Friday, December 4, 2020



From the song 'My Last Ole Dollar' a classic hard-luck story from North Carolina comes collected by Lee Morris (MS Federal Writers Project):

"Hard luck just runs in my family. I mind the time I couldn't even buy a hen and a chicken. Decided to kill myself. Scared my old pistol wouldn't work, so I bought me a gallon of kerosene, a piece of rope, bottle of rat poison. Rowed down to the lake to where some trees hung way out over the water.

So I stood up and tied the rope round my neck. Bid farewell to this hard old world. Poured kerosene all over myself, et that rat poison and set my clothes afire, figgerin' I'd shoot myself just when I kicked the bat out from under my feet.

But that durn pistol shot the rope in two. I fell in the river and put out the fire on my clothes and got to stranglin' and chokin' that water, and throwed up the poison. Well from that I figgered my luck was changin', so I swum out and put up for the legislature. Durned if I didn't get elected, too!"

(and I believe we saw some of his younger relatives in the U.S. House of Representatives during the impeachment hearings for Donald J. Trump; in fact, I know we did.)

No book I went back to read during the Covid-19 pandemic

treated me better and settled down around my shins finer than

Alan Lomax's The Folk Songs of North America. My copy

is a hardcover still in its decorative dustjacket and the boards

of the book are layered in old moss and smell like I've pulled out

a slate shingle from an old pile instead of a book. Lord knows where

I ever found the book — I first read Folk Song USA (John and Alan Lomax, the power house

father and son team of traveling sleuths and field recorders)

in puffy softcover while in high school and it was just too loaded for bear at the time and age

when listening to Bob Dylan, Richard Farina, Phil Ochs, Dave Van Ronk, 

Tom Paxton, Hedy West, Joan Baez who had obviously worked like miners

through this book and the North America bible. 

Since Lomax believed the folk song was aligned with

fantasy and the skill of the unconscious where the American dream and

struggle is truly revealed. In the above players mentioned, Dylan's masterpiece

 "Highway 61" (1965) may be our best example. The maestro has readily

admitted what he pulled out of the guts of this book and the Lomax (and Harry Smith)

jukebox, and we haven't even touched down into the rich gardens this book

gives (there are 300 songs) through original work by the likes of Merle Travis,

Blind Willie Johnson, Ewan MacColl, Peggy Seeger, A.L. Lloyd, Jean Ritchie,

Pete Seeger, Jimmy Driftwood, prison camp work songs — long before Howard Zinn, 

this book is the people's history of the United States.

[ BA ]