T:-)M's Night Shift

O Tom, Where Art Thou? - Walkin' T:-)M's been here

Spitzweg ,Der arme Poet', www.spitzweg.de "No one knows how--or where--our songs began. As Indo-European tribes migrated out of the Caucasus, they must have brought the thunder and crack and rain of their words and songs with them into the northern reaches of the European continent. Folk music came across the Northern Sea to the coast of England on the lips of Anglo-Saxon warriors in the fifth century. Eventually the songs spread everywhere in the British Isles, though the stronghold for singing remained the point of entry, the northern borderlands where the Angles had first settled, the `north countreye' of so many ballads."

Steven Harvey philosophized. So he ...
... made the rounds of the pubs in Scarborough in the hope of hearing music but I never heard a song except for recordings played over speakers. When I asked about live music, the folks at one bar laughed and said that my best bet was an Elvis impersonator. The closest I came in England to hearing true folk music was an event in the London underground. A young woman banged away on a nylon-string guitar and sang an old rock-and-roll song by the Seekers.
A friend of mine who teaches music theory tells me that children--when they first learn to sing--progressively acquire notes along the pentatonic scale. Cecil Sharp believed that the pentatonic scale was the litmus test of the authentic folk tune. He notes that there are few true pentatonic songs left in England--most have been embellished--but in Scotland and the southern Appalachian Mountains of America the pentatonic scale is common. Sharp theorized that the American songs are simply older--purer--versions of the British tunes protected from change in an underdeveloped part of the world. If Sharp is right, I didn't have to travel to English pubs to hear the songs in the green headland of my imagination. The oldest songs in English may in fact be found in my valley at home.

Food for thought. Steven teaches English in Georgia, is a lover of Appalachian mountain song, and plays banjo with the local folk group "Butternut Creek and Friends". Bound for Shady Grove is Steven's personal journey into the spirit of the music, following the seven seasons of life.

Why four seasons? Perhaps like the days of the week or the ages of man or the dwarfs of legend, there are seven seasons in all, one for each of the ancient musical scales [see e.g. www.pathguy.com/modes.htm].
The Ionian mode [e.g. Go Tell Aunt Rhody] [is] the mode of spring, all lightness, rising effortlessly, it seems, like a winged seed, floating past the gray trunks of trees to open ground, where it whirls reluctantly to moist earth.
Mixolydian [Pretty Betty Martin] is the mode of consummation, when young men achieve full height and the curves of a woman create a waist that will break the fifth string on any man's banjo. www.uga.edu/ugapress/ You can, says the dulcimer player Kevin Roth, start the scale anywhere, making this the promiscuous tuning, so easy to play that anything goes.
In the Dorian mode [Bachelor's Hall] the summer days drag on but the honeymoon is definitely over. Dorian is the mode of resentment, and resentment precedes sadness--that is the lesson of the sharpened sixth note, a shrill shattering of the minor scale. Life stings us before it hurts, we lash out before we get hurt.
In the Aeolian mode [Lonesome Captain] we bring in the lawn chairs and hang them from nails in the basement, put up beans, freeze corn, and lock down windows. We stack firewood and fill bins, ready to wait out the winter. We get restless. We acquire a measure of loneliness.
In the Phrygian mode [Pretty Polly], the groan of saws cutting winter wood reverberates in the valley every Saturday afternoon. The shaggy hide of mountain ridges shows through the bare, skeletal branches of winter trees, and the creek, so jolly in spring and a happy relief in summer, turns sinister, glittering like a knife in the sun and going gunmetal gray on cloudy days.
We come to our limits in the Lydian mode [Lonesome Days of Winter]. Deep in the winter of its scale we hear mostly silence, an emptiness we can no longer fill.
In the Locrian mode we leave silence behind. In practice it is nowhere--and everywhere. The Locrian scale lacks a true tonic, so a tune is endless. The melody line, unable to resolve itself or come home, can't stop. There are no songs. It is where all songs end, or, more precisely, never end. We fill silence with eternity. We have at last got the ear of God, and he listens for us ...
I cannot resist to tell you some of Steven's recollections:
I sing behind the plow! I loved the phrase and couldn't resist blurting it out, often at inappropriate times. One afternoon while I was sitting on the porch with the banjo on my knee, my daughter walked by carrying her puppy. I sing behind the plow! I announced to her, smiling. I wondered what that was, she said, nodding toward my banjo. I knew it wasn't a musical instrument. I waited until my wife walked by. I sing behind the plow! I intoned. Terrific, she said, But I wish you'd try singing behind the lawn mower.
Or another one:
Guitars and banjos adorn one wall of my hometown pawnshop, the other wall wears guns. They are the legacy of the conquerors. Around here, the right of any fool to bear arms is nearly sacred, and discussion of the subject can end in a death--usually of the pacifist. Guns and song. Near anagrams, the words echo one another. Music and weapons have an ancient connection, led warriors into battle, offered solace when the killing was done. According to their songs, mountain folks have an assortment of ways other than guns to kill each other. Silver daggers and the hangman's rope are two. Drowning is common. In one mountain song a man named Johnny Sands, bent apparently on suicide, asks his shrewish wife to bind his hands and push him in a river. She eagerly agrees:
All down the hill his loving bride now ran with all her force
To push him in -- he stepped aside, and she fell in of course.
Now splashing, dashing, like a fish, "Oh save me Johnny Sands."
"I can't my dear tho' much I wish, for you have tied my hands."
(John Sinclair, 1842 ->
Full lyrics)

Everett Lilly, 1979,  Fleischhauer The Lewis Family, 1972,  Fleischhauer

The early American settlers brought their ballads across the Atlantic and they naturally composed new songs. Later, the phonograph and the radio brought this country music out of the rural ghetto to people all over the United States. Bill C. Malone's narrative Don't Get above Your Raisin' (which is a song written by Lester Flatt) traces country music to the working people of the rural American south. The bulk of the major performers still come, overwhelmingly, from the South, and they exhibit their southerness through their dialects, speech patterns, and lifestyles and through the values and themes of the music that they perform.

The phrase, Don't get above your raising, is a remnant of the fatalism that once colored the thinking of many southern white people--a belief that life cannot be changed and that one should guard against the disappointment that might come from unreal expectations. It is a rebuke to pretense and snobbery, and a plea for respect for and loyalty to one's roots. Southern working people, and their music, have been intensely class-conscious, driven often by anger and resentment and a sense of outrage concerning privileged people. The problems addressed by country song lyrics are real, but their proposed resolutions often take the form of fantasy--nostalgia, machismo, escapism, religion, and romantic love. Country song lyrics constitute no threat to capitalism. David Lee Murphy probably spoke for most mainstream country entertainers when he said, If I had grown up in Chicago, I'd probably write about steel mill towns and those characters. But I grew up in a small, agricultural community, so I'm going to write about going down to the lake with a bottle of wine at sunset.
Malone himself was born in East Texas. It was a society which, at its best, was capable of warm outpourings of hospitality and kindness, and, at its worst, grim manifestations of bigotry and intolerance. He wrote a doctoral thesis, "Country Music, USA," and had been the leader of the bluegrass band, "The Hill Country Ramblers," which featured a young Bela Fleck.
The recording and broadcasting industries discovered that this music was both different and more interesting than the rural musical forms of the North. Not simply a quaint survival of an older society (as it seemed to be in New England, for example), southern rural music appealed because of its diversity and because it truly represented the organic evolution of the southern working class. African American musical infusions--the emphasis on rhythm, syncopations, blues and jazz elements--probably gave the music of the southern string bands the vitality and rhythmic punch that set them apart from other rural bands in America.

In the late 20th century, country music became more and more identified with political conservatism and defending establishment values, if not being ultrapatriotic and jingoistic.

Ideological consistency has been rare among country musicians. If any political label fits the music, it would be populist, with both its positive and negative connotations. www.press.uillinois.edu Since the days of Andrew Jackson, and at least to 1968 or so, the majority of the white plain folk tended to be Democratic. They valued hard work and those who struggled and survived against adversity; they were suspicious of monopolies and nonproducers--bankers, lawyers, speculators, or, at the other end of the spectrum, people who lived on welfare or who otherwise lived off the labor of others. Southern working folk were usually warm, comforting, and hospitable to those who lived within or who fit the social confines of their circle of familiarity. They were prejudiced against strangers or outsiders, non-Christians, foreigners, blacks, gays, or social deviants.
In the late 1960s urban folk and rock music became asscociated with hippies and student protesters, Nixon's bums. (Joan Baez once remarked that she had never heard of a good Republican folksinger.) Whereas, country music performers, audience, and industry disliked the dissenters' values and lifestyles. Country singers and composers did not defend the Vietnam War so much as they protested against the protesters. In the 1968 presidential campaign virtually all country singers supported either Wallace or Nixon. Country songs applauded the Green Berets and the old red, white, and blue, and even defended Lieutenant William Calley who ordered the massacre of Vietnamese civilians at My Lai.

As Nixon was delighted to hear of musical expressions compatible with his own philosophy or potentially exploitable for political purposes, so was George Bush when asserting that country was his music of choice. Hank Williams Jr.'s "Dixie on my Mind" and "A Country Boy Can Survive" combined harsh and explicit criticism of New York City with an implicit indictment of the liberal politics that prevailed there. The Persian Gulf War inspired both personal expressions of masculine bluster and jingoistic impulses (so did September 11th -> FW#21, FW#22). One got the impression that a successful resolution of the Gulf crisis could have been attained with an expeditionary force led by Hank [Williams Jr.] and Charlie [Daniels].

However, the sense of social outrage that motivated Woody Guthrie in the thirties has not totally disappeared from country music, but its boldest expressions come from singers and songwriters who voice their messages from outside the Top 40 mainstream. Steve Earle requests Come back Woody Guthrie. Other songs comment on corporate America buying and shaping the landscape of rural America. One now finds increased empathy for other social issues, such as women's needs, racial differences, and tolerance of alternative lifestyles. A host of women singers have actively supported abortion rights, AIDS awareness, protection for battered wives and abused children, and programs to combat hunger and homelessness.

We got preachers dealing in politics and diamond mines
We got politicians running races on corporate cash
We got little kids with guns fighting inner city wars
We got high-school kids running 'round in Calvin Klein and Guess
Who cannot pass a sixth-grade reading test
But if you ask them, they can tell you the name of every crotch on MTV
(Iris DeMent -> Full lyrics)

The Mountain State Bluegrass Boys, 1974,  Fleischhauer Bill Monroe & Lester Flatt, 1972,  Fleischhauer

The Monroe Brothers were one of the most popular duet of the 1920s and 1930s. Charlie played the guitar, Bill played the mandolin and they sang in harmony. When the brothers split up, both went on to form their own bands. Bill Monroe & The Blue Grass Boys soon became a very popular act. Bill's new band was different because of playing folk music with overdrive (Lomax). Bill used the old music, but he invented bluegrass with it. In that day it was Punk, it was Hip-Hop. He took the old music and he made it new. (J. Ritchie) He incorporated songs and rhythms from gospel, country and blues repertoires, and settled on mandolin, banjo, fiddle, guitar and bass as the format for his band. As an ensemble musical form bluegrass reflects and echoes not only its rural roots but also the urban and industrial life from which it emerged. As on an assembly line, each musician has a special part to sing and a special job to do on his or her instrument. (Rosenberg)

In 1946, banjo player Earl Scruggs and guitar player Lester Flatt joined the band. Scruggs and Flatt eventually formed their own group, The Foggy Mountain Boys, and included the dobro guitar into their band format. By the 1950s, people began referring to this style of music as bluegrass. Bluegrass bands began forming all over the country. By the early 70s hundred of bluegrass festivals sprung up and that was where Carl Fleischhauer and Neil V. Rosenberg entered the game.

Bluegrass Odyssey is Fleischhauer's legacy of accompanying the bluegrass community with his camera for nearly twenty years, interspersed with Rosenberg's narrative.

In the first chapter, "Intensity," we offer a group of photos chosen to convey first impressions of the music itself. The intensity of bluegrass performance was one of the things that attracted us to the music. www.press.uillinois.edu It's hard work, yet they seem to be relaxed and happy. The lyrics often tell sad stories at toe-tapping or breakneck speed.
The pictures in the second chapter, "Destination," follow our own experience as our interest expanded from the music to its cultural context, from the sound to ethnography: musical instrument merchants, an Opry star grabbing a meal before the show, and a cross section of performance venues.
The third chapter, "Transactions," documents the production of sound recordings, paid performances, the sale of merchandise. But the chapter also highlights the nonmonetary exchanges that occur within these activities--for example, determining the sequence of songs in a set or the order of bands during a festival afternoon.
In the fourth chapter, "Community," the pictures interpret the human connections that tie individuals together. The fifth chapter, "Family," surveys one such connection, principally among performers.
The last chapter, "The Monroe Myth," is a meditation on an individual--arguably the leading figure in bluegrass music--and his family. Words and pictures take you on the road with Monroe, visiting his birthplace in Rosine, Kentucky, and the graveyard in which his parents are buried.
203 photographs cover festivals and bars, rednecks and hippies alike, during an era when most of the founders were still alive and actively performing: Bill Monroe himself, Lester Flatt, Earl Scruggs, Ralph Stanley, The New Grass Revival etc. From western-style suits and shirts, scarves or neckties, and hats to performers who imported repertoire, musical sensibilities, grab, hair length, and other trappings of countercultural style from rock.
Until the 1970s bluegrass musicians sang and played into one or two microphones. With four, five, or six musicians onstage using acoustic instruments without electric pickups, distance from and direction toward the microphone determined much of what the audience heard. The legendary choreography of Lester Flatt, Earl Scruggs, and the Foggy Mountain Boys enabled them to gang around the mike to deliver five-part harmony, along with his rhythm guitar and the backup work on the banjo and on the dobro. The dynamics of the music dictated dramatic shifts--movements toward and away from the microphone as instrumental breaks followed vocals. The first-generation bluegrass leaders spoke of their music in sports terms--the man at the mike was the batter or ball carrier. During the 1970s the number of microphones used onstage began to increase. In the mid-1990s, Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver spearheaded a return to the old single-mike technology, bringing back the choreography and blending that charmed early bluegrass audiences.

The New Grass Revival, 1977,  Fleischhauer The Goins Brothers, 1973,  Fleischhauer

By the way, did you see O Brother Where Art Thou? The film is already two years old, but the soundtrack is still really hot and the music goes from strength to strength. What John Travolta's "Urban Cowboy" achieved for country music in 1980, has been revived twenty years later again by the Coen brothers. O Brother topped the country charts last year and won five Grammy awards this year, including an award for Album of the Year, defeating Bob Dylan and U2. T-Bone Burnett was honoured as Producer of the Year. The album also won best Compilation Disc, Country Collaboration with vocals ("I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow"), and best Male Country Vocal (Ralph Stanley's "O Death").

Few people gave a bunch of little-known country musicians much chance of walking away with one of the most prestigious awards at the Grammys. It has sold more than four million copies and has been one of the most unexpected hits of recent years. Variously described as bluegrass, roots, mountain music and old-time country, it contains rustic sounds of harmonies, gospel choirs, mandolins, guitars, violins and banjos. First popular in the 1920s and 1930s, the styles owe their comeback to the comedy film by Joel and Ethan Coen, which is based on Homer's Odyssey and stars George Clooney. Veteran musician and producer T-Bone Burnett went about finding the songs for the film with singer-songwriter Gillian Welch. One of the inspired choices was to revive a tune called I Am A Man Of Constant Sorrow, a folk song from the Appalachian mountains first recorded in 1922. In the film, it became the anthem that made Clooney's band, The Soggy Bottom Boys, Depression-era stars. In real life, it was recorded by Dan Tyminski, Harley Allen and Pat Enright. Mr Tyminski provided the singing voice for Clooney on the film, and had to warn his wife, Elise, the first time they watched it that when Clooney would sing, she would really hear her husband's voice. Your voice coming out of George Clooney's body? Dan, that's my fantasy! she replied. While the film was an arthouse hit, nobody expected its music to go on to have so much success that it has taken on a life of its own. First there was an O Brother concert in Nashville, then a documentary that had its own soundtrack, a United States tour and an O Sister album. Mr Burnett also won a Grammy for a follow-up CD, Down from the Mountain. And it has all happened with little radio airplay. It may not be chart material - but that may be why so many people like it. (BBC News)
Now, is there another Nashville? ...
... with a kind of music so distant from what the city's commercial center cranks out as to be from a different planet. It thrives in the community's nooks and crannies like a cluster of quietly smiling mountain wildflowers in the shadow of those cultivated hothouse blooms that flaunt their colors on radio stations from coast to coast. The soundtrack celebrates this gentle music. What this seemingly ethnic sound is, is country music. Or at least it was before the infidels of Music Row expropriated that term to describe watered-down pop/rock with greeting-card lyrics. This original country sound first flowered during the Depression. It was fertilized by blues, gospel, string-band hoedowns, Appalachian balladry, work songs and vaudeville hokum. Its practitioners were small-time entertainers who led itinerant lives as they traveled from one schoolhouse show to the next, from one radio barn dance to the next, from one makeshift recording studio to another. Despite the hard economic times, record companies and radio stations discovered an enormous hunger for the homey sounds of The Carter Family, the rowdy blues of Jimmie Rodgers, the saucy humor of Uncle Dave Macon, the dazzling fiddling of Arthur Smith and the scintillating blues moans of countless slide guitarists, harmonica men and jug-band songsters. That hunger for emotional truth gave us our multi-million dollar music industry. The razzmatazz of western swing, the whipped-dog whine of honky-tonk music, the creamy crooning of singing cowboys, the itchy-pants yelp of rockabilly and the suburban gleam of The Nashville Sound seemed to drown out the innocence of this rustic, acoustic kind of country. But it has survived. Now called "old-time music" this style thrives at the more than 500 bluegrass festivals, fiddle contests and folk gatherings that are staged every year in America. You won't hear it on country radio. And it flies beneath the commercial radar of most record shops. So for those whose musical tastes are shaped by the great, gray behemoth that is the modern entertainment business, this music does sound obscure. Even exotic. The reason for our using so much of the era's music in the movie was simple, explains Ethan Coen. We have always liked it. The mountain music, the delta blues, gospel, the chain-gang chants, would later evolve into bluegrass, commercial country music and rock 'n' roll. But it is compelling music in its own right, harking back to a time when music was a part of everyday life and not something performed by celebrities. That folk aspect of the music both accounts for its vitality and makes it fold naturally into our story without feeling forced or theatrical. (Extra TV)

The soundtrack kicks off with James Carter's "Po Lazarus", recorded by the late Alan Lomax (see news section). His daughter Anna Lomax-Chairetakis explains:

The opening song of the soundtrack and the film is a field recording that Alan made in the 1950s in Parchment Penitentiary in Mississippi. That's interesting too, because he first had gone to Parchment with his father in the early '40s with a disc recorder. And when the tape machine arrived he rushed down with paper tape, which was all that was available then, and recorded the same people. Then in the late '50s he went with stereo, [making] the first field recordings in stereo. And so that song "Po' Lazarus" was one that he recorded in 1959. It's played in its entirety -- that's the beauty of it. They let it play out to the end. It's not used as sort of a little piece of effect, it's really given its full beauty. Later on in the movie there's a song called "Didn't Leave Nobody But The Baby," which is a lullaby that he recorded, sung by a woman named Sydney Carter from Senatopia, Mississippi. T-Bone Burnett made a very nice arrangement of it, and he added some verses. He had beautiful taste, instead of distorting it or cheapening it or something like that. It was sung by Emmylou Harris and Allison Krause. It's very pretty. (Tech TV)
So in the end, we don't want to care too much about any mistakes during the making of the movie.
The beer bottle behind John Goodman in the picnic scene is a modern day Budweiser bottle. -- In the scene where George Clooney and the guys meet Baby Face, the money flying out from the back seat is currency from today not the 20's or 30's. -- At the end of the movie when they sing "you are my sunshine" they movie into a L.S. and you can see that the words aren't synched in to their lips. -- While the three convicts and Tommy Johnson are recording "A Man Of Constant Sorrow", you can see a clock behind George Clooney. If you pay attention, you can see the hands of the clock are in a different position every time the shot changes. -- The film takes place in the Thirties. The song "You are My Sunshine" is featured, but was not recorded by Jimmie Davis (its composer) until 1940 ... (Movie Mistakes)

If you haven't seen the film yet, do it! If you don't like movies, get the CD anyway! T:-)M

Fleischhauer, Carl & Neil V. Rosenberg Bluegrass Odyssey - A Documentary in Pictures and Words, 1966-86. University of Illinois, Champaign, IL, 2001, ISBN 0-252-02615-2, Hardcover, 190 pp, US$34,95.
Harvey, Steven, Bound for Shady Grove. University of Georgia Press, Athens, 2000, ISBN 0-8203-2197-4, Hardcover, 157 pp, US$24.95.
Malone, Bill C., Don't Get above Your Raisin' - Country Music and the Southern Working Class. University of Illinois, Champaign, IL, 2002, ISBN 0-252-02678-0, Hardcover, 392 pp, US$34,95.

O Brother-Links: Movie & Soundtrack, Down from the Mountain, Lyrics

Black and white photographs are taken from "Bluegrass Odyssey".

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