Sunday, January 17, 2010

Lomax-a-Day, Day 17

Finally! We emerge from the Southern Mountains into the West. The first section of the West, 'Beyond the Mississippi,' contains the first song I learned out of this anthology, two summers ago. I returned from tour with my band, Bark Hide and Horn, having recently released an album entirely based on old National Geographic articles. Many of the songs were from the perspectives of animals, and I decided that I wanted to continue working from this angle. I began digging through my American music anthologies for animal folk songs, thinking I could rework them from the animals' points of view. The first song I found was "The Hound Dawg Song," and I was immediately obsessed. I decided that there was no point in writing a new song inspired by this one, since the original is a perfectly infectious, hilarious, tragic masterpiece about a boy and his dog. The only thing I add is the instrumental bridge, which in my mind is the dog's chance to wail out his misery. The narrator's voice breathes authenticity with every phrase, especially with his use slang: "ornery old cuss"; "passel of yaps"; "that just naturally made us sore"; "he lit into them gentlemen"; "he shore mussed up the courthouse square." The chord progression is simple and bittersweet. The minor chord adds a touch of adolescent melancholy that always cycles back around, no matter how hard the V7 chord tries to brush it off. The narrator is downright desperate: "they gotta quit kickin' my dawg around!" When he and Lem Briggs and ol' Bill Brown, and then Jim the dog, finally get their revenge, it feels like a fantasy played out in the narrator's head. Inevitably, the song loops back to the chorus, and the sad fact that the bullies win every time. To me, this song captures the plight of every wimpy boy, the devotion a child feels toward his pet, and the power of imagination to bring justice to an unfair world.

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