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I got a cigar box, I cut a hole in the top, put a board and nail it on there. And I taken four nails, put wire on 'em from a screen door for strings. I couldn't play it, but I rapped the sides, hootin' and hollerin'. I thought I was doin' something you know. - Furry Lewis recalls his first guitar

Author Topic: 'A World Unknown'  (Read 21626 times)

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Offline CF

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'A World Unknown'
« on: September 24, 2007, 06:53:15 AM »
I've never believed that Patton was singing 'I'm going away to a world unknown' in his 'Down The Dirt Road Blues' . . . just sounded too metaphysical or philosophical for a delta blues musician from the  early 20th century (for me) . . . but I came across this song on the Wolf Folklore Collection page [check out the Bukka White stuff here too] & now I don't know . . .

http://www.lyon.edu/wolfcollection/unknownworld1289.html
« Last Edit: September 24, 2007, 06:54:59 AM by Cheapfeet »
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Offline waxwing

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Re: 'A World Unknown'
« Reply #1 on: September 24, 2007, 07:51:47 AM »
I've never believed Charley sang "to a world unknown" because it sounds like "to Illino-o-o" especially in the Nevins remastering on Yazoo. But I guess you could say that, since he does sing "down the dark road" that he is talking about death and he's either gonna kill his rider or, someone else's, to take with him. Now that's down right Egyptsheen.

All for now.
John C.
"People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it."
George Bernard Shaw

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Offline CF

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Re: 'A World Unknown'
« Reply #2 on: September 24, 2007, 08:37:06 AM »
Yeah, I'm still an 'Illinois' man myself, ha . . . plus there's precedence in other blues/folk tunes . . . Doesn't Skip James say something similar in 'Illinois Blues'?
« Last Edit: March 28, 2008, 07:05:34 AM by cheapfeet »
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Offline uncle bud

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Re: 'A World Unknown'
« Reply #3 on: September 24, 2007, 08:41:06 AM »
The three theories I've heard are "world unknown", which I never thought he sang -- I agree, CF, seems too affected, poetic etc -- and "Illinois", which I never thought he sang, and "to where I don' know", which is right.  :P Sung something like "whe'-I don'ohh-hohhh."

The Wolf Folklore Collection recording you point to is from 1961, so it is hard to use as a reference point unless the texts date back to before the 20s, which I'm sure many do, but Sacred Harp is sure not my expertise. (That recording, BTW, is scary. There's some community religious music that's just spooky to me in a OK-so-who-do-we-sacrifice-now kind of way.  :P) Thanks for that page, I hadn't come across it before.

I agree though, that if Patton used the phrase "I'm going away to a world unknown" (which I still don't think he did), that it sounds like a phrase lifted from a hymn or sacred song of some kind.

Offline CF

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Re: 'A World Unknown'
« Reply #4 on: September 24, 2007, 08:58:06 AM »
OK, Skip doesn't say it in 'Illinois Blues' . . . thought I heard that line somewhere, hmm . . . . Anyone know any songs with 'going away to Illinois' lyric? It may have been a bluegrass tune i'm thinking of . . .
It does sound like 'dark road' Waxwing, never noticed that before . . .
Yeah UB I knew it was a 60s recording but figured it was a common religious phrase of some kind of ancestry . . . might look into it.
If it is 'World Unknown' it certainly works better for me now finding this religious context & gives the lyric the romantic angle I think Fahey (?) & other transcribers were reading into it.
« Last Edit: September 24, 2007, 05:31:35 PM by Cheapfeet »
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Offline uncle bud

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Re: 'A World Unknown'
« Reply #5 on: September 24, 2007, 09:50:29 AM »
For kicks, I googled "I'm going away to Illinois" (and "goin'") within quotation marks to see what comes up. Only two results, one of which was an article by Elijah Wald which appeared in Sing Out! in 2002. I reproduce the first paragraph here because of its pertinence to our discussion but you can read the whole article at http://www.elijahwald.com/patton.html (and I recommend it heartily - Elijah is very readable).

Charlie Patton ? Folksinger
by Elijah Wald

Who was Charley Patton, and what the hell was he singing about? There are infinite arguments about Patton?s lyrics. His growling, slurred diction, and the fact that his recordings were often made on mediocre equipment and survive only in scratched and beaten copies make words and phrases utterly indecipherable. Combined with the gaps in what we know of his life and character, this creates an almost irresistible opportunity for historians to shape him into whatever they want him to be. Take the first line of ?Down the Dirt Road Blues,? one of his earliest and greatest recordings: Is he a haunted, Delta mystic singing, ?I?m going away to a world unknown,? as transcribed in the liner notes to an ornate new box set and a half-dozen web sites? Or is he a popular country entertainer singing, ?I?m going away to Illinois,? a common theme of the great exodus of black Mississippians to Chicago? There is no ?right? answer, but how one hears a line like this can be emblematic of the whole way one looks at blues....

« Last Edit: September 24, 2007, 10:00:13 AM by uncle bud »

Offline Slack

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Re: 'A World Unknown'
« Reply #6 on: September 24, 2007, 01:24:21 PM »
Yes, good article - long, but well worth the read.

dingwall

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Re: 'A World Unknown'
« Reply #7 on: September 24, 2007, 01:40:43 PM »
This is difficult, but my hearing is:

I'm goin' away, to wander North.

Offline dj

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Re: 'A World Unknown'
« Reply #8 on: September 24, 2007, 01:50:44 PM »
I think Uncle Bud is right, it's "to were I don't know", sung with a rather peculiar accent.

As an interesting aside, John Fahey, in his Patton book, gives the line as "I'm going away to the one I know" in his lyric transcription, but as "I'm going away to where I don't know" when he transcribes the melody.


Offline Johnm

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Re: 'A World Unknown'
« Reply #9 on: September 24, 2007, 03:55:40 PM »
Hi all,
It has always sounded like "to where I don't knooooow" to me.
all best,
Johnm

Offline CF

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Re: 'A World Unknown'
« Reply #10 on: September 24, 2007, 05:29:44 PM »
I read that Wald article over a year ago & I really liked it, one of the better articles on Patton I've read . . .
This is a different thread altogether but I'm really starting to view pre-war blues in a different light . . . beginning to think that the blues was much more of a 'popular', recorded phenomenon than it was a traditional one . . . anyway . . .
Hmm, I just don't hear 'to where I don't know' . . .
Does the Revenant box transcription have 'world unknown'? I think I assumed that from Wald's suggestion in this article  . . .
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Offline banjochris

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Re: 'A World Unknown'
« Reply #11 on: September 24, 2007, 06:01:01 PM »
I seem to remember that, for whatever this is worth, that the source for the "world unknown" lyric in the Calt/Wardlow book was Booker Miller, who sang and played with Patton, and wasn't just the way they heard it.
Chris

Offline Rivers

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Re: 'A World Unknown'
« Reply #12 on: September 24, 2007, 07:19:54 PM »
Charlie came up with "Circle 'Round The Moon". Whoa, metaphysics dude.  8)

Offline Doug

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Re: 'A World Unknown'
« Reply #13 on: September 24, 2007, 10:21:44 PM »
Yeah UB I knew it was a 60s recording but figured it was a common religious phrase of some kind of ancestry . . . might look into it.

I have no idea what Patton actually sang, but "world(s) unknown" is definitely a well-known religious phrase. I've spent a fair bit of my life listening to hymns (insert your own jokes about a mis-spent youth), and the source that jumps to mind is the last verse of the well-known hymn "Rock of Ages," with the words by Augustus Toplady (1740-1778):

"While I draw this fleeting breath,
When my eyes shall close in death,
When I soar [rise] to worlds unknown
See thee on thy judgment throne
[or: And behold Thee on thy throne]
Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in thee."

That's not the only reference to the phrase though...  I know it comes up in one of Isaac Watts' adaptations of Psalm 97, which are earlier still. Watts lived 1674-1748, and his hymns were extremely influential. See http://books.google.com/books?id=_X4CAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA199&lpg=PA199&dq=%22worlds+unknown%22+flight&source=web&ots=RKIfd32AGv&sig=a9hdRrFDcdOuKP5_cFBmYdr6vRg

(Sorry, I don't know how to prettify the link...)

Doug
« Last Edit: September 24, 2007, 10:23:27 PM by Doug »

Offline Stuart

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Re: 'A World Unknown'
« Reply #14 on: September 25, 2007, 12:04:27 AM »
Since I occasionally work with historical phonology and rhymed texts, as well as old texts, their content and context, I'll throw in my 2 cents?just some things to think about. Charley's rhymes are consistent?maybe not perfect, but pretty damn close when we listen to the finals and vowel shapes. I'm pretty sure that the last word in the first verse is "long." "I'm worried now, but I won't be worried long" is a stock phrase. My assumption is that he would start off with an AAB structured verse with rhyming finals, since that's the pattern for rest of the piece. Working backwards, he would try to rhyme "?ong" with something identical or something close, such as "?on" ("-own"). "To where I don't know" ("-o") is close, but lacks the final ?n. (Where is IPA when I need it?) But it is phonetically and semantically close enough to be a strong possibility, barring other evidence.

I'd forget about the metaphysical, philosophical, lyrical, affected, poetic stuff. No offense fellows, but we don't want or need to project this back on Charley. It just muddies the waters. "World unknown" may have been a commonplace that was in his vocabulary, or may have been borrowed for the specific purpose of creating lyrics for this song. Happens all the time. He could have been using it in the sense of  "some unknown place in the (or "this") world." (Like when I walk out my door to Aurora Ave. here just north of Seattle. I never know what I'll run into.)

I listened to the first verse a dozen times or so and its anything but clear. The final "?on" makes me lean towards "world unknown," and if Chris's memory is correct about Calt's and Wardlow's source, Booker Miller's recollections make the case stronger. In the absence of an urtext or a clear ur-recording, there's room to speculate. We're all entitled to our own opinions, but we're not entitled to our own facts. The fact is that Charley did have something specific in mind when he sang the specific lyrics to "Down the Dirt Road" when he cut the song that we listen to. Its finding out that "fact" that isn't easy. 

 


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