Monday, August 24, 2009

The Long Black Veil

There's a long tradition in both high art and folk poetry of the song sung from beyond the grave. Tennyson wrote:

Come not, when I am dead,
To drop thy foolish tears upon my grave,
To trample round my fallen head,
And vex the unhappy dust thou wouldst not save.
There let the wind sweep and the plover cry;
But thou, go by.

Child, if it were thine error or thy crime
I care no longer, being all unblest:
Wed whom thou wilt, but I am sick of Time,
And I desire to rest.
Pass on, weak heart, and leave me where I lie:
Go by, go by.

The 1959 song "The Long Black Veil," by Lefty Frizzell, has one foot in that tradition, and the other in the equally long tradition of crime balladry. Here is a wonderful performance of the song as a duet sung by Johnny Cash and Joni Mitchell, from Cash's short-running television show at the end of the 1960s.


christopher said...

Why am I not really surprised to find reference to Lefty Frizell here? Holy cow... hard-core country. I thought mine would be the only Catholic blog to ever maybe mention him. You impress me!!! And what a fantastic clip you found of Joni and Johnny. I still like the original better, though.

Pentimento said...

Well, The Band's version is my all-time favorite, and the Stones did a great version on a Chieftains album in the 1990s. I happen to love this song!

Joni Mitchell is surprisingly free here. She's a marvelous artist but always strikes me as rather controlled.

christopher said...

You rock.

Pentimento said...

Thanks! (blushes.)

I should add that I really do love the original Lefty Frizzell version too.

Maclin Horton said...

Love that song. I didn't remember it being Lefty Frizzel's--I had some idea it was written by a couple. The Band's is my favorite, too, though, speaking of Joan Baez, I think hers was surprisingly good (though I haven't heard it in I don't know how long). Also the Johnny Cash solo one...well, you really can't go wrong with that song, can you? Unfortunately my network connection at the moment doesn't allow me to watch the vid.

Pentimento said...

This is one of the instances where I think Joan Baez went wrong myself. She's just not . . . soulful, in either a black or a white country sense.

Wait till you see the vid, Mac -- it's stunning.