NOTES ON A SONG

18 Mar

Cash

It was over 20 years ago when I first heard it. I knew at the time it was a cover. Michelle Shocked’s second LP. I’d read the songwriting credits I guess, saw that this song wasn’t written by her. It was my second favourite song on that summer album, 1989. The cover featured a photo of a stormtrooper with his truncheon around Shocked’s slender neck. It must’ve been real tho’ it was so well rendered it could’ve been staged. But the expression on her face is impossible to fake.

Shortsharpshocked

After “Black Widow” it was my favourite song on that album (and this was one I liked to listen to all the way thru). I was a pimple-faced kid at the time, I didn’t know I had good taste. The song’s easy so I learned it. Playing it under the house (Qld’er on stilts); the family next door my only fans.

Played it off and on for years; the only time I heard. Long since, I’d sold Shocked’s album for bread getting thru the last few days ’til payday. I didn’t know who wrote it, didn’t know when it was first recorded and until five minutes ago when I bothered to look I hadn’t found out. Wonderful thing the internet, plugs the holes in your ignorance.

The song was recorded by Johnny Cash in the 50s (I think). It doesn’t feature on any of his albums I’ve poked thru over the years. For ages I thought he’d written it y’see. I hadn’t heard Cash’s version but I’d gotten hold of the lyrics and realized that my favourite line wasn’t there: My God I wish the grass would turn to money!. Didn’t matter, I’d long played it my way by then. When I get to that line I rock out as they say. I credited Michelle Shocked with the line.

But it’s not true.

The song itself is radical when you think about it. Consider the following stanza:

I used to think my daddy was a black man
With scrip enough to buy the company store
But now he goes to town with empty pockets
And Lord his face as white as February snow

Cash covered this back in the pre-civil rights days. Remember Cash was a cracker. I don’t mean he was a redneck, or ignorant. But he was a southern white man; of the hardcore Scots-Irish stock that’d long been in a state of perpetual warfare with African-Americans. To sing these lines that not only express empathy with a black man but sing of blackness as a sign of strength. And whiteness as an emblem of the loss of virility and pride…

During Cash’s performance at San Quentin he expressed his admiration for Bob Dylan to deafening silence from the hacks in the audience. They weren’t shy about cheering. I guess they didn’t care for Dylan. Why? ‘Cause he was Jewish? Or some faggot folk singer? Both? Who knows. Cash always stood by his principles and he was one of the few true Christians. He stood for the outsider, the despised, the undermen. He had guts, Cash, but he didn’t write the tune:

He heard it, played his way. It turned into his tune. Shocked played it her way, I played it mine. Is tradition.

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2 Responses to “NOTES ON A SONG”

  1. Peter Patton March 21, 2011 at 9:57 am #

    Michelle Shocked!? Now, there’s a blast from my undergrad days. I don’t think I’ve heard from her since. I still crank up the Violent Femmes at least annually, Everything But the Girl, Patti Smith, How Soon Is Now and Comfortably Numb played – of course – the more the quality of one’s life improved. At that age, the appearance of Satan himself could not have scared the fuck out of me more than

    There’s a club, if you’d like to go
    You could meet someone who really loves you
    So you go, and you stand on your own
    And you leave on your own
    And you go home
    And you cry
    And you want to die

    The most powerful tonics being The Jam (Beat Surrender and That’s Entertainment rather than the Bitterest Pill) – I stood my ground, and welcomed Style Council into my living room, in a way my GPS-mates found an insupportable concession to vulgarity. Getting ready for formal dinner at college was The Boss, The Oils, or the Flaming Ends, from whose demise I have still not recovered, particularly as my vinyl no doubt is in the garage of some shonk removalist, who moved my stuff from one of the 565 share houses to one of the others.

    Revenge is sweet
    when you’re not in love,
    and he’s not the one,
    you’re thinkin’ o-o-f

    Having been breast-fed on Buddie Holly, Elvis, Chubby Checker, Muddie Waters, Janis Joplin, Melanie, Louis Armstrong, Charlie Pride, Credence, Clearwater, The Doors, I was at first suspicious of all that anti-Thatcher stuff, and so retreated into my catalogue of glam, and 60s bubble-gum. NOBODY on my campus knew that only was The Archies Sugar, Sugar was the number 1 song for the whole of 1969 in the US, and I had two vinyl copies!

    Of course, the entire period was swept away 45 minutes after that ecstasy pill cam on, and the Rat Party dude, threw on S-Express.

    Enjoy this trip
    Enjoy this trip
    S Express
    S’Express
    Uno dos tres quatro

    S Express
    S Express

    Let’s go
    Let’s go

    Come on and slip to the music now scoot
    (Repeat)
    I got the hots for you
    I got the hots for you
    I got the hots for you
    I got the hots for you

    Jump on that ghetto blast off

    S Express
    S Express
    S Express

    Come on and slip to the music now scoot

    I got the hots for you
    I got the hots for you
    I got the hots for you

    Chop me off (x9)

    And the lyric that defined the 1990s?

    Oh that’s bad
    No, that’s good</b?

    S Express
    S'Express
    Uno dos tres quatro

    Think about it

    I got the hots for you
    (Repeat)
    I live for you

    Ha ha ha ha ha
    Ha ha ha ha ha!

    It's all a bit of a blur, after that! 🙂

  2. AC Stewart March 22, 2011 at 12:55 am #

    S’express ‘ey. A blur? Funny that. I remember those days too sort of.

    Pumpupthevolumepumpupthevolumepumpupthevolumepumpupthevolumepumpupthevolumepumpupthevolumepumpupthevolume

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