Thursday, January 14, 2010

Lomax-a-Day, Day 14

With some of these old folk songs, I feel like the meaning escapes me because the lyrics are cobbled together from a hundred different singers saying a hundred different things. "Dig a Hole in the Meadow" is opaque in a more deliberate way, as if the narrator is leaving out important details to leave us guessing. The chipper tune belies the violent trouble beneath the surface. Like any good mystery, it starts with a cadaver: Lulie is dead. "Dig a hole in meadow/ just to lay little Lulie down." The singer then rewinds to dimly illuminate the events leading up to her death. He first sees her at the still-house door, making him the bootlegger inside. Then he's frantically waking her--"go get me my gun... I'll die before I run." Trouble is coming, and we already know that it's Lulie who's going to pay. The third verse pulls us briefly away from the action, but reminds us the end is near. As if in a dream, the narrator sees Lulie "on the banks of the sea/ two pistols strapped round her body/ and a banjo on her knee." What a badass. Facing death while picking her banjo. Then it's "Wake up, wake up" again--is she already slipping out of consciousness? "What makes you sleep so sound?" I see the singer locked up in the still, pistols loaded, a dying Lulie in his arms. "The highway robbers are comin'/ Gonna tear your playhouse down." That's one way to break the news: sorry, little Lulie, it's a hole in the meadow for you.

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