Friday, January 15, 2010

Lomax-a-Day, Day 15

There are plenty of directions I could take this posting about "Tom Dula" (also known as "Tom Dooley"). I could write about how the Kingston Trio's version of the song launched the pop folk revival in the USA. I could mention how the Kingston Trio's version , like many of their songs, strips all the grit and authenticity away from the source, replacing it with an utterly palatable, white collegiate gloss. Or I could delve into the true story behind the song, and the popular theory that it wasn't ex-Confederate soldier Tom Dula who stabbed Laura Foster in the North Carolina woods in 1868 on account of her giving him an STD, but instead his jealous lover Anne Melton, and that Dula confessed to being the lone killer simply to protect Melton. I could even try to pin down the song's writer--Lomax claims in his notes that Dula composed the song the night before he was hung; others attribute it to a North Carolina journalist. But mostly I want to consider the murder ballad: a truly bizarre genre. In what other type of song would the singer cheerfully exclaim, "I met her on the mountain/ I swore she'd be my wife/ I met her on the mountain/ and I stabbed her with my knife"? Or whine to his pappy, "what shall I do?/ I lost all my money," and as an afterthought, "I killed poor Laurie too." The Tom Dula this song presents is a total sociopath, remorseless for his horrible deed. Are we supposed to sympathize? Maybe it's like the appeal of reality TV, the guilty pleasure you get in watching the suffering of someone who has made terrible decisions. Or maybe it's just a morality tale. Stay away from red whiskey and pretty women, boys, and you won't end up on the gallows.

My girlfriend Jessie provides the lovely harmony vocals. (She's a pretty woman, I admit, but I promise not to drink a drop of red whiskey.)


  1. Barbee introduced me to some of your older posts & newer. Love the fanatasy that digs into the songs. And hello Jessie--your harmony added a rich texture, Auntie K

  2. Hey Andy. Barbee & I just watched & listened to many of your Red Yarn reveries. The Disney rendition of "Who Killed Cock Robin" was mind boggling. Such beautiful detail that we got caught up in watching several more Barnyard Symphonies. Love your work,
    Auntie K & hello to Jessie your harmony gal