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Baby don't sic your dogs on me - Bukka White, Sic 'Em Dogs

Author Topic: Geeshie Wiley's Last Kind Words  (Read 39163 times)

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Offline cravendish

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Re: Geeshie Wiley's Last Kind Words
« Reply #90 on: November 03, 2012, 02:03:04 PM »
Hi, I've been reading here for some time - great stuff! - and finally decided to register.

I like what has been posted concerning "Last Kind Words" - especially what you found out about "bolted meal" etc.
I still think that the line "Lord, *sister*, daughter, don't you be so wild" should read "Lord, bless?d daughter..." and that the final stanza is slightly different:
"What you do to me baby it never gets out of me,
I may not see you after I cross the deep blue sea."
The "I" in the final line makes a lot of sense to me, as this would tie it in with the beginning, that is, going across the ocean to Europe, as well as with the whole death theme (the Mississippi as the ocean as the river Jordan...).

Anyway. One aspect of the lyrics that, so far, hasn't been discussed is the line:
"When you see me comin' look 'cross the rich man's field."
Here, I'd like to suggest a different reading:
"When you see me comin' look 'cross the Richmond Field"

Over the years I've often been struck by the fact of how topical many of the old blues lyrics are. The little that is known about Geeshie Wiley suggests that she was from Natchez or the Natchez area. Now, just outside Natchez there is the old Richmond plantation, see:
http://sankofagen.pbworks.com/w/page/14230765/Richmond%20Plantation

The fields of this plantation are (still) crossed by a railway line, thus someone could well be looking out for an approaching train across the Richmond Field and then, as no train comes in sight, proceed to the depot (as the next line has it) to find out if and when a train is due. The depot in question could be this one:
http://www.rrpicturearchives.net/showPicture.aspx?id=1897337

... all of which would also explain the narrator's position on the banks of the Mississippi river, thus fusing actual description and symbolical meaning of the lyrics.

What do you think?

Offline Rivers

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Re: Geeshie Wiley's Last Kind Words
« Reply #91 on: November 03, 2012, 02:57:47 PM »
Richmond makes good sense. I found the plantation on the old map link, a few miles south of Natchez.

Listening back to the line, she seems to sing "rich man's" though. Doesn't mean she wasn't referring to Richmond, that could have been the local vernacular way of referring to it, with a touch of humor. So I really don't know, either way would work for me.
« Last Edit: November 03, 2012, 03:06:42 PM by Rivers »

Offline bird to whistle

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Re: Geeshie Wiley's Last Kind Words
« Reply #92 on: November 05, 2012, 03:44:46 PM »
Geeshie is telling a story about her man going off to war and what she thinks and feels about it. The thing is that it's a little out of order. Here is my interpretation of the lyrics and the order they might go in if you wanted to make the story more clear.


The last kind words I heared my daddy say
Lord, the last kind words I heared my daddy say

This is the most important line because she is telling us what she is going to be singing about. It's also like her saying "once upon a time", or as Linghtin Hopkins says "once in the county"


"If I die if I die in the German war
I want you to send my body, send it to my mother-in-law
 
If I get killed if I get killed please don't bury my soul
I cry just leave me out let the buzzards eat me whole

What you do to me baby it never gets outta me
I may not see you after I cross the deep blue sea
 
When you see me comin' look cross the rich man's field
If I don't bring you flour I'll bring you bolted meal"

These are all things her man told her before he left. I think in the first line he says if he dies he wants her mother in law to get the body because he doesn't want her to see him like that. The "don't bury my soul" line, to me, is the same as Robert Johnson saying "You may bury my body, down by the highway side. Baby, I don't care where you bury my body when I'm dead and gone". In the next line he's saying he loves her and may not see her again after he is shipped out across the sea, but then in the last line he says she will see him again and he'll have a bolted meal with him. This could be a way of him saying "I'll bring the groceries with me when I come back, everything will be fine, just like before", or it could be more of a joke, like saying "you'll recognize me when I come back because I'll have bolted meal with me". Joking that she wouldn't recognize his face after being away for so long. You can imagine her replying that she would never forget him after he says this.


The Mississippi river, you know it's deep and wide
I can stand right here, see my babe from the other side

This can be interpreted many ways. Maybe she is saying "river" but is referring to the ocean mentioned earlier. Maybe she is thinking about standing by the river and thinks she sees him on the other side. Maybe the river represents death and he crossed over or maybe it just means she misses him and they are separated by an insurmountable distance but she can still see his face.


I went to the depot, I looked up at the sun
Cried, some train don't come, Lord, be some walkin' done

Her man is now gone and she doesn't know what to do so she decides to leave town. The sun is high in the sky so the train is late so she starts to walk.


My mama told me, just before she died
"Lord, precious daughter don't you be so wild"

Now she is walking down the road and she hears the voice of mother telling her to reconsider leaving. It's a warning to her that she shouldn't be so impetuous and that she should reconsider leaving. She should wait for her man because he'll be coming back to her one day.


Maybe I am reading too much into it, but this is how I like to thinks of this song.

 
Also it sounds to me like she's saying "malted milk" and not "bolted meal". Bolted meal, however, makes more sense and rhymes better so that's what I'm going with.

What do you guys think?

Offline Rivers

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Re: Geeshie Wiley's Last Kind Words
« Reply #93 on: November 05, 2012, 05:00:53 PM »
I think it's interesting to rearrange the verses, good idea.

It's unusual to hear so much reported speech in one song but it makes sense. Ballad songs, like Stagger Lee, tend to have a lot of lines about what somebody told somebody else. Maybe it was more common in the older 'story' tunes. This one sure goes back a fair way.

Pretty sure the 'river' + 'face' verse is symbolizing the Mississippi as Jordan, the evidence of many gospel songs would support this. The 'depot' verse could be the unwitting recent widow going to meet the train bringing her man home from the war, she hadn't got a sad letter from the Department of War but suspected as much and had a plan B to hit the road.

Much as I like Ovaltine on a cold winter night, 'malted milk' would be a big stretch in this context.
« Last Edit: November 05, 2012, 05:12:23 PM by Rivers »

Offline bird to whistle

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Re: Geeshie Wiley's Last Kind Words
« Reply #94 on: November 05, 2012, 06:02:45 PM »
Quote
It's unusual to hear so much reported speech in one song but it makes sense.

I agree, I can't think of any other.

Quote
the 'river' + 'face' verse

I still hear babe or baby and not face.

Quote
the evidence of many gospel songs would support this

Would you mind posting an example.

Quote
Much as I like Ovaltine on a cold winter night, 'malted milk' would be a big stretch in this context.

I though it was malted milk before I read the thread. I was thinking more
along the lines of it being a powder rather than a drink since that can be used in baking.

Quote
The 'depot' verse could be the unwitting recent widow going to meet the train bringing her man home from the war, she hadn't got a sad letter from the Department of War but suspected as much and had a plan B to hit the road.

That works too. I guess it depends on if you like happy or sad endings.

Offline Rivers

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Re: Geeshie Wiley's Last Kind Words
« Reply #95 on: November 19, 2012, 08:28:06 PM »
Quote
Would you mind posting an example.

Sorry it took me a while to get back to this. Blind Willie McTell ? I Got To Cross The River Jordan, would be a good example.

It's on the juke. The River Jordan is clearly symbolic of crossing from life to whatever comes next. There are many more, in several musical genres, but primarily in gospel and, most likely inherited from gospel, old country songs. In the latter category would be I Am A Pilgrim.

Click here to see songs on the juke with Jordan in the title: http://weeniecampbell.com/yabbse/index.php?limiter=Title&search=jordan&limit=27&page=juke&jukesp=library
« Last Edit: June 28, 2013, 08:57:03 PM by Rivers »

Offline jimbeaux

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Re: Geeshie Wiley's Last Kind Words
« Reply #96 on: April 21, 2014, 11:23:42 AM »
Hi all,

I am pretty much a novice when it comes to blues music, and hopefully not repeating something below that may have been discussed elsewhere on this forum.

After reading the article below from the NY Times, a Google search led me to this forum.

I read this thread and found it most interesting, i found the user name "SLACK" quite eerie after reading the L.V. Thomas article.

Thanks for all the insight you provided here

http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2014/04/13/magazine/blues.html?ref=magazine&_r=0

Offline Slack

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Re: Geeshie Wiley's Last Kind Words
« Reply #97 on: April 21, 2014, 12:35:39 PM »
Quote
I read this thread and found it most interesting, i found the user name "SLACK" quite eerie after reading the L.V. Thomas article.

Welcome Jimbeaux!

I am an eerie kinda guy, but look nothing like L.V.  but just wait until you read up on "Uncle Bud'!  :P

Offline zcm

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Re: Geeshie Wiley's Last Kind Words
« Reply #98 on: April 26, 2014, 02:01:00 PM »
Hi. I too found this thread after reading the wonderful NYT article. Mostly because the words "mother-in-law" don't seem right to me and I was looking for different transcriptions of the lyrics.

Having read your replies, I'd like to add another interpretation.

Quote
The last kind words I heard my daddy say
Lord, the last kind words I heard my daddy say
These are the last words the song's protagonist hears from her lover's lips. They are gloomy and not particularly kind. But that's a clue to the unfolding of the song, because it hints that these were not the last words, but the last kind ones. Hearing farewell from a loved one is cruel and unkind, so this implies he was sent to the war and they parted ways here.

Quote
If I die, if I die in the German war
I want you to send my body, send it to my mother, lord
Our protagonist's lover isn't asking her specifically to send his body home, but rather, he's expressing a feeling (powerlessness, hopelessness, sorrow).

Can anyone explain why this should be "mother-in-law"? I'm not sold on the idea that it means their affair is illicit. The dead soldier being sent back to the mother(land) is a much simpler, universal and powerful visual, and I think it makes more sense in the context to the song.

Quote
If I get killed, if I get killed, please don't bury my soul
Cried, just leave me out, let the buzzards eat me whole
He further laments, please don't forget me (you can bury my body, but don't bury my soul). The metaphor of the birds of prey tearing him apart adds to the gloom of the imagery.

Quote
When you see me comin', look 'cross the rich man's field
If I don't bring you flour, I'll bring you bolted meal
Here, we are no longer hearing her "daddy"'s words. Our protagonist decided that she will see him off before he's sent to war.
She will go to him and procure some flour or bolted corn meal, but she will bring him something. This was pretty common before modern times; families would offer deployed soldiers food or other useful goods to take to the war front.

I wonder if the "rich man's field" is a biblical reference to Ruth, gathering left-over grains from a rich man's field, to sustain herself and her mother-in-law, Naomi.

Quote
I went to the depot, I looked up at the sun
Christ, some train don't come, gon' be some walkin' done
She goes to the train station, no trains are coming. She looks up, the sun is already high (mid-day), she will have to walk the distance (remember, her lover is departing, so she can't leave it for the next day).

Quote
My mama told me, just before she died
Lord, precious daughter, don't you be so wild
As she walks what is surely a considerable distance, under the scorching sun, she remembers her deceased mother's advice, not to be "wild" (don't be impulsive, be wise).

Quote
The Mississippi river, you know it's deep and wide
I can stand right there, see my babe from the other side
She finally arrives. She stands on the river bank and sees her lover on the other side, but it's too late. He's departing.

Quote
What you do to me baby, it never gets outta me
I may not see you after, across the deep blue sea
She can't forget the way he makes her feel, her feelings for him ("what you do to me baby, it never gets outta me"). He will be always on her mind (this line also brings me back to the story of Ruth: "where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the Lord do so to me, and more also, but death part thee and me").

Standing on the river bank of the "deep and wide" Mississippi, she can still see him, but, in a final lament, she questions if she'll still be able to see/remember him, across the vastness of the ocean.

I've seen this line transcribed "as I cross the deep blue sea", as some kind of afterlife metaphor. Which is possible (there are also many religious references to the "deep blue sea"). But I don't believe that's what's being sung. There's also a song by Lonnie Johnson that predates "Last Kind Words Blues" (1930), called "" (1928). Not to imply any plagiarism, but folk musicians often borrow words from one another, so maybe that was an inspiration.

I don't see the supernatural element in this song at all, it's a simple song, depicting a very universal theme. Some of the best songs are just that: simple stories told in compelling ways. (And Geeshie's voice is haunting enough, anyway.)

Just my two cents. Thanks for reading, enjoyed reading all the comments here as well!
« Last Edit: April 26, 2014, 02:18:21 PM by zcm »

Offline heather

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Re: Geeshie Wiley's Last Kind Words
« Reply #99 on: May 20, 2017, 06:39:27 PM »
New member here: Thank you so much for all this years-long analysis, this has been extremely interesting and enjoyable to read through. Now my turn: I had a realization last night that I haven't seen anyone else posit yet. For the verse:

"The Mississippi River, you know it's deep and wide
I can stand right here, see my face from the other side"

(for those who think it is face, as I do, rather than babe), I had been puzzling over how someone could see their own face from the other side of the river, and suddenly felt sure the line actually refers to looking down into the depth of the river and seeing one's own reflection.

Offline Slack

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Re: Geeshie Wiley's Last Kind Words
« Reply #100 on: May 20, 2017, 10:03:06 PM »
Welcome to weeniecampbell heather!  I like your interpretation - a new twist to an old analysis.

Offline btasoundsradio

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Re: Geeshie Wiley's Last Kind Words
« Reply #101 on: May 21, 2017, 03:57:48 PM »
I always thought it was "see my base from the other side", maybe that's far fetched.
Charlie is the Father, Son is the Son, Willie is the Holy Ghost

Offline jpeters609

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Re: Geeshie Wiley's Last Kind Words
« Reply #102 on: May 21, 2017, 06:40:45 PM »
I always thought it was "see my base from the other side", maybe that's far fetched.

I think that's the crux of it: you can hear a "b" sound at the start and an "s" sound at the end. That's why some folks hear "babe" and some hear "face" (and you hear "base"). This might be an instance where a muffed lyric on Geeshie's part has had the rest of us scratching our heads all these years later. It's possible she wanted to sing "baby's face" and then realized there just wasn't time.
Jeff

Offline PaperTiger

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Re: Geeshie Wiley's Last Kind Words
« Reply #103 on: September 07, 2020, 01:05:09 AM »
New member here: Thank you so much for all this years-long analysis, this has been extremely interesting and enjoyable to read through. Now my turn: I had a realization last night that I haven't seen anyone else posit yet. For the verse:

"The Mississippi River, you know it's deep and wide
I can stand right here, see my face from the other side"

(for those who think it is face, as I do, rather than babe), I had been puzzling over how someone could see their own face from the other side of the river, and suddenly felt sure the line actually refers to looking down into the depth of the river and seeing one's own reflection.

Hi there. New member here, also, replying to this three years later  :o (Not even sure this thread is still going, but I did feel compelled to share a thought or two...)

I won't pretend to be any kind of expert on historical blues lyrics, and from what I've read there is probably a great chance the lyrics to some of these songs are sort of pieced together without perhaps any specific over-arching narrative in mind...

Still, I wondered if there is any one else out there who hears this entire song as a flat-out suicide note? I mean, there is the overall grimness in chords, the sadness of the singing voice and the title itself: not just refering to the last reported speech of her lover, but perhaps also her own "last kind words", explaining why she's about to do what she's going to do. In the song itself, the last (kind) words of anyone mentioned are always followed by their death, be it in the case of the "daddy" or, later on, the mother "just before she died". So, if these lyrics are also the singer's last kind words, that maybe means she is also about to die?

This is also why, in keeping with what heather said, I tend to think the Mississippi part is about looking into the river and seeing her own reflection - specifically, right before she is about to drown herself, to be with her dead lover "on the other side". The fact that she's not sure if she will see him after she's crossed that deep ocean is up for interpretation. Perhaps because she's not all that sure there even is an afterlife? Or because one of them might be in hell and the other in heaven?

In fact, I even hear the part where she goes to the train depot as an earlier failed suicide-attempt: she went there, crying, thinking about death and heaven while she's looking up at the stars (at least that's what I hear) and was about to throw herself in front of a train, but there wasn't any. As a result, she had to try something else, namely: walk all the way to the Mississippi river to drown herself. At least, that's how I intuitively linked up that sudden change of location in the song from the station in one line, to near the river in the next. 

I don't know. Maybe I'm just rambling on here without any sense of the song's history or context. But I did enjoy reading all of your interpretations and I really got into the lyrics of this fascinating song. So thanks for giving me an inspiring and profound thing to do for a couple of hours  ;)

Greetings from Belgium!



Offline Rivers

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Re: Geeshie Wiley's Last Kind Words
« Reply #104 on: September 18, 2020, 07:38:24 PM »
Hi PT,

Welcome to the weeniecampbell forum, where old threads never die, but if they do it's of natural causes.

Wow! I'd never thought about the narrative in that way. Looking back on it, ask anyone, I've come up with some fairly crazy theories of my own about this song.

You could be on to something, I will meditate some more on this. My first thought was that real poetry reveals multiple interpretations. Yours is pretty deep and makes a lot of sense, particularly the way the narrative, and Geeshie's delivery of it, fits so well with the guitar music.
« Last Edit: September 18, 2020, 08:36:31 PM by Rivers »

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