Whisperer in Darkness: Der Erlkönig

"Der Erlkönig"

Real things in the darkness seem no realer than dreams. — Murasaki Shikibu Nacht und Wind The first sound is a rhythm, a staccato burst of piano triplets beneath a brief, rising and falling melody evoking hoof-beats. A horse races through a windswept wood at night, bearing a beleaguered boy … → read more

Life, and Life Only: “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)”

Bob Dylan (source: uncredited Facebook photo from official Bob Dylan page)

“When he was on, no one could auto-desecrate better. ‘He who is not busy being born is busy dying,’ he famously intoned in “It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding),” and way before the aphorism became worthy of inclusion in Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, he knew that inspiration was episodic, that it … → read more

“Victim or the Crime”

Introduction – “Victim or the Crime” It is human to feel like a victim when suffering arrives.  Traditional ballads almost always place such emotion within a dualistic worldview.  There is good and evil – and a clear, if thin, line between.  Today, though, we tend to see such things in … → read more

There’s a train a-coming: “People Get Ready” – CwD10

Curtis Mayfield (uncredited image, source: official Mayfield Facebook page)

“I would think that a movement without music would crumble. Music picks up people’s spirits. Anytime you can get something that lifts your spirits and also speaks to the reality of your life, even the reality of oppression, and at the same time is talking about how you can really … → read more

Heaven, Hell, and Everyday Heroes: “Guns of Umpqua”

Drive-By Truckers (Matt Patton, Brad Morgan, Patterson Hood, Mike Cooley, Jay Gonzalez) photo credit: Danny Clinch

“A stunningly beautiful autumn morning” Bob Boilen’s “Tiny Desk Concert” series introduced me to the Drive-By Truckers song “Guns of Umpqua.” The song grabbed me right away with the warm bounce of the acoustic guitar before the “lights came up” on the band. Lead singer Patterson Hood begins painting the scene … → read more

How Legends Are Made: Stan Rogers, “The Flowers of Bermuda,” and Air Canada Flight 797

Written in the spring of 1978 by the Canadian singer-songwriter Stan Rogers, “The Flowers of Bermuda” is a disaster ballad on a small scale, telling the story of a ship that founders with nineteen people aboard. We’ve looked at shipwreck songs before at Murder Ballad Monday, especially in this post from … → read more

A Survivor’s Reckoning: The Triplett Tragedy

Triplett Tragedy

Blood on the mountain And the Lord said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother? And he said, I know not: Am I my brother’s keeper? — Genesis 4:9 Truly old Watauga is making for herself a dark and bloody record. — Watauga Democrat, Jan. 6, 1910 On Christmas Day, … → read more

“Blue Wing” and the Legend of Little Willie John

"Blue Wing," original art by Tom Russell (used by permission)

Prelude On the road for work a few months ago, I was driving between Cheyenne and Denver. I had a chance to meet up with an old friend for coffee on the way. Early in our conversation, I noticed she had some new ink on her left forearm, a cluster of … → read more

Far too many of you dying: ‘What’s Going On’

Cover image for 'What's Going On' (Motown Records)

“Local draft board No. 4 in a district surrounding State and 35th streets, containing 30,000 persons, of whom 90 per cent are colored, registered upward of 9,000 and sent 1,850 colored men to cantonments. Of these 1,850 there were only 125 rejections. On Nov. 11, when the armistice was declared, … → read more

Lamkin – A most brutal bloody ballad.

Introduction Fragments of time and history filter down to us in the Child ballads. We get whispers and incomplete stories that make us ponder what ‘really’ lies beneath. This is deeply true in the case of “Lamkin.” Like so many of the ballads collected by Francis James Child, the ‘truth’ … → read more