Utopian Turtletop. Monsieur Croche's Bête Noire. Contact: turtletop [at] hotmail [dot] com

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Ange Mlinko has a nice post on Wordsworth and songs in which someone dies. I listed some of my favorites in her comments. I wanted to expand on my notes and have since thought of a couple more songs.

1. “Long Black Limousine” -- Elvis from the 1969 Memphis sessions. Builds up to feverish cry of grief, as “my heart and my dreams are with you on that long black limousine.” Sometimes it makes me cry.

2. The R&B cover of Bohemian Rhapsody 10 years ago or so was chilling. Quite high in restraint, and hugely effective.

3. “Leader of the Pack” -- the Shangri-Las. As in opera, you see the death happen in the present. Unlike opera, it’s the guy who dies. Like opera, the one who dies is from the wrong side of the tracks. This one makes me cry too.

4. “My Darling Nellie Gray” -- 19th century song about a couple split up when their owner sells one of them to another master, and then Nellie dies before the narrator can meet her again. Louis Armstrong with the Mills Brothers sang it with perfect restraint and delicacy.

5. “East Texas Red,” written by Woody Guthrie, though I’ve only heard Arlo’s version. Can’t get more hard-bitten than the conclusion of this song, when after killing Red his killers sit down and eat their stew. Arlo sings it with the perfect stoicism of the classic balladeer.

6. “St. James Infirmary.” There’s a blog devoted to the song. (The song and New Orleans. The song and New Orleans and music in general. But a lot about the song.) Louis Armstrong’s 1929 recording is the earliest known version, and it’s wonderful; I wrote about a hair-raising live version of it a year and a half ago.

7. “I Come and Stand at Every Door,” words by Turkish poet Nazim Hikmet, music uncredited but probably an Irish tune put to the words by Pete Seeger; I’ve only heard the Byrds’ gorgeous version; my band has played it too, in a medley with “God Bless America.” The narrator is a child who was killed at Hiroshima. The standard translation appears to be a bowdlerization, but still overwhelming. “My hair was scorched by swirling flame, my eyes grew dim, my eyes grew blind.” I found another translation that sounds more like other Hikmet poems I’ve read (and I’ve never seen the poem in any collection of Hikmet translations):

Kiz Cocugu---------------------Little Girl

Kapilari calan benim ---------It's me who knocks
kapilari birer birer. ----------the doors one by one.
Gozunuze gorunemem -------You can't see me
goze gorunmez oluler. ------the deads are invisible.

Hirosima'da oleli -------------It has been around ten years
oluyor bir on yil kadar. -----since I've dead in Hiroshima.
Yedi yasinda bir kizim, -----I'm seven years old
buyumez olu cocuklar. -----dead children do not grow.

Saclarim tutustu once, -----First my hair caught fire,
gozlerim yandi kavruldu. --my eyes burnt.
Bir avuc kul oluverdim, ----I've turned into a handful of ash,
kulum havaya savruldu. ----and that was scattered into the air.

Benim sizden kendim icin --I don't ask you for anything
hicbir sey istedigim yok. ---for myself.
Seker bile yiyemez ki -------A child who burns like a piece of paper
kagit gibi yanan cocuk. -----cannot eat even candy, anyway.

Caliyorum kapinizi -----------I knock your door,
teyze, amca, bir imza ver. --dear lady, dear sir, give me your signature
Cocuklar oldurulmesin ------so that children won't get killed,
seker de yiyebilsinler. ------so that they can eat candy.

Many many songs in which someone dies. Any favorites?

Maybe not in the spirit of this post, but one of my favorite pop sub-genres. A sampling of faves dealing in the sub-sub-genre of transportation accidents...

Teen Angel - Mark Dinning
Tell Laura I Love Her - Ray Peterson
Dead Man's Curve - Jan & Dean
Just Like Eddie - Heinz
Tombstone Every Mile - Dick Curless
Ebony Eyes - Everly Brothers

And, of course, the greatest of all (the bridge theme a thin link to the above, but still...)

Ode To Billy Joe

A song that sounds like it should be about transportation accidents, but isn't (though someone dies and it makes me cry):

1952 Vincent Black Lightning -- Richard Thompson

(This is Kerry)
"Ode to Billie Joe" is one of my faves as well but I didn't write about it because Ange did in her post, as she did about "Vincent Black Lightning" too.

Transportation tragedies: "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald," the great Gordon Lightfoot song.
WOTEF, tops.

And I meant to include:

Deportee - Guthrie/Byrds

And how about pets?

Shannon - Henry Gross
I keep forgeting to sign,

above is me again JSG
I wish to submit: May The Circle Be Unbroken - specifically the version on the 1989 Neville Bros. Yellow Moon album. As a personal touch there is an added verse for their departed uncle the legendary Mardi Gras Indian - Big Chief Jolly.

Also on the same album is a haunting version of the Ballad of Hollis Brown where all seven people die by shotgun. Aaron's vocal over a searing slide guitar is just plain spooky.

Great blog, through which I have discovered much new music and ideas.
sorry if this creates a multiple post -difficulty with web/pda
Thanks all for the suggestions (and, CB, for the compliment!); the ones I've heard are all eminent worthies (I'd forgotten the Neville Brothers' terrific versions of those tunes -- thanks!), and the ones I don't know sound intriguing.
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