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My baby came to me this morning and said I'm kinda confused. She said "If me and B.B. King was both drownin', which one would you choose?" And I said "Oh Baby, Oh Baby, Oh Baby, I ain't never heard you play no blues" - Steve Goodman, The I Ain't Never Heard You Play No Blues

Author Topic: When I Reach That Heavenly Shore  (Read 688 times)

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Offline uncle bud

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When I Reach That Heavenly Shore
« on: December 06, 2014, 07:39:14 AM »

Offline onewent

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Re: When I Reach That Heavenly Shore
« Reply #1 on: December 06, 2014, 11:13:21 AM »
Well ... that sure explains 'Dead Cat on the Line'   :-X

Awesome CD, thanks..Tom

Offline alyoung

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Re: When I Reach That Heavenly Shore
« Reply #2 on: December 07, 2014, 04:02:24 AM »
Well ... that sure explains 'Dead Cat on the Line'   :-X


Well, yes and no. In his recording, Rev Gates explains the origins of the expression: "They tell me that once upon a time, they had some trouble trying to get a message over the telegram line. The company sent a man out to inspect the line. In making his report, he said he had found that a cat had gone up the telegraph pole and died on the line. That was the reason why they couldn't get the message over the line. Now if a child doesn?t favor his father in no way, there?s a dead cat on the line..." Its meaning is a little broader than specifically extramarital misconceptions ... broadly it means "there's something funny going on".

Offline onewent

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Re: When I Reach That Heavenly Shore
« Reply #3 on: December 08, 2014, 04:01:36 PM »
I think Bro Gates point is pretty clear.   ..not sure where .. from his recording .. you're getting the more ambiguous 'something funny going on' interpretation.

The reason I posted about this track is that i'd listened to Tampa Red's song many times, and never considered the metaphor, but when going through the NPR downloads on line, I heard Bro Gates' sermon on Dead Cat, and it made me chuckle.  Tom

Offline alyoung

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Re: When I Reach That Heavenly Shore
« Reply #4 on: December 09, 2014, 05:02:05 AM »
I'm not getting it directly from his recording, although to my ears he's using extramarital children as an example of a dead cat on the line, rather than as a sole definition. But as well, various sources exist giving the wider definition. One is Stephen Calt's "Barrelhouse Words" in which he says ...

?Says I?m not joking, you ain?t gonna change my mind
?The way you treat me mama, it?s a dead cat on the line?
Blind Boy Fuller, I?m a Good Stem Winder.

?Something untoward in the background or past that creates or explains a present anomaly or difficulty. In the above instance, the dead cat on the line is presumed to be a competing love interest. The example given by Rev J. M. Gates (in a best-selling recorded sermon that popularized the term among both races) involves presumed adultery?. The phrase still survives in the South and among blacks, but has taken on the meaning of a mere suspicious occurrence.? 

Calt might not be the most authorative source, but the fact that he can adduce a use of the term that implies a different meaning to that suggested by Rev Gates shows it was used beyond Gates and with a a wider meaning than specifically a child born from an adulterous relationship.

Tampa Red?s ?Dead Cat On the Line? uses the phrase  to imply adultery or at least unfaithfulness:
?There?s a dead cat on the line
?I ain?t lyin? you?re the cheatin? kind
?There?s a dead cat on the line?

His lyric does have a reference to extramarital children, but as he also implies a sexual relationship between his partner and Sister Smith, it obviously goes beyond breeding.

In "No Uncertain Terms", compiled from the New York Times Magazine's "On Language" column, columnist William Safire  tells of a mother saying to her daughters "There's a dead cat on the line" when she was sure they were lying. He gives the broader definition as "a suspicion that somebody is trying to deceive you".

Other references can be found thru use of our good friend Dr Google (to whom I'm obliged for William Safire). Overall, I'd go with a suggestion that it is primarily a reference to adultery/unfaithfulness, but pinning it specifically to the child that doesn't favor its father is too precise. 

Offline Gumbo

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Re: When I Reach That Heavenly Shore
« Reply #5 on: December 10, 2014, 05:25:46 AM »
Another example from Brownie McGhee, Cheatin' and Lyin' 1953

Give my baby all my love think I'm bein' kind
She' s not satisfied there's a dead cat on the line
I'm gonna murder my baby if she don't stop cheatin' and lyin'

Offline Rivers

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Re: When I Reach That Heavenly Shore
« Reply #6 on: December 10, 2014, 06:27:14 AM »
I've also wondered about that phrase. Found this, newspaper report on a Smithsonian study, 1982:

http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=2206&dat=19820501&id=Cq4lAAAAIBAJ&sjid=_vMFAAAAIBAJ&pg=4421,63279

There's an interesting theory in the article as to origins of the phrase, it goes like this. Someone drowns a cat/kittens by putting them in a sack with a rock and tossing them into a creek etc. Used to happen a lot when I was a kid. Anyway, someone else goes fishing and hooks the bag. That would be palpably disappointing for the fisherman, instead of a large catfish they have a dead cat on the line.

Another theory the article mentions is that the 'cat' usage is the colloquial name for 'catfish'. Setting trot lines with multiple hooks you're supposed to check them regularly. If you were lazy and didn't check them often enough there'd sometimes be a dead 'cat' on the line when you, or someone else, retrieved it later.

The common thread there I suppose is that somebody's less than honorable activity in the past creates disappointment in the present.
« Last Edit: December 10, 2014, 06:56:29 AM by Rivers »

Offline LucyStag

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Re: When I Reach That Heavenly Shore
« Reply #7 on: December 18, 2014, 11:37:48 PM »
I listened to this all the way through on NPR twice. I think that means I should buy it.

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