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Help: Singing about Death, How and Why?

Related threads:
folksongs about death (41)
Songs About Death (59)


Leigha 17 Dec 01 - 05:23 PM
Leigha 17 Dec 01 - 05:29 PM
gnu 17 Dec 01 - 05:42 PM
gnu 17 Dec 01 - 05:48 PM
Clinton Hammond 17 Dec 01 - 05:49 PM
Joe Offer 17 Dec 01 - 06:01 PM
Burke 17 Dec 01 - 06:05 PM
vindelis 17 Dec 01 - 06:05 PM
GUEST,Desdemona 17 Dec 01 - 06:07 PM
gnu 17 Dec 01 - 06:15 PM
GUEST,Desdemona 17 Dec 01 - 06:28 PM
gnu 17 Dec 01 - 06:30 PM
gnu 17 Dec 01 - 06:32 PM
GUEST,Desdemona 17 Dec 01 - 06:34 PM
Jeri 17 Dec 01 - 06:36 PM
Joe Offer 17 Dec 01 - 06:43 PM
gnu 17 Dec 01 - 06:47 PM
gnu 17 Dec 01 - 06:51 PM
Clinton Hammond 17 Dec 01 - 06:56 PM
Burke 17 Dec 01 - 06:58 PM
gnu 17 Dec 01 - 07:00 PM
Leigha 17 Dec 01 - 07:51 PM
Mudlark 17 Dec 01 - 08:04 PM
Jerry Rasmussen 17 Dec 01 - 09:06 PM
Joe Offer 17 Dec 01 - 09:34 PM
GUEST,McGrath 17 Dec 01 - 09:43 PM
Art Thieme 17 Dec 01 - 10:00 PM
Ebbie 17 Dec 01 - 10:38 PM
GUEST,mgarvey@pacifier.com 17 Dec 01 - 10:51 PM
M.Ted 18 Dec 01 - 02:28 PM
Peter T. 18 Dec 01 - 03:45 PM
GUEST,Allan S. 18 Dec 01 - 07:19 PM
Snuffy 18 Dec 01 - 08:00 PM
Micca 18 Dec 01 - 08:34 PM
M.Ted 18 Dec 01 - 11:40 PM
Sorcha 19 Dec 01 - 12:00 AM
Knitpick 19 Dec 01 - 12:09 AM
Art Thieme 19 Dec 01 - 12:44 AM
Peter T. 19 Dec 01 - 09:53 AM
catspaw49 19 Dec 01 - 10:30 AM
Burke 19 Dec 01 - 10:56 AM
Bert 19 Dec 01 - 10:57 AM
GUEST,Leigha 19 Dec 01 - 02:29 PM
McGrath of Harlow 19 Dec 01 - 02:33 PM
GUEST,Leigha 19 Dec 01 - 02:34 PM
GUEST,Leigha 19 Dec 01 - 02:39 PM
An 19 Dec 01 - 03:16 PM
John MacKenzie 19 Dec 01 - 04:13 PM
McGrath of Harlow 19 Dec 01 - 05:01 PM
Jerry Rasmussen 19 Dec 01 - 07:15 PM
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Subject: Singing about Death, How and Why?
From: Leigha
Date: 17 Dec 01 - 05:23 PM

Hi All, I'm a student studying Appalachian music who has found great amusement, assistance, and comfort while reading all of your postings, though I've never posted before. I now have a question for all of you singers out there: Do you personally sing traditional songs about death? If so, which ones are your favorites? Does singing songs (or do certain lyrics) about death make you feel a certain way? Do you make an effort to balance out your performing repertoire so it's not too "death-heavy"? Are there certain occasions on which you avoid singing songs about death? Finally, did the events of September 11th change any of these things?

If you prefer not to post, feel free to send me a personal email at .

Thanks so much! I can't wait to hear your thoughts. Leigh Johnson


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Subject: RE: Help: Singing about Death, How and Why?
From: Leigha
Date: 17 Dec 01 - 05:29 PM

Somehow my email was erased. It is: ltj4@columbia.edu. Thanks! Leigh


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Subject: RE: Help: Singing about Death, How and Why?
From: gnu
Date: 17 Dec 01 - 05:42 PM

Check out "The Parting Glass". I believe it wins, hands down, according to past threads. Someone more knowledgible about searching the threads will probably assist you in performing an appropriate search.
I'm not sure which "Parting Glass" thread gnu refers to - maybe this one (click)?
-Joe Offer-


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Subject: RE: Help: Singing about Death, How and Why?
From: gnu
Date: 17 Dec 01 - 05:48 PM

Favourites, besides the above... Isn't It Grand Boys ? ... High Wars of Germany... I'm Gonna Leave Her If It Takes Dyin'... They're Moving Father's Grave to Build a Sewer.


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Subject: RE: Help: Singing about Death, How and Why?
From: Clinton Hammond
Date: 17 Dec 01 - 05:49 PM

welcome leigha...

Songs about death eh... Well, it IS folk music right, so it can't be TOO cheerful... we're the people, the singer-songwriters, who love to see disaster headlines, because it means more material to write about!

Personally, I have a very cavalier attitude towards death... for me, it's not really anything to get strung out about... We're all of us terminally infected with this thing called life, and none of us are getting out of it alive... There are a couple of songs that I've had in my show for a while now that reflect that...

Sept, 11th? Well, I've chatted with a few other folkies about this subject, and the concensious among my heroes seem to be that no one is even mentioning it more than in passing in their shows... I know I'm not letting the actions of a few zealots dictate to me what songs I can play and when...

For instance... at a benefit a few days after, I played WHO DIES and COLD MISSOURI WATER both and the firefighter-folks there loved it!! Ended the show with Mary Ellen Carter to sorta 'take the sting off' as it were, and was nearly carried around on their shoulders afterwards!!!


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Subject: RE: Help: Singing about Death, How and Why?
From: Joe Offer
Date: 17 Dec 01 - 06:01 PM

I think that traditional folk songs are generally quite matter-of-fact about death, and often approach it with a sense of humor. I view if as just another part of life, and don't take it too seriously myself. That's gotten me into trouble in some circles, because some people can view my choice of songs as irreverent or disrespectful.
-Joe Offer-


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Subject: RE: Help: Singing about Death, How and Why?
From: Burke
Date: 17 Dec 01 - 06:05 PM

I sing Sacred Harp, an Appalachian hymn singing tradition that is loaded with songs about death.

I didn't really like the death heavy songs (And am I born to die?) but after my mother died they developed real meaning for me. For me they look death & God in the face & ask for understanding. There's not always resolution but the very act of asking helps a lot. I find them more honest in feeling than later gospel songs. See the Gospel Sing 9/11 thread for some responsed.

This is not performance so I can't really address balancing a set. At a singing people have their own reasons for selecting a tune so we could end up with several heavy death oriented songs just because they have good tunes.

Hard to come up with favorites. I love Funeral Anthem and want it at my funeral. Evening Shade, Calvary, Granville, Sing to me of Heaven. Morning Sun has a perky tune & is a favorite of a friend who's laughing at her wrinkles.


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Subject: RE: Help: Singing about Death, How and Why?
From: vindelis
Date: 17 Dec 01 - 06:05 PM

How about 'Please don't bury me in the cold hard ground'?

I found it on a Rig the Jig CD. I'm not sure if this is the correct title, but it is the first line of the chorus.


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Subject: RE: Help: Singing about Death, How and Why?
From: GUEST,Desdemona
Date: 17 Dec 01 - 06:07 PM

I think the whole fascination with Death (the great leveller, doncha know) amongst the currently living is akin to what they say about catharsis in the theatre: you get to identify with characters, experience their wins & losses & loves & lives & deaths, and yet live to see another play (or sing another song, in this case!). By sort of "experimenting" with it, we can face one of the most basic things we all have in common, and that all of us, on some level, fear. As my beloved Will Shakespeare put it: if it is not now, then it is to come, etc.---and we just can't get away from it


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Subject: RE: Help: Singing about Death, How and Why?
From: gnu
Date: 17 Dec 01 - 06:15 PM

Joe... nope. If I was more adept at searches, or, perhaps, not so lazy, I would find the one particular one I am thinking of. I recall that Mick posted to that thread about singing TPG to a dying friend... then again, I could be mixing it up because my steel trap memory is rusted open. Wait... it's coming... something like, "what do end your gig with ?"


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Subject: Lyr Add: THE PARTING GLASS
From: GUEST,Desdemona
Date: 17 Dec 01 - 06:28 PM

Here are the lyrics I have for "THE PARTING GLASS"; it's also got a nice, perky tune, so important when you're singing about Death!

Of all the money that e'er I spent
I've spent it in good company
And all the harm that ever I did
Alas it was to none but me
And all I've done for want of wit
To memory now I can't recall
So fill to me the parting glass
Good night and joy be with you all

If I had money enough to spend
And leisure to sit awhile
There is a fair maid in the town
That sorely has my heart beguiled
Her rosy cheeks and ruby lips
I own she has my heart enthralled
So fill to me the parting glass
Good night and joy be with you all

Oh, all the comrades that e'er I had
They're sorry for my going away
And all the sweethearts that e'er I had
They'd wish me one more day to stay
But since it falls unto my lot
That I should rise and you should not
I'll gently rise and softly call
Good night and joy be with you all

HTML line breaks added. --JoeClone, 25-Jan-03.


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Subject: RE: Help: Singing about Death, How and Why?
From: gnu
Date: 17 Dec 01 - 06:30 PM

I just went back in my posts to try to find that thread and it was before I joined the bloody fray. The only way I could find it is if I could search my real name, as posted under "guest". But, I don't know how to do that.


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Subject: RE: Help: Singing about Death, How and Why?
From: gnu
Date: 17 Dec 01 - 06:32 PM

Perky ?! You don't sing it like I do.


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Subject: RE: Help: Singing about Death, How and Why?
From: GUEST,Desdemona
Date: 17 Dec 01 - 06:34 PM

I wish I could hum it for you the way I learnt it (well, I CAN, obviously, but you can't hear it!), and I don't know how to do all that groovy MIDI stuff, alas.


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Subject: RE: Help: Singing about Death, How and Why?
From: Jeri
Date: 17 Dec 01 - 06:36 PM

Gnu & Joe, here's the thread and post from Big Mick.


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Subject: RE: Help: Singing about Death, How and Why?
From: Joe Offer
Date: 17 Dec 01 - 06:43 PM

This thread (click), gnu?? If not, then how about this one (click)?
I used the Advanced Forum Search in QuickLinks.
-Joe Offer-


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Subject: RE: Help: Singing about Death, How and Why?
From: gnu
Date: 17 Dec 01 - 06:47 PM

Thanks jeri, but, alas, I did mix it up. Tis not the thread I was thinking of. I am going to get on my lazy ass and search. Be back when I have something to contribute.


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Subject: RE: Help: Singing about Death, How and Why?
From: gnu
Date: 17 Dec 01 - 06:51 PM

Shite !!! I got lucky !!! The thread was "RE: What song do you want at your funeral?".


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Subject: RE: Help: Singing about Death, How and Why?
From: Clinton Hammond
Date: 17 Dec 01 - 06:56 PM

"please don't bury me..."

Heh!

It's been a long time since I played that one regular... gotta dust it down sometime soon...

thanks fer the reminder!

;-)


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Subject: RE: Help: Singing about Death, How and Why?
From: Burke
Date: 17 Dec 01 - 06:58 PM

Here's a link to gnu's Funeral thread.


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Subject: RE: Help: Singing about Death, How and Why?
From: gnu
Date: 17 Dec 01 - 07:00 PM

Thanks Burke. I coulda done that but there's not much time left.


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Subject: RE: Help: Singing about Death, How and Why?
From: Leigha
Date: 17 Dec 01 - 07:51 PM

Thanks for all of your help! Do your audiences react differently when you sing about death? Do you feel differently? (Clinton Hammond's post about this was great) Thanks a million! Leigh


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Subject: RE: Help: Singing about Death, How and Why?
From: Mudlark
Date: 17 Dec 01 - 08:04 PM

Dear Leigha...The only audience I've tempered my death laden 17-18th c repetoire for are the folks at the convalescent home...I don't avoid them entirely (haha....would shorten my set too much!) but I do intersperse with up tunes. Not sure how much they "get," as most of these folks are pretty far gone, but my sense is they don't need nonstop dirge music as a pick-me-up. For myself, my favorite songs have always been sad ones, about death, parting and loss....other side of a cheerful nature, I guess.


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Subject: RE: Help: Singing about Death, How and Why?
From: Jerry Rasmussen
Date: 17 Dec 01 - 09:06 PM

Brother Rick, if you're reading this... people questioned why I would sing Handful of Songs in nursing homes. It seemed like a silly question in a way. It's not that people there don't realize that they're going to do... they are often quite humorous in the way that they talk about it... someone said to me, "The only way you can get out of this place is in a pine box." Many of the old hymns are very encouraging, that deal with death. People especially love Never Grow Old. Sounds good to them. They also like Angel Band. Any songs that speak of a joyful afterlife and reunion are elevating, not depressing. an example:

"I'm going to see my Mother You know she died so long ago What a blessed, sweet reunion When I meet her on that shore."

From When I Get To Glory

My Mother talks with longing about seeing her Mother, who died when my Mother was eleven.

The one song we don't do is Burying Ground..

"I wonder can you hear, those church bells tolling repeat twice Way over yonder, in the burying ground."

What is hard to realize when you're young and good health is that if you are bedridden and in pain all the time, or so heavily drugged that you can't even stay awake, if you have a strong faith, death can sound like a pretty good deal. Heaven or Intensive Care. Take your pick..

Jerry


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Subject: RE: Help: Singing about Death, How and Why?
From: Joe Offer
Date: 17 Dec 01 - 09:34 PM

Jerry, you reminded me of a very inspiring Austin Lounge Lizards song, On the Other Shore [grin]
-Joe Offer-


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Subject: RE: Help: Singing about Death, How and Why?
From: GUEST,McGrath
Date: 17 Dec 01 - 09:43 PM

You can't beat death. Not when it comes to a song.

As they say, the only two things you can be certtain of in this life - death and taxes.

Songs about death needn't be heavy either. Even sad songs about death needn't bring you down. The only songs I can think of that really depress me are some ostensibly jolly songs.


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Subject: RE: Help: Singing about Death, How and Why?
From: Art Thieme
Date: 17 Dec 01 - 10:00 PM

Leigh,

At least 75 or 80% of my repertoire---the songs I took seriously and loved--were all, either directly or obliquely, about death and other heavy stuff.
This is probably too simplified, but here's my feelings about that:

Many of the basic truths about LIFE are to be found in tragedy. Comedy is said to be "COMIC RELIEF"-----and if it is relief from something, then that something is the basic tragedy inherant in life.

FOLKSONGS have all of it--up, down, sad and happy. But it was the tragedy that drew me in when I found those songs in Chicago's bistros and folk bars. It was the beatnik 1950s. There was NOTHING LIKE IT in all of pop music. All Perry Como and Sinatra sang about was, as Pete Seeger used to say before he aparently decided that all songs are folksongs, "Tin pan alley and pop is nothing but moon, June, croon and spoon." That means love songs and sex !! ------------Here's the rub:

The "MUSIC INDUSTRY" was striving to sell it's stuff to EVERYONE----not just folks on the Western ranges or in the lumbercamps or in the Southern Appalachian Mountains or whatever. That just wouldn't do. Why? Because those were very limited markets. Only recently, since the world has "shrunk", has World Music found a world-wide constituancy outside it's place of origin. Love songs and sexual inuendo-- I enjoy some/many of those songs. But the theme of love is universal--and can be easily sold to everyone. Why go for the little markets? It was thought better to leave those to the smaller and specialized business folks and record companies.

If one is looking for insight into real life, one must look on the dark side. "Shit happens", despite being a funny bumpersticker, is a true statement. As a young guy, I was looking to these songs to show me "real life"--the likes of which I'd not experienced personally before.

To temper the dark songs I used to do, I used humorous tales and jokes. It was also a way to make the old songs I had found relevant to modern people---a way to push the songs forward into the spotlight. And I also did funny songs. Don't get me wrong---I love a good joke or folktale that's well told. (When people started introducing me as a comedian at gigs is when I had to tell 'em to quit it; I wanted to be seen as a serious folksinger and songcatcher who, surprisingly, turned out to be pretty funny to a hopefully pleasantly surprised audience.)

I've gone on too long. These are just some of the thoughts that came to me after seeing your good query.

All the best,

Art Thieme


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Subject: RE: Help: Singing about Death, How and Why?
From: Ebbie
Date: 17 Dec 01 - 10:38 PM

I love gnu's mind processes: "What do you end your gig with?" he asks, then on to the correct title: "What song do you want at your funeral?" It's nice to think about our tenure here as our gig! And perhaps it's very close to the truth.

Ebbie


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Subject: RE: Help: Singing about Death, How and Why?
From: GUEST,mgarvey@pacifier.com
Date: 17 Dec 01 - 10:51 PM

I probably said this in a previous thread but I vote for let me fish off cape st. mary's.. and there's no place on this earth I'll belong when I'm gone...also bury me beneath the willow...Nellie was a lady...Old Black Joe (I can't understand why that is frowned upon)...Oh boys carry me on...Grimsby Town..mg


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Subject: RE: Help: Singing about Death, How and Why?
From: M.Ted
Date: 18 Dec 01 - 02:28 PM

The more morbid a song, the more I like it(not the only songs I like, but they have a special place in my heart) and I think the audiences I have sung for tend to feel that way too--after all, is not our culture at large, addicted to stories of sad, tortured lives and tawdry, pathetic, deaths? Jon-Benet Ramsey and Chandra Levy could be the subjects of Child Ballads--

I don't perform anymore, but I am sure that, in the wake of 9/11, audiences are still hungry for something real, and evocative of the pain that they feel--it is better the subject is indirect, that is, another building on fire, somewhere far away, or another daddy that isn't coming home--

I am partial to things like, "The Unquiet Grave" "Little Bessie"(a child is dying of the fever, and the angels are calling her name) and all the young man dying of a horrible disease songs, and of course the standards, like "Barbara Allen", "The Banks of the Ohio", "Will the Circle Be Unbroken?", and of course, the surprise hit of 2001, "O, Death!"


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Subject: RE: Help: Singing about Death, How and Why?
From: Peter T.
Date: 18 Dec 01 - 03:45 PM

"Bury Me Not on the Lone Prairie" -- the version with seven verses -- is about the bleakest, coldest song I know.

yours, Peter T.


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Subject: RE: Help: Singing about Death, How and Why?
From: GUEST,Allan S.
Date: 18 Dec 01 - 07:19 PM

Omie wise, Little darling pall of mine, The Fatal weding,The FFV Dont forget when most of these were written the average life span was about 40 years. Death from childbirth. A man may have had 3 or 4 wifes. So you see death was a common occurance and accepted. The concept of a Heaven was very comforting. A strong religious faith made comming into and leaving this earth much easier... Good luck on your project Allan


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Subject: RE: Help: Singing about Death, How and Why?
From: Snuffy
Date: 18 Dec 01 - 08:00 PM

All His Other Wives Came In


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Subject: RE: Help: Singing about Death, How and Why?
From: Micca
Date: 18 Dec 01 - 08:34 PM

theres a song that I have been learning,( I sang on Paltalk last Thursday) called," And when I die" the first verse goes
I'm not scared of dyin' and I don't really care
If it's peace you find in dyin', well, then let the time be near;
If it's peace you find in dying, when dyin' time is here,
Just bundle up my coffin, cause it's cold way down there.
Refrain
And when I die, and when I'm dead, dead and gone,
There'll be one child born and a world to carry on,
There'll be one child born to carry on.


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Subject: RE: Help: Singing about Death, How and Why?
From: M.Ted
Date: 18 Dec 01 - 11:40 PM

Allan,

Are you saying that death isn't common anymore? Anyway, for many people, even in the US, the average age isn't too much better than forty, but it doesn't mean that many people don't live to be older. it just means that many are cut down in the prime, by, well, check out the songs--


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Subject: RE: Help: Singing about Death, How and Why?
From: Sorcha
Date: 19 Dec 01 - 12:00 AM

Geee--I'm not sure what to say here. First of all, I don't sing in public. I ONLY sing when I am absolutely sure I am alone. Then, yes, I usually sing about death, one way or another. Swing Low Sweet Chariot, Can the Circle Be Unbroken, Oh When Shall I See Jesus.

My thought is that I do this to try to make myself feel better--sort of like singing the Blues. When you sing/play the blues you just got to start feeling better.

Perhaps, also, to begin to get myself used to the idea that I really am going to die---and start getting over the fear of it. Not fear of dying exactly, just fear in general---fear of pain, fear of not being here, fear of not knowing, fear of leaving a mess behind for someone else to clean up........

I did have the pianist play Can the Circle be Unbroken and Wayfaring Stranger at my mom's funeral......and DID NOT allow The Old Rugged Cross, In the Garden, etc!

If they play any of that crap (sorry) at my funeral, I WILL rise up and haunt for 100 years!!!


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Subject: RE: Help: Singing about Death, How and Why?
From: Knitpick
Date: 19 Dec 01 - 12:09 AM

Oh, Death, Oh, Death,
Won't you spare me over for another year?

My name is Death, none can excel,
I open the gates to Heaven or Hell.
I'll close your eyes so you can't see,
That chilly wind is come from me.

Oh, Death ... etc.


One of my favorite songs on the subject.

Bob Clayton


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Subject: RE: Help: Singing about Death, How and Why?
From: Art Thieme
Date: 19 Dec 01 - 12:44 AM

Song titles you want? Here are some of mine. Tons o' death !

Amelia Ehrhart
Banks Of The Ohio
Barbara Allen
Bayou Sara
Betty & Dupree Blues
Billy The Kid
Billy Vanero
Bitter Withy
Black Fly Song
Blinded By Turds
The Boll Weevil
Susie Cleland
By The Hush
Captain Kidd
Casey Jones
Cecil Gone In The Time Of Storm
Cherokee Queen
The Cock Fight
I Come And Stand At Every Door
Earl Brand (The Red River Shore)
East Texas Red
Electric Chair Blues
Fatal Glass Of Beeer
Lord Thomas and Fair Ellen
Fife-E-O
The Fox
Frankie and Johnny
Frog Went A-Courtin'

Lets skip to the "S" & "T" Talking Atom Blues
Tennessee Stud
Titanic
Tom Joad
Trail To Mexico
The Two Sisters
groups:

Sam Bass
Sam Hall
See That My Grave Is Kept Clean
The Shanty Boy On The Big Eau Claire
Silver Dagger
Si Me Quires Escribir
Sioux Indians
16 Tons
South Coast
Spanish Is A Loving Tongue
Springfield Mountain
Stacker Lee
Streets Of Loredo

then there's:

Wreck Of Old 97
Hills Of Roane County
Willy Moore
Will Ye No Come Back Again
The Wind and Rain
Wreck of Number 9
The Hanging Of Charlie Birger
Death Of Harry Simms
Harm Hubbard Was Not Guilty
The Hobo's Last Ride
Dobie Bill
Good Old Colony Days
The Great Silky
Greenland Whalers
Griesley Bride
Groundhog
I Hate War And So Does Elanore
Valley Of Jarama
Jesse James
John Hardy
Tanya Harding
John Henry
The Kansas Cyclone
Kilgarah Mountain
The Lady Gay
Littlt Margaret
Long Black Veil
Lord Of The Land
Lost Jimmy Whalen
Louis Collins
Methadrine Blues
The Minstrel Boy
Mister Garfield
Old Sow Took The Measles
Peter Emberley
Pinery Boy
Pokegama Bear
Poor Howard's Dead And Gone
Pretty Boy Floys
Pretty Polly
The Renagade
Reuben James
Round & Round Hitler's Grave

and many others...

Art Thieme


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Subject: RE: Help: Singing about Death, How and Why?
From: Peter T.
Date: 19 Dec 01 - 09:53 AM

That's right Art, flog it to...

yours, Peter T.


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Subject: RE: Help: Singing about Death, How and Why?
From: catspaw49
Date: 19 Dec 01 - 10:30 AM

I'm enjoying this one.....and especially Art's contributions. The first post wwas one of the best I've ever read in regards to the psychology of death and humor and the odd interrelationship.

So much of the folk tradition is heavily built upon songs of loss, be it death or otherwise, that it becomes kinda' hard to think what there is if we took that away. Even some fine love songs involve death and loss as well as some of your finer ones in the humorous category. Thinking about it, there are seriously few where death/loss are not somehow involved.

LEIGH, I hope you're getting what you wanted here and I'm curious now about your studies. Is this part of an individual course, or part of a course of study? Also wondering where you are and how it comes they have this as part of the curriculum......It's very encouraging to see! If you wouldn't mind, I think probably more than a few of us are curious.

Spaw


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Subject: RE: Help: Singing about Death, How and Why?
From: Burke
Date: 19 Dec 01 - 10:56 AM

From the e-mail address it looks like Leigh is at Columbia.

Leigh, I hope you've found the Sacred Harp singing in Manhattan. I know they had their monthly meeting just about a week after 9/11 & can really tell you what it meant for them.


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Subject: RE: Help: Singing about Death, How and Why?
From: Bert
Date: 19 Dec 01 - 10:57 AM

I don't sing many songs about death. While London Sleeps is probably the one I sing most. I've written a couple though, Plastic Flower Seeds and Kiss for the Road which I sing a lot.

I had a gig shortly after Sept. 11th. and didn't sing Plastic Flower Seeds then because I felt it inappropriate as everyone was still in shock. I sing it again now though - life (and death) goes on.

Thanks for your song list Art, I need to go through that a few times, there are so many songs there that I don't sing, but should.


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Subject: RE: Help: Singing about Death, How and Why?
From: GUEST,Leigha
Date: 19 Dec 01 - 02:29 PM

For all of you who have expressed interest, I'm an anthropology major at Columbia University. I'm interested in this specific topic for several reasons. First, I'm from Southwest Virginia, my dad is from Norton, and his family is from Kentucky. I went to many a folk show when I was growing up. So I've always been somewhat close to folk song tradition, though never directly involved in it. I play a viola made by Arthur Conner of Copper Hill, VA, and somehow, it seems to want to play fiddle music rather than the Brahms that I used to try to put it though.... :) At any rate, my investigation here is part of a class called Text, Magic, and Performance, taught by a professor who, coincidentally enough, is also from SW VA. We have talked about the strange voicings in the lyrics of "Oh Death", which lots of my cosmopolitan class was familiar w/ due to the infamous KKK scene in "Oh Brother". And when I started listening to some of my favorite folk songs about death again, I realized that there were some pretty strange things going on it the lyrics -- possession by death itself, visions, directives to the living that allow the dead to "speak" through the singer. But all of these things are meaningless if they can't be placed in the context of performance. So I'm interested in the way singers themselves perceive the process of performance, and the overwhelming response I'm getting here is that these songs of death are seen as another inevitable part of singing about life. These songs seem to help the living conceptualize and understand their own deaths, usually w/o pageantry or fluff. Nevertheless, certain songs do seem to be described as especially haunting or troublesome. (Didn't we all get chills when Stanley sung "Oh Death"? Doesn't that happen rather often?) I wonder what it is about certain songs that does this. The lyrics? The tune? The performer? All three? Anyway, I want to THANK ALL OF YOU SO MUCH for your incredible insight and enthusiasm!!! You've really helped me think through this problem. I am, of course, not finished yet, and I'll listen to any further discussion w/ rapt attention! I'll be sure to let you all know when the (admittedly inadequate) paper is ready, and I could send it to you as an attachment over email if you like. Back to writing! Graciously, Leigh


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Subject: RE: Help: Singing about Death, How and Why?
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 19 Dec 01 - 02:33 PM

On the other hand there aren't too many songs about birth - I think there was a thread about that one time, andn it couldn't come up with anywhere near as many, or many at all in fact. Take away the Christmas ones and even fewer.

I checked with the Digital Tradition keywords list - death came in with 353 songs. Way ahead of all the others, with the solitary exception of "sailor" at 382. (And birth was 3).

Mind, I'm sure that if Art really put his mind to it, he could top that score.


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Subject: RE: Help: Singing about Death, How and Why?
From: GUEST,Leigha
Date: 19 Dec 01 - 02:34 PM


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Subject: RE: Help: Singing about Death, How and Why?
From: GUEST,Leigha
Date: 19 Dec 01 - 02:39 PM

Also, Art Thieme's first post reminded me of a great book I'm reading called "A Space on the Side of the Road: Cultural Poetics in an 'Other' America", by Kathleen Stewart. It's an admittedly academic book, but it's set in the Southwest West Virginia coal-mining region and gives some really good looks at ways of life that resist assimilation into the mainstream American capitalist machinery. You might want to have a look.
Peace,
Leigh


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Subject: RE: Help: Singing about Death, How and Why?
From: An
Date: 19 Dec 01 - 03:16 PM

I taught a song called Lord Thomas in my singing classes in the autumn, and it ends with one girl killing another and then lord Thomas killing the second girl and finally himself. Some singers seemed to enjoy singing about bashing her head against the wall ( singing the word bashed with great gusto) and others told me they found it too violent. I think it is harder to cope with songs about death when the songs themselves invite empathy with the person dying. In this case, three people actually die, but it seems that especially the girl whose head was bashed, provoked aversion to the song from some members of the singing group. I wouldn't teach the song if I knew that one of the group members had a recent experience with death or violence. I was grateful to Art , whose first message kind of explained why I find I am so much more inspired to write songs when I'm in trouble than when things go well. Isn't it hard to write a sincere happy song...


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Subject: RE: Help: Singing about Death, How and Why?
From: John MacKenzie
Date: 19 Dec 01 - 04:13 PM

The worms crawled in and the worms crawled out,
They played pinochle on her snout.

The lady to the priest she said,
Shall I be the same when I am dead?
The priest he answered aye!

All good cheerful stuff what!
Failte....Jock


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Subject: RE: Help: Singing about Death, How and Why?
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 19 Dec 01 - 05:01 PM

This one, An, I imagine.

I think with a song like that it's important that the way it's sung is understated. It should be a case of the song being passed on, as a record, not a dramatic performance relishing the events. The same way it would have to be if it was about something that had happened yesterday.


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Subject: RE: Help: Singing about Death, How and Why?
From: Jerry Rasmussen
Date: 19 Dec 01 - 07:15 PM

I first heard Lord Thomas and Fair Ellender by Dave Van Ronk, back in the early 60's. He did that song, Silver Dagger and other murder ballads with great glee, and for laughs. That's one way that people deal with death... like a joke. While they're still alive. There's a certain amount of "whistling in the graveyard going on.."

Jerry


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