Thursday, May 19, 2011

Bury Me Under the Weeping Willow / Down on Penny's Farm / Calico Pie

Bury Me Under the Weeping Willow (from the album The House Carpenter's Daughter; words by A.P. Carter)

Well, my heart is sad
and I am lonesome
for the only one I love
when shall we meet?
oh no never
till we meet in heaven above

So bury me underneath the willow
under the weeping willow tree
so that he may know
where I am sleeping
and perhaps he’ll weep for me

Well, he told me that
he dearly loved me
oh how could it be untrue?
until the angels softly whispered,
“he will prove untrue to you”

So bury me underneath the willow
under the weeping willow tree
so that he may know
where I am sleeping
and perhaps he’ll weep for me

Well, tomorrow was to be
our wedding day
but oh my god
where can he be?
he’s out a courting with another
and no longer cares for me

So bury me underneath the willow
under the weeping willow tree
so that he may know
where I am sleeping
and perhaps he’ll weep for me


Down on Penny's Farm (from the album The House Carpenter's Daughter; Traditional)

Come here ladies and gentleman
listen to my song
play it to you right
but you may think it wrong
may make you mad
but I mean no harm
it’s just about the renters
on Penny’s farm
it’s a hard time in the country
down on Penny’s farm

Go into the fields
and you work all day
deep into the night
but you get no pay
promise you some meat
or a little bucket of lard
it’s hard to make a living
on Penny’s farm
it’s a hard time in the country
down on Penny’s farm

Hear George Penny
he’ll be coming into town
with a wagon load of peaches
not a one of them sound
gotta get his money
gotta get a check
pay you for a bushel
but you never get a peck
it’s a hard time in the country
down on Penny’s farm

George Penny’s renters
they be coming into town
with their hands in their pockets
and their heads hanging down
go to the merchant
and the merchant he’ll say,
“your mortgage it is due
and I’m looking for my pay”
it’s a hard time in the country
down on Penny’s farm

Deep into his pocket
with a trembling hand,
“can’t pay you what I owe
but I’ll pay you what I can”
down to the merchant
and the merchant make a call
put you on the chain gang
don’t pay at all
it’s a hard time in the country
down on Penny’s farm


Calico Pie (from the album Leave Your Sleep; words by Edward Lear)

Calico Pie,
The little Birds fly
Down to the calico tree,
Their wings were blue
And they sang 'Tilly-loo!'
Till away they flew,—
And they never came back to me!
They never came back!
They never came back!
They never came back to me!

Calico Jam,
The little Fish swam,
Over the syllabub sea,
He took off his hat,
To the Sole and the Sprat,
And the Willeby-Wat,—
But he never came back to me!
He never came back!
He never came back!
He never came back to me!

Calico Ban,
The little Mice ran,
To be ready in time for tea,
Flippity flup,
They drank it all up,
And danced in the cup,—
But they never came back to me!
They never came back!
They never came back!
They never came back to me!

Calico Drum,
The Grasshoppers come,
The Butterfly, Beetle, and Bee,
Over the ground,
Around and around,
With a hop and a bound,—
But they never came back to me!
They never came back!
They never came back!
They never came back to me!

A couple of weeks ago on this blog, I wrote about my abiding love of old records. I mentioned several of the artists whose records served as a soundtrack for my youth, but there was one I left out. There was one record, one song specifically, that I think I listened to more than just about any song when I was kid - Pops Hoedown as performed by Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops Orchestra. The record cover for the album this song came from was a picture of a cowboy lassoing up some horses, as seen through a hole in a wooden fence.

So what was the appeal of this song to my childish heart? For one thing, it is the first song I ever thought of as being an "epic." It had a theatrical flourish to it and it clocked in at nearly seven minutes, which at that age felt like half an hour. Listening to that song felt like an event. Also, there were sound effects. A lot of them. And they somehow told a story all by themselves that made the song seem simultaneously grand and also very funny.

Given that an entire orchestra participated in the recording of this song, there are a lot of instruments featured. But the instrument that I most associate this song with is the fiddle. I believe that it was at this early age that I developed, unbeknownst to me at the time, a great love for the fiddle. A love that has endured to this day.

When I first listened to The House Carpenter's Daughter, I realized that the only thing that could possibly make the fiddle sound more glorious is the banjo. The two instruments come together in a perfect marriage, as if one instrument were simply made to accompany the other.

But now it's time to face some hard facts. While a few of you may be sitting at home nodding your heads in agreement at the previous sentences, many of you are feeling a bit wary, aren't you? You don't want to admit that you love the fiddle and the banjo. Perhaps you are telling yourself that you really don't love them; those instruments are for country folk. For people who do hoedowns. Well, I'm here to tell you that as a nearly lifelong resident of California, one of the un-countriest states in the world, that it is okay for you to embrace your love of the fiddle and banjo. It's okay to admit you love a good hoedown, even while refraining from participating in one yourself (which, if you too are from California, is really the wise course, trust me.) Don't be too cool to love the hoedown. Accept that your love of the hoedown may just be what defines your coolness. I know...I've rocked your world.

Or maybe not. Turns out, a variety of folk music styles have had a powerful surge in popularity in recent years. Well, I was fiddling it up when I was in diapers, so is it too late for me to act like I was ahead of the trend? It is? Oh. Alright then. I suppose now would be a good time to transition into our discussion of this week's songs.

Truthfully, I don't know if there are certain criteria that a song has to meet to be considered hoedown-worthy, but if Bury Me Under the Weeping Willow and Down on Penny's Farm don't qualify, I can't imagine why not. I find it difficult to sit still while listening to these two songs. Even if I'm sitting in a chair, my limbs seem to free themselves and form a very disorganized dance party whenever these songs come on. This can be a little disconcerting when one takes a moment to really pay attention to the dreadfully depressing lyrics of these two songs.

Bury Me Under the Weeping Willow features words that fall into that classic lyrical genre I like to call, "You-don't-love-me-so-I'm-gonna-kill-myself-music." The words are written from the female perspective, making this song a glorious feminist manifesto! "My intended loves me no longer, so what value does my own life have anymore? None, I say! To the noose with me!" I can't help but wonder if all of this young woman's misery is for naught. She finds out the bad news about her cheating partner via the whisper of angels? Sounds a little sketchy. Perhaps a little pre-wedding Xanax might have prevented this entire tragedy from taking place. (Why am I all of a sudden experiencing a sinking feeling that I am going to receive some unhappy reader e-mail this week?)

The lyrics to Down on Penny's Farm are a lot harder to make a joke about. (Harder, not impossible.) So many of the lyrics from folk music of the past told about the woes of poverty and oppression. But the musical style chosen to match these words is so varied. If you listen to a song like Owensboro, also from The House Carpenter's Daughter, you get an entirely different feeling than from a song like Down on Penny's Farm. While they are both about the abuse of the poor, Owensboro has music that matches the sorrowful tone of the words and because of that it is a deeply moving song. On the other hand, when you listen to Down on Penny's Farm, with its talk of corrupt merchants, chain gangs and working the fields slavishly all day and night, you dance around your house joyfully. It makes me feel a little guilty to enjoy this song so much, but then again, whoever wrote this song must've made the musical choice for a reason. I guess there are just different ways to express misery and perhaps try to forget it all at the same time.

As I said before, I'm not entirely sure whether or not there are stringent qualifications for what constitutes hoedown music, and so I can't say with certainty that Calico Pie should make the cut. But I know that it's uptempo and that there's fiddle and banjo on this song and that's all the qualification I need to rock out. Regarding the words to Calico Pie, written by Edward Lear, the first image I had in my mind when I heard the title of this song was something along these lines:

...although technically I think that might be closer to Tabby Pie. Anyhoo, turns out Calico Pie does not involve the destruction of multi-colored kittens, but refers to pie that has a mix of ingredients, or at least multi-colored ingredients, or...Okay, I'm still not entirely sure what Calico Pie is, but I sure do love the song. The words are delightfully silly and sung with sweetness by Natalie. I love the way she sings the line, "Butterfly, beetle and bee." The time Natalie spent researching, performing and recording the songs from The House Carpenter's Daughter, all of which were cover songs, must have helped her to write music in that style quite effectively, as evidenced on Calico Pie. I know I've said it before, but it's worth mentioning again how skillful she is, not just as a writer of lyrics, which she rightly gets the most attention for, but as a writer of music. Leave Your Sleep is all the evidence anyone could need of that.

Here is a quote from Natalie about The House Carpenter's Daughter (and freedom from a major record label) that I wanted to include in this week's post:

"It feels great to be able to just put my heart on my sleeve, say this is the music I like, hope you do, too, and not have to apologize for it or argue about where the single is. It just feels so great."

So now that you've finished reading this incredibly lengthy blog post (you are still here, aren't you?), why not take a moment to put on a little hoedown of your own? You need no fellow participants or dancing skills, just any music-playing device and a few good songs, perhaps starting with the ones we've just covered. Let your hair down. Embrace the inner fiddle-and-banjo lover in you. Natalie Merchant would approve.

Thanks for reading, see you next week!

Click here to watch a live performance of Calico Pie

Download Bury Me Under the Weeping Willow from Itunes - Bury Me Under The Weeping Willow - The House Carpenter's Daughter

Download Down on Penny's Farm from Itunes - Down On Penny's Farm - The House Carpenter's Daughter

Download Calico Pie from Itunes - Calico Pie - Leave Your Sleep

And if you are really curious, download one of the greatest songs ever, Pops Hoedown - Pops Hoe-Down - Pops Roundup


  1. This week's post made me think of other artists who went a little country with their rock n' roll. Like Elton John's Tumbleweed Connection; The Eagles - Desperaato; and my favorite hoedown rockers: The Rolling Stones - Far Away Eyes, Dead Flowers, Sweet Virginia. Now I can add Natalie to the list. Thanks.

  2. Yes, indeed! Thanks for the comment, Bernie.