Monday, June 7, 2010
I’m goin’ whur thar’s no depression, to the lovely land that’s free from care...
Have a listen to The Carter Family -- A.P., Sara, and Maybelle -- singing as only they can, er, could, er, did.
According to my extensive research (Wikipedia, what else?), A.P.’s name was Alvin Pleasant, Sara was his wife, and Maybelle was their sister-in-law. She was married to Ezra Carter, A.P.’s brother, and she was also Sara’s first cousin. Maybelle played the guitar; Sara played the autoharp.
Later, “Mother Maybelle” (as she came to be known) sang with her daughters -- Anita, Helen, and June Carter. And even later, daughter June hooked up with a feller name of Johnny Cash. You may have heard of him.
These raw, untrained voices singing out of their Appalachian experience speak to me in ways that Kathleen Battle and Luciano Pavarotti do not.
And vice versa.
Music, they say, has charms to soothe a savage breast.
Actually, an English playwright and poet named William Congreve (1670 - 1729) said it first, in 1697, in his tragedy, The Mourning Bride. Two phrases from that play have become famous, although frequently misquoted:
* “Music has charms to soothe a savage breast,” spoken by Almeria in Act I, Scene 1. The word “breast” is often misquoted as “beast,” and “has” sometimes appears as “hath.”
* “Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned, Nor hell a fury like a woman scorned,” spoken by Zara in Act 3, Scene 8. This is usually paraphrased as “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.”
Here are the lyrics from the Carter Family’s version of the song:
1. For fear the hearts of men are failing,
For these are latter days we know
The Great Depression now is spreading,
God’s word declared it would be so
I’m going where there’s no depression,
To the lovely land that’s free from care
I’ll leave this world of toil and trouble,
My home’s in Heaven, I’m going there
2. In that bright land, there’ll be no hunger,
No orphan children crying for bread,
No weeping widows, toil or struggle,
No shrouds, no coffins, and no death
3. This dark hour of midnight nearing
And tribulation time will come
The storms will hurl in midnight fear
And sweep lost millions to their doom
There is also a version recorded by someone named Uncle Tupelo in which the phrase "the lovely land" is replaced with "a better land." Either way, my thanks to Bart Bull, late of Arizona and currently of Paris, France, for pointing me in the direction of A.P., Sara, and Maybelle Carter.