Can you feel the chill in the air? Notice how dark it gets by 7 pm? October is here, Halloween is right around the bend, and we are Happy Campers here in Shuffle Function land! I will be posting daily during the month of October to ensure that we all "feel the Halloween" and your Halloween requests for the show are welcomed all month long, so don't forget to call, text or e-mail us with your creepy, spooky song choices. Today I would like to tackle a song that has existed in one form or another for centuries, but I've just come to know and love in the last few months. The song has several names, The Bloody Miller, Berkshire Tragedy, and last but not least, Knoxville Girl. The clip below features The Wilburn Brothers. This was the first time I heard the song, and I could not get over the fact that they dedicated the song to "all the Knoxville girls out there". Have a listen to see what I mean - it's not exactly a song I would ever want dedicated to me or to anyone really.
Did you catch those lyrics?
“She fell down on her bended knees,
For mercy she did cry,
‘Oh Willie dear don't kill me here,
I'm unprepared to die’,
“She never spoke another word,
I only beat her more,
Until the ground around me,
Within her blood did pour.”
That is dark dark stuff. Prior to this, we are told of a love affair that involves Sunday visits and overnight stays. Then during a seemingly innocent stroll Willie picks up a big stick and starts to beat his love to death. This random act of violence, explosive and over the top is what makes this song so frightening to me. Sure, ghost stories and the paranormal make for a good scare, but I am always able to dismiss them to some extent because the likelihood of being in a situation like that is next to nothing. What are the odds that I will come face to face with a ghost that tells me to "Get Out!"? Zero. But I do go for walks, and sometimes I am accompanied by friends or significant others. What are the odds that I get clubbed to death while I beg for mercy? Well they are still pretty low, but it makes it easier for me to imagine. This murder ballad also has the advantage of having been based on a true story (That Old Chestnut!). I think you should hear the song again. The clip below is from 2007 with Charlie Louvin (of The Louvin "Satan Is Real" Brothers) and Bonnie "Prince" Billy.
The song originally got it's start in the late 1600's in the town of Oxford, and over the years it has been transformed into versions all featuring towns with the letter "X" in them, Wexford, Lexington and Knoxville.The story has varied very little over the years. Two people fall in love, spend a night together and from this a pregnancy is born. Under pressure to wed the man explodes in violent rage and kills his girl in cold blood. He is later caught, though he tries to explain away all the gore on his clothes coming from a bloody nose. He is sent to the gallows for the crime he committed, and leaves us with final message before passing on to the great beyond, "I still love her". The location of the crime may change, but the song remains the same.
There are so many versions of this song out there - from Nick Cave to Appalachian Jug Bands to Country Western crooners - and while looking through the you tube clips I came across this gem. You have now had two opportunities to hear this song, and at the very least you saw the lyrics I printed above. This is just really dark horrific subject matters that gives me the shivers as a 46 year old. So concerning the clip above, what kind of bells have to be going off in your head when you think to yourself "I want to reenact this song with my daughter and then post it on you tube!". I have to think they are tubular bells (see what I did there?).
If you'd like to read more about the role of ancient murder ballads in the American songbook, I suggest you pick up a copy of Greil Marcus's The Old Weird America. In a few weeks the latest version of Bob Dylan's Bootleg Series is going to be hitting the market and it is all about The Basement Tapes. Don't expect to learn one thing about those recordings from Greil Marcus's book, even though that is clearly what it promises to be about. But you will learn about songs like Knoxville Girl and the role of "folk music" in his music, so just stick with it.
Alright, one Countdown To Halloween Blogpost done! See you tomorrow with another!