Music

Straight Outta Carthage

advisory

1985 saw the rise of of hip hop and hair metal in the music charts, which terrified mothers across the country. One woman decided to do something about it, and her name was Tipper Gore. Tipper, wife of former VP Al Gore of Carthage, TN; created the Parents Resource Music Center (PRMC) which is responsible for the Parent Advisory stickers on every single CD I ever ordered on Columbia House when I was 11 years old.

She, along with several other women whose husbands were in politics formed their own gang, “the Washington Wives,” and set out on their quest to shelter each man, woman, and child’s ears from offensive lyrics about sex, dope and any other Bible sin.

It started small with the Filthy 15 (Wikipedia) which they coined as “porn rock”:

1 Prince “Darling Nikki”
2 Sheena Easton “Sugar Walls”
3 Judas Priest “Eat Me Alive”
4 Vanity “Strap On ‘Robbie Baby'”
5 Mötley Crüe “Bastard”
6 AC/DC “Let Me Put My Love Into You”
7 Twisted Sister “We’re Not Gonna Take It”
8 Madonna “Dress You Up”
9 W.A.S.P. “Animal (Fuck Like a Beast)”
10 Def Leppard “High ‘n’ Dry (Saturday Night)”
11 Mercyful Fate “Into the Coven”
12 Black Sabbath “Trashed”
13 Mary Jane Girls “In My House”
14 Venom “Possessed”
15 Cyndi Lauper “She Bop”

Before the stickers were put into place, the Senate held a hearing where the “offending” porn rock musicians could come to say their piece. Dee Snider from Twisted Sister, Frank Zappa and John Denver showed up to fight against censorship. But we all know how that turned out…

The Washington Wives couldn’t stop there. They needed real live maryrs and created a modern day witch hunt based on their wacky lore.

As a trippy hippie leftover from the 70’s, Tipper and her girls were also concerned about subliminal messages in songs – especially when played backwards. None more plagued by the witch hunt was Judas Priest, who were blamed for the deaths of two teenagers. The two kids reportedly shot themselves after listening to Judas Priest and the going theory was because there were subliminal messages in the lyrics telling the kids to commit suicide.

Here’s a fun list with videos of all songs with allegedly satanic messaging in them when played backwards:

Here’s To My Sweet Satan: The 15 Creepiest Backwards Messages In Classic Rock

The 80’s were such an interesting time. Cocaine is a hell of a drug…

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Because Somebody Blundered

In 1918, what is still considered to be the worst railway accident in U.S. history occurred right here in Nashville. Sitting unassumingly in on White Bridge Road in between the Greenway and the Hospital is a memorial.

File Dec 15, 10 23 15

Photo by Angela Schmidt

Two trains collided head on, resulting in 101 people killed and 171 injured. One train was heading to Memphis, and the other from Memphis to Old Hickory when “somebody blundered” according to the Nashville Tennesseean paper, and the engineer gave the wrong signal to the approaching trains.

Rounding the Dutchman’s Curve bend of the track, the trains collided around 7:15 am. 80% of the passengers were African-Americans heading to work at the Dupont Factory, which is still operating in a suburb of Nashville – Lakewood, TN (see also Wizard Tree).

The scene is described a little too gruesomely for me, but you can read the original newspaper story reprinted here. I prefer the old way of storytellin’ best – through music.

Hootenany

Well, my heart’s just broken. A word that sounds like it should have traveled on the tongues of the Scotch-Irish immigrants who settled in KY and TN is undoubtedly a Midwest word.

If’n you’ve never heard the word before, today it’s used for a wild party that is thrown together. It has an element of not being exactly planned, where one and all might “raise a ruckus” through hootin’ and hollerin’ all night long.

Here’s a timeline, although no one is quite sure when the word came into use regionally:

1906 – The earliest written use was in a historical novel by Richard T. Wiley set in the 1790’s. The book, Slim Greene: A Narrative of the Whiskey Insurrection, used all sorts of colorful language that is unclear if these are words he thought  people used in the 1790’s, or if he thought these words were ridiculous and that’s what people sounded like back then. All signs point to “hootenany” being a “thing” that you don’t really know the word for.

Some other fun examples of “a thing” he uses are:

  • Conniplicon
  • Majigger
  • Kerdoodlement

“When I got thar,” he said, “she wuz lookin’ hotter’n her oven, an’ wuz a-shakin’ that conniplicon at the lummix, an’—”
“Shaking what?” interrupted Colonel Bayard.
“That hootenanny that she shovels her bread with — that long-handled majigger, you know.”
“Oh, the oven-peel?” asked the Colonel, as if a light had just dawned on him.
“Yes, I guess that’s what they call it. I’ve allus been ust to Dutch-oven bakin’, an’ don’t know much abaout these new-fangled kerdoodlements.”

1940 – A man from Indiana by the name of Terry Pettis moved to Seattle and was working on a fundraiser for the Democratic convention. They needed a name for a party and Terry suggested a name from from home, “hootenany.” Wingding was also in the running.

1941 – The party was a hit and became an annual event. Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie got invited to play the Second Annual event with their band the Almanac Singers. After the party, they brought the word around on tour with them all the way home to New York City where they began to call their parties “hootenanies.”

1946 – Over the next five years, Guthrie’s career explodes. In an interview with Time Magazine the interviewer asked where he got the word “hootenany.” Loving a good tall tale, Guthrie replied with an outright lie.

He said, “We was playin’ for the Lumber Workers’ Union. We was singin’ around in the shingle mills. There was a lady out West out there in the lumber camp and her name was Annie and so every time they’d have a songfest Annie would outshout all of them. So people got to call her Hootin’ Annie but the name got spread all over and so out there when they are going to have a shindig they call it Hootenanny.”

And that, according to Time Magazine, is when hootenannies began.

To hear the full, hilarious, podcast Lexicon Valley put together on the origins of hootenany, click here.

 

 

 

 

The Knoxville Girl

I was living in New York City a few years back and was staying the weekend at a community farm outside of New Paltz. For anarcho/hippie dinner one night, I was eating mashed potatoes loaded with nutritional yeast when a huge chunk of my tooth just fell out. When I finally got back to the City, my regular dentist was on vacation so I had to go to his fill-in guy.  I walk into the office and I see the stereotypical hunting dog pictures and UT orange that you would see in any doctor/dentist office in Tennessee.  It was so familiar, in fact, that I forgot where I was for a second.

I met the dentist and we began to talk about what happened/family history, etc. and I mentioned I was from Tennessee.  He told me that he too was from Tennessee and went to UT Knoxville before becoming a military dentist (as if the orange sea wasn’t already an indicator).  He shot me up with Novocaine and as the sweet, metallic taste of blood was still dripping from my gums he began to hum the Louvin Brother’s Murder Ballad I hadn’t heard in years:

Knoxville Girl – 

I met a little girl in Knoxville
A town we all know well
And every Sunday evening
Out in her home I’d dwell

We went to take an evening walk
About a mile from town
I picked a stick up off the ground
And knocked that fair girl down

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 flow

I took her by her golden curls
And I drug her ’round and ’round
Throwing her into the river
That flows through Knoxville town

Go down, go down, you Knoxville girl
With the dark and roving eyes
Go down, go down, you Knoxville girl
You can never be my bride

I started back to Knoxville
Got there about midnight
My mother she was worried
And woke up in a fright

Saying, “Dear son, what have you done
To bloody your clothes so?”
I told my anxious mother
I was bleeding at my nose

I called for me a candle
To light myself to bed
I called for me a handkerchief
To bind my aching head

Rolled and tumbled the whole night through
As troubles was for me
Like flames of hell around my bed
And in my eyes could see

They carried me down to Knoxville
And put me in a cell
My friends all tried to get me out
But none could go my bail

I’m here to waste my life away
Down in this dirty old jail
Because I murdered that Knoxville girl
The girl I loved so well

Dark, right?  And that’s not even the most tragic in the murder ballad tradition. The song Knoxville Girl musically came from the traditional English and Irish ‘The Oxford Girl’ and ‘The Wexford Girl,’ moving the location from Europe to Tennessee.

But who was the Knoxville Girl?  Do the ballads come from real history?  In her case, yes.

Her name was Mary Lula Noel from Pineville, MO. In 1892 she was murdered by a man she had been dating named William (Oh Willie Dear don’t kill me here/I’m unprepared to die) Simmons of Joplin, MO.  She was missing for one week and then found floating in the Cowskin Creek with bruises around her neck.  She had no water in her lungs and had been thrown in after her death, like a careless afterthought.  Simmons never disclosed his motive, and was charged with murder by blunt force object and strangulation.

While Mary was from Missouri, the song Knoxville Girl was unquestionably about her. And though her life was cut short in beautiful youth, her memory still haunts the hills and hollers from Appalachia all the way to dentist offices in NYC.