved her life, became a hero to all, and married this girl. The way I see it they had a long and happy life together, as so many of our ilk are wont to do. Eventually she went to meet her reward, at an advanced age, and now the singer is remembering that night he saved her from freezing to death. Nice!

But read on….
From Orrin Star

A number of beloved songs contain things which defy conventional logic. I always wondered, for example, why Mrs. Charlie - of "Charlie on the MTA" fame - would dutifully 'hand him a sandwich through the open window' each day instead of the 50 cents he needed to get off the train. (But then again I've never been married).

Well many years ago West Coast fiddler Jim Moss was on a business call with Bill Monroe's son James - while Bill was also in the office - when he decided to inquire about a vexing narrative element in "Footprints in the Snow", one of Bill's signature numbers:

Jim Moss: So, ah.. James... can you ask your father something for me?
James Monroe: What is it?
Jim Moss: Well, it is about the song Foot Prints In The Snow....
James Monroe: The boy on the phone wants to ask you something about Foot Prints In The Snow.
Bill Monroe: What does he want?
Jim Moss: Ask him... (testing the waters) if in the song it is snowing?
James Monroe: The boy wants to know if it is snowing in the song..
Bill Monroe: Yes, it is snowing..
James Monroe: Yeah, it's snowing
Jim Moss: I thought so.. (that worked all right)
Jim Moss: Ok, ask him, does the girl gets lost out in the forest?
James Monroe: The boy from California wants to know if the girl gets lost out in the forest?
Bill Monroe: Tell him yes the girl is lost. (it sounds like Bill is reading or doing something else)
James Monroe: Yes the girl is lost.
Jim Moss: (also, now I am the boy from California!!, I wonder what the meaning of that is?)
Jim Moss: Ok, ask him if she dies in the snow.. When he finds her is she dead?
James Monroe: The boy wants to know if she dies in the snow?
Bill Monroe: ( pause.. ) Yes she dies out in the snow.
James Monroe: She dies in the snow.
Jim Moss: Well, now here is one last question, James: Why is it that he blesses that happy day when Nellie lost her way only to die in the show? Why is he happy that
she is dead?
James Monroe: The boy wants to know why is you are happy that she is dead?
Bill Monroe: (...real long pause....)
James Monroe: We have work to do here, is there anything else I can do for you?

Before I go I’ll ask for prayers for my dear mother in law, Peggy, who had to go in the hospital yesterday. She’s suffering from a number of age related complications that came to a head yesterday. We’re expecting her to get better soon, though.

Your pal,
Mark Varner
Posted:  12/17/2007

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