Legend

Ralph Stanley at home, Coeburn, Virginia, 1974; photograph from Henry Horenstein, Honky Tonk: Portraits of Country Music, 2012.
Ralph Stanley at home, Coeburn, Virginia, 1974; photograph from Henry Horenstein, Honky Tonk: Portraits of Country Music, 2012.

I’m thankful that I have lived long enough to become a legend, and I hope I deserve it.

Ralph Stanley, 25 February 1927 – 23 June 2016.

So Bid Farewell

The Idiot.
Stan Rogers.

I often take these nightshift walks when the foreman’s not around.
I turn my back on the cooling stacks and make for open ground.
Far out beyond the tank-farm fence where the gas-flare makes no sound,
I forget the stink and I always think back to that Eastern town.

I remember back six years ago, this Western life I chose.
And every day, the news would say some factory’s going to close.
Well, I could have stayed to take the dole, but I’m not one of those.
I take nothing free, and that makes me an idiot, I suppose.

So I bid farewell to the Eastern town I never more will see;
But work I must, so I eat this dust and breathe refinery.
Oh I miss the green and the woods and streams, and I don’t like cowboy clothes,
But I like being free, and that makes me an idiot, I suppose.

So come all you fine young fellows who’ve been beaten to the ground.
This western life’s no paradise, but it’s better than lying down.
Oh, the streets aren’t clean, and there’s nothing green, and the hills are dirty brown,
But the government dole will rot your soul back there in your home town.

So bid farewell to the Eastern town you never more will see.
There’s self-respect and a steady cheque in this refinery.
You will miss the green and the woods and streams and the dust will fill your nose.
But you’ll be free, and — just like me — an idiot, I suppose.

A Disgraceful Race

We soon learned all the particulars of the memorable battle; how the festive congressmen had come with their wives, daughters, and sweethearts, on the outskirts of the army, seated in luxurious carriages, with hampers packed with champagne and all good things, to regale themselves withal, as from a safe place they would view the triumphant career of their Invincibles as they made the rebels bite the dust, and then to march over their traitorous corpses to Richmond. There, there was to be a grand ball; ladies had provided themselves with magnificent dresses, certainly expecting, after the battle was over, and the rebels were wiped out, to proceed serenely on their way to the Confederate Capital without meeting an obstacle.

When the “rebels” had been reinforced by the arch-rebels, Johnston and Jackson, with their wornout but gallant men, and when the Federals with their splendid army had turned and were frantically flying before those same “rebels,” they cared for nothing but to get away. The flight of that panic-stricken mob has often been described, and by many pens, none however so graphic as that which after treating of their disgraceful race, styled them the “Bull Runners”; the London Punch was, I believe, the author of that appropriate name.

Cornelia Peake McDonald, A Diary with Reminiscences of the War and Refugee Life in the Shenandoah Valley, 1860-1865.

FLIGHT OF DOODLES.

I come from old Manassas with a pocketful of fun,
I killed forty Yankees with a single barreled gun;
It don’t make a niff-a-stiff’rence to neither you nor I,
Big Yankee, little Yankee, all run or die!

I saw all the Yankees at Bull Run,
They fought like the devil when the battle first begun.
But it don’t make a niff-a-stiff’rence to neither you nor I,
They took to their heels, boys — you oughta seen ’em fly!

I saw Old Fuss-and-Feathers Scott, twenty miles away,
His horses both stuck up their ears — you oughta hear ’em neigh;
But it don’t make a niff-a-stiff’rence to neither you nor I,
Old Scott fled like the devil, boys — root hog or die!

I then saw a “Tiger” from the Old Cresecent City,
He cut down the Yankees without any pity;
Oh! It don’t make a niff-a-stiff’rence to neither you nor I,
We whipped the Yankee boys and made the boobies cry.

I saw South Carolina, the first in The Cause,
Shake the dirty Yankees till she broke all their jaws;
Oh! It don’t make a niff-a-stiff’rence to neither you nor I,
South Carolina give ’em hell, boys — root hog or die!

I saw old Virginia, standing firm and true,
She fought mighty hard to whip a mighty dirty crew;
Oh! It don’t make a niff-a-stiff’rence to neither you nor I,
Old Virginia’s blood and thunder — root hog or die!

I saw old Georgia, the next in the van,
She cut down the Yankees almost to a man;
Oh! It don’t make a niff-a-stiff’rence to neither you nor I,
Georgia fought the fight, boys — root hog or die!

I saw Alabama in the middle of the storm,
She stood like a giant in the contest so warm;
Oh! It don’t make a niff-a-stiff’rence to neither you nor I,
Alabama fought the Yankees, boys, till the last one did fly!

I saw Texas go in with a smile,
But I tell you what it is, she made the Yankees bile.
Oh! It don’t make a niff-a-stiff’rence to neither you nor I,
Texas is the devil, boys — root hog or die!

I saw North Carolina in the deepest of the battle.
She knocked down the Yankees and made their bones rattle;
Oh! It don’t make a niff-a-stiff’rence to neither you nor I,
North Carolina’s got the grit, boys — root hog or die!

Old Florida came in with a terrible shout,
She frightened all the Yankees till their eyes stuck out;
Oh! It don’t make a niff-a-stiff’rence to neither you nor I,
Florida’s death on Yankees, boys — root hog or die!

— Anonymous.

Those Who Never Knew

In speaking of the rock and roll genre, I certainly do not want to be lumped with those preachers who once condemned Ragtime music, or even Chesterton who in an unmeasured moment called Jazz “the song of the treadmill.” But I am a pastor of a section of Manhattan called Hell’s Kitchen. I recently had the funeral of a young man who died of a drug overdose, and whose musical world was Corybantic. His cousin, a client of the rock and drug scene, is in prison for murder. So I speak not only as an aesthete who publicly avows that he prefers Mozart and Chopin to Jackson and Bowie, but as a priest who has to pick up the pieces of those who never knew they had a choice. And I object to comfortable prelates in a higher realm, penning panegyrics for the doyens of a culture that destroys my children.

Fr. George W. Rutler, “A Misplaced Grief,” Crisis Magazine, 13 January 2016.

A Regular and General Musical Education

Sheet Music: Dixie’s Land, c. 1859, by Daniel Decatur Emmett, Virginia Historical Society, Mss2 Em 645 a1.
Sheet Music: Dixie’s Land, c. 1859, by Daniel Decatur Emmett, Virginia Historical Society, Mss2 Em 645 a1.

No one can tell us, we verily believe, why vocal music ought not to be a branch of common school education in Virginia, just as much as in Prussia. A resolution that it should be so, entered into this day, by those who have power to carry their resolutions into execution, would be a greater blessing to the State, we verily believe, than either of the railroads which have been chartered, or have received legislative donation this winter. It would be a direct contribution to the children of the land, of a large mass of solid enjoyment, of an innocent character, and worth more to them than an ingot to each, massy as they could bear home, of Californian gold. But we know our country too well to hope that such is going to be case very soon. It will probably be long, before that very obvious idea, very obvious when distinctly looked at, that music is a branch of common education, and one of the most valuable branches, will be admitted into the craniums of the old-world people, — health and long life to their honours! — who yet linger among us, and who are averse to one-half the means and instrumentalities of a genuine civilization, either as sinful things, or as new and proud inventions. In default of a regular and general musical education, such as ought to be given to both sexes, let us try diligently the best practical means — singing schools — if the teacher be not a stray Yankee — singing societies, singing classes of all descriptions. There are no happier re-unions of young people than such.

Southern Literary Messenger, Volume XIX, no. 2, April 1853 (Richmond, Virginia).

Barefooted Tatterdemalions

Woodcut depicting James Rivington being hanged in effigy, as it appeared in Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer, April 20, 1775.
Woodcut depicting James Rivington being hanged in effigy, as it appeared in Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer, April 20, 1775.

It cannot have escaped the notice of the most inattentive observer, that this country has been brought to its present state of distress and confusion, chiefly by the art and industry of pretended patriots, both in England and America, who were stimulated by indigence, avarice, or ambition, to embroil the government, and mislead the people. The Pennsylvania Ledger or the Philadelphia Market-Day Advertiser, February 28, 1778.

THE REBELS (1778)
(sung to the tune: Black Joak)

THE REBELS.

YE brave, honest subjects, who dare to be loyal,
And have stood the brunt of every trial,
Of hunting-shirts, and rifle-guns:
Come listen awhile, and I’ll sing you a song;
I’ll show you, those Yankees are all in the wrong,
Who, with blustering look and most awkward gait,
‘Gainst their lawful sovereign dare for to prate,
With their hunting-shirts, and rifle-guns.

The arch-rebels, barefooted tatterdemalions,
In baseness exceed all other rebellions,
With their hunting-shirts, and rifle-guns.
To rend the empire, the most infamous lies,
Their mock-patriot Congress, do always devise;
Independence, like the first of rebels, they claim,
But their plots will be damn’d in the annals of fame,
With their hunting-shirts, and rifle-guns.

Forgetting the mercies of Great Britain’s king,
Who saved their forefathers’ necks from the string;
With their hunting-shirts, and rifle-guns.
They renounce allegiance and take up their arms,
Assemble together like hornets in swarms,
So dirty their backs, and so wretched their show,
That carrion-crow follows wherever they go,
With their hunting-shirts, and rifle-guns.

With loud peals of laughter, your sides, sirs, would crack,
To see General Convict and Colonel Shoe-black,
With their hunting-shirts, and rifle-guns.
See cobblers and quacks, rebel priests and the like,
Pettifoggers and barbers, with sword and with pike,
All strutting, the standard of Satan beside,
And honest names using, their black deeds to hide.
With their hunting-shirts, and rifle-guns.

This perjured banditti, now ruin this land,
And o’er its poor people claim lawless command,
With their hunting-shirts, and rifle-guns.
Their pasteboard dollars, prove a common curse,
They don’t chink like silver and gold in our purse;
With nothing their leaders have paid their debts off,
Their honor’s, dishonor, and justice they scoff,
With their hunting-shirts, and rifle-guns.

For one lawful ruler, many tyrants we’ve got,
Who force young and old to their wars, to be shot,
With their hunting-shirts, and rifle-guns.
Our good king, God speed him ! never usèd men so,
We then could speak, act, and like freemen could go;
But committees enslave us, our Liberty’s gone,
Our trade and church murder’d; our country’s undone,
By hunting-shirts, and rifle-guns.

Come take up your glasses, each true loyal heart,
And may every rebel meet his due dessert,
With his hunting-shirt, and rifle-gun.
May Congress, Conventions, those damn’d inquisitions,
Be fed with hot sulphur, from Lucifer’s kitchens,
May commerce and peace again be restored,
And Americans own their true sovereign lord.
Then oblivion to shirts, and rifle-guns.
God save the King.

(Originally published in The Pennsylvania Ledger, 1778.)
Lyrics: Captain Smyth, Simcoe’s Queen’s Rangers.

This is Your Flag

Recruitment poster for the 207th (Ottawa-Carleton) Battalion, CEF.
Recruitment poster for the 207th (Ottawa-Carleton) Battalion, CEF.

This is your flag — Fight for it.

This slogan of the 207th has
been made the title of a
stirring song dedicated to
the 207th Battalion — Read it —

Words by Miss Esther Knott.
Music by Donald Heins.

How would you care to see the old flag down, boys,
Would you care to see her dragged in the mire?

Could you bear to hear it said
That you crawled beneath the bed,
While the rest of us were standing up to fire?

Would you care to hear the Kaiser was in England;
That his fleet was on the way to Old Quebec?

Would you care to have the girls
With the pretty golden curls,
See you get a German bayonet in the neck?

Chorus:

Come on the (sic) boys, this is your flag,
And it surely means to you
That the world expects to see your tag
And believes that you’ll be true.
Come on, boys, this is your flag,
Show the red blood — and the blue —
For the men are white —
Who join the fight —
And surely you’ll be true.

MacGregor’s Lullaby

The bridge at Kenmore on the River Tay.
The bridge at Kenmore on the River Tay.

EARLY on a Lammas morning,
With my husband was I gay;
But my heart got sorely wounded
Ere the middle of the day.

Ochan, ochan, ochan, uiri,
Though I cry my child with thee–
Ochan, ochan, ochan, uiri,
Now he hears not thee nor me.

Malison on judge and kindred,
They have wrought me mickle woe;
With deceit they came about us,–
Through deceit they laid him low.
Ochan, ochan, &c.

Had they met but twelve Macgregors,
With my Gregor at their head;
Now my child had not been orphaned,
Nor these bitter tears been shed.
Ochan, ochan, &c.

On an oaken block they laid him,
And they spilt his blood around;
I’d have drunk it in a goblet
Largely, ere it reached the ground.
Ochan, ochan, &c.

Would my father then had sickened–
Colin, with the plague been ill;
Though Rory’s daughter in her anguish,
Smote her palms and cried her fill.
Ochan, ochan, &c.

I could Colin shut in prison,
And Black Duncan put in ward,–
Every Campbell now in Bealach,
Bind with handcuffs, close and hard.
Ochan, ochan, &c.

When I reached the plain of Bealach,
I got there nor rest nor calm;
But my hair I tore in pieces,–
Wore the skin from off each palm!
Ochan, ochan, &c.

Oh! could I fly up with the skylark–
Had I Gregor’s strength in hand;
The highest stone that’s in yon castle,
Should lie lowest on the land.
Ochan, ochan, &c.

Would I saw Finlarig blazing,
And the smoke of Bealach smelled,
So that fair, soft-handed Gregor
In these arms once more I held.
Ochan, ochan, &c.

While the rest have all got lovers
Now a lover have I none;
My fair blossom, fresh and fragrant,
Withers on the ground alone.
Ochan, ochan, &c.

While all other wives the night-time
Pass in slumber’s balmy bands,
I, upon my bedside weary,
Never cease to wring my hands.
Ochan, ochan, &c.

Far, far better be with Gregor
Where the heather’s in its prime,
Than with mean and Lowland barons
In a house of stone and lime.
Ochan, ochan, &c.

Greatly better be with Gregor
Where the herds stray o’er the vale,
Than with little Lowland barons
Drinking of their wine and ale.
Ochan, ochan, &c.

Greatly better be with Gregor
In a mantle rude and torn,
Than with little Lowland barons
Where fine silk and lace are worn.
Ochan, ochan, &c.

Though it rained and roared together,
All throughout the stormy day,
Gregor in a crag could find me
A kind shelter where to stay,
Ochan, ochan, &c.

Bahu, bahu, little nursling–
Oh! so tender now and weak;
I fear the day will never brighten
When revenge for him you’ll seek.
Ochan, ochan, ochan, uiri,
Though I cry, my child, with thee–
Ochan, ochan, ochan, uiri,
Yet he hears not thee nor me!

For Laurie

John Denver in 1973.
John Denver in 1973.

It was written after John and I had gone through a pretty intense time together and things were pretty good for us. He left to go skiing and he got on the Ajax chair on Aspen mountain and the song just came to him. He skied down and came home and wrote it down… Initially it was a love song and it was given to me through him, and yet for him it became a bit like a prayer.

Annie Martell Denver.

You fill up my senses
Like a night in a forest
Like the mountains in springtime
Like a walk in the rain
Like a storm in the desert
Like a sleepy blue ocean
You fill up my senses
Come fill me again

Come let me love you
Let me give my life to you
Let me drown in your laughter
Let me die in your arms
Let me lay down beside you
Let me always be with you
Come let me love you
Come love me again

— from Annie’s Song.

An Hardy and Intrepid Race of Men

John Slezer's engraving of Edinburgh Castle, c.1693 showing the Scottish Union Flag being flown above the Royal apartments.
John Slezer’s engraving of Edinburgh Castle c.1693, showing the Scottish Union Flag being flown above the Royal apartments.

SCOTLAND, considering its limited population and extent, has made a distinguished figure in History. No country, in modern times, has produced Characters more remarkable for learning, valour, or ability, or for knowledge in the most important arts both of peace and of War; and though the Natives of that formerly independent, and hitherto unconquered, kingdom have every reason to be proud of the name of Britons, which they have acquired since the Union in 1707, yet still they ought not to relinquish, on that account, all remembrance of the Martial Atchievements, the Characteristic Dress, or the Language, the Music, or the Customs of their Ancestors. If in all these respects they were to be completely assimilated to the English, Scotland would become in a manner blended with England, whilst its inhabitants at the same time could claim no peculiar merit, from old English valour, virtue, literature, or fame; whereas if they consider themselves not only as Britons, but as Scotchmen, there are many circumstances, connected with the more remote, and even the modern periods of their history, which they can recollect with enthusiasm, as the Songs of their Ancient Bards;– the Tales of their former times, when FINGAL conquered, and OSSIAN sung his praises,– their determined resistance to the Roman arms;– their reiterated victories over the Danes, who were formerly the terror of the North;– the renowned atchievements of a WALLACE, a DOUGLAS, and a BRUCE, and other heroes, in their contests with the English, the most warlike nation then existing;– their valour in the service of France, of Holland, and of other Powers;– the share they had in the immortal Victories of the great Gustavus;– the manner in which they have distinguished themselves in more recent times, as at Fontenoy, at Quebec, on the banks of the Ganges and of the Nile, and on so many other important occasions;– their contributing in so material a degree to the revival of Learning in Europe;– their having been the means of establishing some of the most famous Universities on the Continent;– the many celebrated Authors and Artists which Scotland has successively produced;– in short, in the words of a distinguished modern poet, the Scots may be accounted

… a manly race,
Of unsubmitting spirit, wise, and brave;
… thence of unequal bounds
Impatient, and by tempting glory borne
O’er every land,– for every land, their life
Has flow’d profuse, their piercing genius plann’d,
And swell’d the pomp of peace, their faithful toil.

Or if less partial authority be required, than the testimony of a Scottish Poet, let us recollect, that the celebrated Earl of Chatham, on the 11th of January, 1766, expressed himself in the British Senate, when the Military Services of the Scots were under discussion, in the following terms:

I sought for Merit wherever it was to be found. It is my boast that I was the first Minister who looked for it, and found it in the Mountains of the North! I called it forth, and drew into your service, an hardy and intrepid race of men! men who, when left by your jealousy, became a prey to the artifices of your enemies, and had gone nigh to have overturned the State in the war before the last. These men, in the last war, were brought to combat on your side; they served with fidelity, as they fought with valour, and conquered for you in every part of the world.

Perhaps the best mode by which the Scots may be enabled to keep up that National Spirit, which was formerly so conspicuous, that “fier comme un Ecossais,” became proverbial on the Continent, is occasionally to meet in that Garb, so celebrated as having been the dress of their Celtic Ancestors, and on such occasions, at least, to speak the emphatic Language, to listen to the delightful Music, to recite the Ancient Poetry, and to observe the peculiar customs of their country.

— An Account of the Highland Society of London, 1813.

Scandalous to Our Profession

The Ruins of Holyrood Chapel (Louis Daguerre), 1824.
The Ruins of Holyrood Chapel (Louis Daguerre), 1824.

At a meeting of the Kirk-session of the parish of Holyrood in the year 1643 ‘the matter being motioned concerning that organe which was taken down and put into the yle, now lying idle, mothing and consuming; yea, moreover, the same being an unprofitable instrument, scandalous to our profession, whether the same might not be sold for a tollerable pryce, and the money given to the poor. The session agreed that this would be expedient, but postponed the subject.’ Sir John Graham Dalzell’s Musical Memoirs of Scotland.

I Will Aye Remember

Bide a wee ye bonnie hours o’ sweet yestreen
Haud awa’ the thocht that e’er I will forget
Lang the wimplin wey unrowes afore my een?
And the mindin’ will be sweeter yet

Chorus:
Aye, the road was haudin’ frae the lass that I will aye remember
Braw burn the bridges far behind me in the rain
The leaves were changin’ tae the colours o’ the glowing embers
My heart lay waiting for the spring tae come again

Hae we rin the gless or daur we dream of mair
While as surely as the river meets the sea?
When the eastlin’s wind has blawn the forest bare
Will the pertin’ a’ the wider be?

Chorus

Could I leeze me on your lousome face again
Gin the traivel’s turn should bring me tae your side
Fain would I nae langer steek my heart wi’ pain
Or lay curse upon the ocean wide

Chorus

Braw Burn the Bridges, Roy Gullane.