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The blues is a bantering conversation on, for the most part, the subjects of sex, love, anxiety, and travel, that was little different from the idle back-and-forth talk that might have been overheard in a 1930s barrelhouse. - Michael Taft, review of Barrelhouse Words by Stephen Calt

Author Topic: 'A World Unknown'  (Read 22349 times)

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Offline Johnm

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Re: 'A World Unknown'
« Reply #45 on: October 17, 2007, 07:08:15 PM »
Hi Rivers,
I'm similarly dubious about the "Illinois", both because I don't hear Charley saying it, and because no one of the period from Mississippi would have talked about the Illinois tribe.  I think that "OC" referring to Oklahoma City could be right on the money, but "Overseas Blues" occurred elsewhere in blues lyrics, and Charley was not above cribbing lyrics, like the rest of his contemporaries.  Totem poles were and are not universal among Native American peoples, and are pretty much confined to tribes of the Northwest. Lastly, if Charley wanted to visit with Indian relatives (about which you may have been joking), he wouldn't have to travel at all.  I don't know if it is known that Charley had any connection with full-blood Choctaw relatives anywhere.  I reckon he would go the Nation to visit total strangers, not relatives.
all best,
Johnm    
« Last Edit: October 17, 2007, 07:59:54 PM by Johnm »

Offline Rivers

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Re: 'A World Unknown'
« Reply #46 on: October 17, 2007, 07:29:13 PM »
My rider [got] somethin, she try to keep it hid
Oh and I got somethin', find that somethin' with

The 'got' is implied. Sounds like he had major catarrh during the session particularly on that verse.

PS I cheated!

Offline waxwing

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Re: 'A World Unknown'
« Reply #47 on: October 17, 2007, 07:39:41 PM »
But I wanted to know what you heard! I think the last line is "Lord, I got somethin', find that Ba-astard with." I can't hear anything remotely like "somethin' with" for the last two words. Sounds to me like he does his whole vocal slide thing with the A sound in bastard and then ends with a quick "-st'dwi'- " drawing out the end. Anyone else hear this?

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

“Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they aren't after you.”
Joseph Heller, Catch-22

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Offline Bricktown Bob

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Re: 'A World Unknown'
« Reply #48 on: October 17, 2007, 08:44:34 PM »
Hi, Rivers.

I was born in the Nation and the Territo' (Delaware allotment within the Cherokee Nation), and have never heard anyone refer to Oklahoma City as OC.  It is usually OKC, but maybe that's just because it's the airport designation.  Anyway, Oklahoma City was never in the Indian Territory, nor in any Nation.

I personally hear, and have no problem with, "o'erseas."  But then I have no problem with "world unknown" either, so maybe I just have no imagination.

Offline uncle bud

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Re: 'A World Unknown'
« Reply #49 on: October 17, 2007, 09:56:51 PM »
Hi, Rivers.

I was born in the Nation and the Territo' (Delaware allotment within the Cherokee Nation), and have never heard anyone refer to Oklahoma City as OC.  It is usually OKC, but maybe that's just because it's the airport designation.  Anyway, Oklahoma City was never in the Indian Territory, nor in any Nation.

I personally hear, and have no problem with, "o'erseas."  But then I have no problem with "world unknown" either, so maybe I just have no imagination.

Or maybe others have overactive imaginations.  :P Just a thought.

I think it is not necessarily accurate to talk about what some of these songs are "about". Many of them are simply collections of verses and non-thematic. David Evans has much to say on the subject in Big Road Blues.

Offline Rivers

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Re: 'A World Unknown'
« Reply #50 on: October 18, 2007, 05:49:17 AM »
OK, so what does 'feel like choppin', chips flyin' everywhere' mean?

My theory is it's 'shopping', in the casino on the reservation, poker chips flyin' everywhere...

Dunno how you guys could say I have an overactive imagination.  :)

Seriously though, what does that line mean? I don't buy David Evans on a lot of stuff and frankly I don't buy the 'random streams of consciousness' deal in this context either, no way. The song is about Charley's tribal connections. The Nation should clinch that. Charley never toured the UK either so I doubt he had the overseas blues, at least not the same overseas blues I had...  8)

Offline banjochris

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Re: 'A World Unknown'
« Reply #51 on: October 18, 2007, 08:21:42 AM »
OK, so what does 'feel like choppin', chips flyin' everywhere' mean?

I always thought it meant that he was so angry and frustrated he wanted to take it out on something, in this case by chopping wood violently.
Chris

Offline uncle bud

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Re: 'A World Unknown'
« Reply #52 on: October 18, 2007, 11:39:41 AM »
OK, so what does 'feel like choppin', chips flyin' everywhere' mean?

I always thought it meant that he was so angry and frustrated he wanted to take it out on something, in this case by chopping wood violently.
Chris

Maybe it's a racist stereotype - a tomahawk reference.  :P (I actually agree with Chris - seems clear to me.)

Rivers, while you may not agree with Evans, I think the distinction between blues that are not thematic and are more loosely collected verses, some of which may have a bit to do with each other, and blues that are indeed thematic would hardly be controversial. Lemon's a perfect example, with early lyrics all over the place, later lyrics more "composed" and thematically unified. I think Patton does both as well. I'm not convinced this song is personal.

The occurrence of the term "nation" in this song is hardly unusual as well. I'd recommend Chris Smith's article "Going to the Nation: the idea of Oklahoma in early blues recordings" in the journal Popular Music for lots of juicy tidbits about the Nation and Oklahoma in blues. You can get it here in pdf. (And while I'm recommending that, you can actually get all of the articles in this issue of Popular Music in pdf here. Lots of interesting stuff in there.)

David Evans, anyways, might agree with you (ha!). In Smith's article he discusses Evans' interpretation of this song, which has Charley referencing his black, white and Native American heritages. Smith has an even wilder interpretation, which has the song dealing (obliquely, I'm sure) with the back-to-Africa movement of Chief Alfred Sam who took blacks (over sea) from Oklahoma to the Gold Coast (now Ghana).

I think both are reaching a bit far for "meaning".

Two other points of interest in this article. Down the Dirt Road Blues was originally titled 'Over the Sea Blues' in Gennett's files, according to Dixon and Godrich. And then there's this copyright notice (shades of Robert Johnson!):

Copyright acknowledgements
?Down The Dirt Road Blues? (Words & Music by Charley Patton), ? Copyright
1969 EMI Longitude Music, USA, Windswept Music (London) Limited, Used by
Permission of Music Sales Limited. All Rights Reserved. International Copyright
Secured.

EMI!!!


« Last Edit: October 18, 2007, 11:43:40 AM by andrew »

Offline Rivers

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Re: 'A World Unknown'
« Reply #53 on: October 18, 2007, 04:22:59 PM »
Chopping. Why pick on chopping, chips flying everywhere? And what makes you think he's expressing frustration? He could easily have said "I feel like fishing, fish jumping everywhere". Chopping totem poles is a recreational activity for people who are into it. Fact: Charley had native American Indian ancestry. Related-fact: He'd been to the Nation in Oklahoma. I'd suggest to you that since, as Son House would have it, "Charley hated work, it didn't look right to him" he was talking about getting away and having some fun.

Maybe the key is in Wax's verse, which I still haven't had my 'bingo' moment with, and I don't really agree with the accepted transcription either Wax.

Edited to add: Johnm, I accept not all tribes were into totem poles. But tomahawks were used for building (in fact the Illinois lived in houses), making travois and many other everyday items. Chopping was a part of everyday life.
« Last Edit: October 18, 2007, 04:37:24 PM by Rivers »

Offline banjochris

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Re: 'A World Unknown'
« Reply #54 on: October 18, 2007, 05:13:47 PM »
Two points: Why do I think he's expressing frustration with the "chopping" line? Because of the emotion in his voice and the extra emphasis he puts on the guitar there, going up to the minor third instead of staying on the tonic. And because, fishing, unless you do it in a very unusual way Rivers, does not involve slamming something repeatedly with an axe.  :P

And I believe there's an image of that "Over the Sea Blues" ledger entry somewhere in the Revenant box set.
Chris

Offline dj

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Re: 'A World Unknown'
« Reply #55 on: October 18, 2007, 05:20:13 PM »
I view "Down The Dirt Road" as a group verses drawn from a pool of commonly used verses, changed and shaped by Patton, on the theme of unhappiness due to "woman troubles". 

In defense of the view put forth above, I can only say that I have no imagination whatsoever.   ;D

Offline Rivers

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Re: 'A World Unknown'
« Reply #56 on: October 18, 2007, 05:21:08 PM »
The record companies routinely misheard lyrics and titled songs incorrectly. Examples are legion, we could start a whole thread on that. Actually, that's a good idea.

And yes, chopping is a form of recreation. Just because you or I don't get it doesn't make it not so. There are whole yuppie rec camps for learning how to chop totem poles.

Listen hard to the so called 'overseas' line. Tell me if you hear three syllables, or just two.

Re. fishing techniques, I prefer dynamite myself.
« Last Edit: October 18, 2007, 05:39:07 PM by Rivers »

Offline Johnm

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Re: 'A World Unknown'
« Reply #57 on: October 18, 2007, 06:01:20 PM »
Hi Rivers,
I never knew Charlie Patton (obviously) but I did know Sam Chatmon, and I know that for him, being of partial Native American heritage (1/4, via his mother) was a simple fact that involved no special identification with his tribal forebears, sense of kinship with present-day members of the tribe that contributed to his identity, or anything else of that sort.  He had no sense of himself being an Indian or having anything in common with Indians he might encounter.  I think that in the U.S., for the time and locale in question, presence of any observable Black heritage swept all other potential ethnic identifications aside and rendered them an afterthought.
It seems unbalanced to me to presume that Charley Patton would devote an entire song to the topic of his Native American heritage and not mention it once anywhere else in his recorded repertoire.  I've not read even anecdotal evidence that suggests that Charley commented on his Indian heritage in social interactions or set any particular store by it.  As to whether he had been to the Nation or not, we have only his word for it in the song's lyric.  He may have been there, but then again, he said he did a lot of things in his lyrics.  I think these lyrics are like most of his non-narrative lyrics, drawn from a variety of sources, probably some original and some not, in a loose assemblage.
All best,
Johnm
P.S.  Why assume that he is chopping with a tomahawk when it is not mentioned in the lyrics and any general store carried axes and hatchets? 

Offline Rivers

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Re: 'A World Unknown'
« Reply #58 on: October 18, 2007, 06:05:17 PM »
Why a tomahawk? Because it makes sense within the context. Hatchet, axe, whatever.

I'm inclined to believe he had been to Oklahoma. To turn the argument around, why should we not believe him when he says he'd been to the Nation? The burden of proof would seem to lay with us to prove that he had not.

Sam Chatmon had not, presumably, been there. I have no idea if that's true or not, just a complete guess from what you're saying. But that could be the whole difference between Sam and Charley's take on it.

I subscribe to the idea that there is a key point in every good song that makes the whole song. "The Nation" is not just buried somewhere in there as a throwaway line lifted from the 'cool blues lyrics' stack. It makes the whole song.

Charley's an enigmatic figure. I read Gayle Dean Wardlow's book several times and am always enthralled by it. At the end of it I still feel I know very little about the real Charley Patton.
« Last Edit: October 18, 2007, 06:22:48 PM by Rivers »

Offline waxwing

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Re: 'A World Unknown'
« Reply #59 on: October 18, 2007, 06:23:56 PM »
Personally, I agree with dj. I think he's talking about leaving his woman, why, and where he might go for pretty much the whole song. And you're right, Riv, [edit- or you were three posts ago -G-] I think finding that bastard, i.e. his woman's lover, is the key.

What I also think is interesting about this song is how he bleeds thematic ideas across verses and makes shifts within verses.

For instance, I think the line about chopping follows on "I got somethin' to find that bastard with" the something being an ax, like when he sings about throwing a ten pound ax in Jersey Bull Blues. Here he's taking what is normally a sexual image and turns it into an image of jealousy. If she's hiding a lover in her shack when he comes in he's gonna tear it down (bed slats and all-G-) by chopping it to flying chips with an ax. But mid verse he drops that theme and starts thinking about leaving again, going to the Indian Nation, where, he explains in the next verse, he has been before but obviously didn't get on there. Next verse he's back talking about how bad it is here with his woman, where it seems like someone is gonna get killed. Finally he's off down the dark road, hopefully already with a different woman.

So throughout, he goes back and forth between places he might go (Illinois, the Indian Nation) and how bad it is where he is. And he does it by slightly modifying a lot of stock verses to cleverly change their meaning to suit his purpose.

I think it's brilliant.

How's that for a vivid imagination?

All for now.
John C.
« Last Edit: October 18, 2007, 06:27:41 PM by waxwing »
"People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it."
George Bernard Shaw

“Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they aren't after you.”
Joseph Heller, Catch-22

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