one touch of nature

November 24, 2007 at 4:36 pm (lyrics, music criticism, songwriting) (, , , , , )

They just don’t write songs like “My Mother Was A Lady” anymore. Published in New York City in 1895 by Edward B. Marks and Joseph W. Stern and first recorded by Jimmie Rodgers in 1928 as “Mother Was A Lady”, the song tells the story of a waitress, who having been insulted by two drummers in a fine restaurant, turns on her tormentors to let them know just who she is, who her mother is, and who her brother is. Here are the lyrics:

Two drummers sat at dinner in a grand hotel one day,
While dining they were chatting in a jolly sort of way;
And when a pretty waitress brought them a tray of food,
They spoke to her familiarly in a manner rather rude.

At first she did not notice them or make the least reply,
But one remark was passed that brought the teardrops to her eye;
And facing her tormentor, with cheeks now burning red,
She looked a perfect picture as appealingly she said:

“My mother was a lady like yours, you will allow,
And you may have a sister who needs protection now;
I’ve come to this great city to find a brother dear,
And you wouldn’t dare insult me, sir, if Jack were only here.”

It’s true, one touch of nature, it makes the whole world kin,
And ev’ry word she uttered seemed to touch their hearts within;
They sat there stunned and silent, until one cried in shame,
“Forgive me, Miss! I meant no harm, pray tell me what’s your name?”

She told him and he cried again, “I know your brother, too,
Why, we’ve been friends for many years and he often speaks of you;
He’ll be so glad to see you, and if you’ll only wed,
I’ll take you to him as my wife, for I love you since you said:

“My mother was a lady like yours, you will allow,
And you may have a sister, who needs protection now;
I’ve come to this great city to find a brother dear,
And you wouldn’t dare insult me, sir, if Jack were only here.”

In the chorus and the following verse the songwriter does two brilliant things. The waitress confronts the men with the realization that, far from being an object for them to use, she is a daughter, a sister, and a stranger in need of protection.

“My mother was a lady like yours, you will allow,
And you may have a sister who needs protection now;
I’ve come to this great city to find a brother dear,
And you wouldn’t dare insult me, sir, if Jack were only here.”

It’s true, one touch of nature, it makes the whole world kin,
And ev’ry word she uttered seemed to touch their hearts within;
They sat there stunned and silent, until one cried in shame,
“Forgive me, Miss! I meant no harm, pray tell me what’s your name?”

This “touch of nature” that “makes the whole world kin” seems largely alien to today’s songwriting. In our own day and age I wonder whether a hotel waitress would dare revealing such personal information, or whether two men today would even “get” the truth before them.

After this beautiful scene, the drummer who was ashamed immediately turns to wanting to help the young woman—by proposing marriage. Would this really work? Social structures have changed so much today, it’s hard to relate to the characters’ appeal to family and protection. Maybe I’m wrong, maybe persons are not completely autonomous and detached. Maybe it could happen again that a waitress would happen into a new city in search of her brother, and find him through a lewd drummer ashamed of himself, repentant, and helpful at the same time. In any case, the appeal to human community, to an original basis of relation, to respect and dignity in a disarming and enlightening way is refreshing to this listener’s ear.

I was first introduced to it through Johnny Cash’s version in the album “Personal File.” Cash slowed it way down from Jimmie Rodger’s version in 1928, emphasizing each tender moment. I gather from Jimmie Rodger’s recording that the original music had a livelier rhythm through out, that slowed only for the chorus and verse I highlighted.

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“That’s where Jesus Is” lyric

July 3, 2007 at 5:44 pm (lyrics)

 

Chris writes:

I heard this song last week performed live. There have recently been many politically tinged songs surmising Jesus’ take on White House decisions performed by folks like John Prine, Eliza Gilkyson, and Wil Kimbrough. Rarely will such songs surface within the Evangelical Christian subculture itself. So when I hear the Lost Dogs, a band made up of members of Daniel Amos, The Choir, and the 77s (all bands known as “Christian” bands) singing this song I feel you should take note. This is a band that’s well known and respected within churches and not as well known to the wider country music world, but I think their musical and lyrical ability warrants wider attention.

Song: “That’s Where Jesus Is” by the Lost Dogs
Album: The Lost Cabin and the Mystery Trees

He’s not sittin’ up in the White House

Not subject to your big debate

Keeps His hands completely off Wall Street

Don’t own stocks, bonds or Real Estate

He ain’t up droppin’ bombs on people

Or workin’ on a college degree

He tunes out all them radio blowhards

Can’t stand the networks and religious TV

Chorus:

That’s Jesus in the homeless faces

With the junkies in their livin’ hell

That’s Jesus with the drunks and in

The lonely places

The rest homes and prison cells

That’s where Jesus is

That’s where Jesus is

He don’t hug trees or kill ‘em

Or drive a particular car

Won’t help you write a big hit song

Don’t care how good lookin’ you are

And Jesus won’t be voting

He’s not your party crashin’ dog in this fight

Not a fan rootin’ for your home team

Don’t insure that your future is bright

Chorus:

That’s Jesus in the homeless faces

With the junkies in their livin’ hell

That’s Jesus with the drunks and in

The lonely places

The rest homes and prison cells

That’s where Jesus is

Where we ought to be

Here’s where Jesus works

Inside you and me

With the folks with AIDS

And the suffering kids

That’s where Jesus hangs

That’s where Jesus is

On the corner ‘round the prostitutes

Is where He’ll probably show

He gets invited to church sometimes

And sometimes He don’t go

Don’t care nuthin’ about your status

What you can or you can’t afford

Don’t care if you’re voted best actor

Not impressed with your big award

He’s not in the five star restaurant

Eating a six course meal

He’s not over on some golf course

Discussing the oil deal

He wants our voice (That’s where Jesus is)

That’s how He talks (That’s where Jesus is)

That’s how He walks (That’s where Jesus is)

And He wants our faith (That’s where Jesus is)

But there’s never enough

He wants our hearts (That’s where Jesus is)

That’s how He Loves

Chorus:

That’s where Jesus is

That’s where Jesus is

That’s where Jesus is

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Countrier than thou

January 7, 2007 at 9:39 pm (lyrics)

These lyrics have a lot to say about the nuances of country music imaging.

Robby Fulks
Album: Georgia Hard
Song: Countrier than Thou

countrier than thou
countrier than thou
you whatdnt raised in a shack
so you better not act so countrier than thou
some people just don’t understand it
if you come from where the kudzoo grows
they think the south is like a planet
of peckerwoods and bozos
when i was young i picked some tubers
even took a swig of moonshine
but i never saw so many goobers
until the day i crossed that line

countrier than thou
countrier than thou
you wasn’t born in a cave
so you better not behave
so countrier than thou

down at the bar a spinnin haggard
he wore a johnny red tattoo
overalls, he spat and swaggered
lord, he was boston jew
he loved bluegrass, oh, brother
when I said shania he sneered
that’s a word I wouldn’t utter
we like to keep it downhome up here

countrier than thou
you ain’t never read your bible
tell me was your bi-ball ?
countrier than thou

rock!

yeah, home is nice
and dixie is nice
and everyone likes a thang that’s nice
but everybody likes you better by far
when you are what you are

not a hillbilly dilettante
fairweather hick
gimmee cloth foam faux fox
well read neck
robert e come lately
hayseed wanabee
undercover yankee
mississipPihD
alabama you’re
50% less tarheel
armchair arkansan

He’s got a ranch. He wears to stetson
he’s a hip shooting ex-oil king
even talks like buddy epsen
but he’s sitting in the west wing
frankenstein, i’m well aware of
but won’t somebody please explain
how you get a county sherrif
walking with a frat boy’s brain

countrier than thou
countrier than thou
well you went to andover
what’s the banjo for
countrier than thou

lost white trash!

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