Sunday, February 05, 2006

Wake Up Darlin' ME

It's been a little over a year since the passing of fiddle legend Art Stamper. I've only recently gotten to know his work. His community of followers is still strong, even stronger, now that he's gone. No question this is partly due to the release of his last recording, Wake Up, Darlin' Corey, which featured a stellar lineup of co-conspirators. According to the Web site, Stamper, while hospitalized several years ago for chemotherapy treatment, told pal Harry Bickel: "When I get out of here, I want you, me and Doc to record an album of old-time music." Wake Up, Darlin' Corey is that album.

Goes to show you, you can be pretty low down, you can just about be on your last mile, a fifty-cent cab ride from eternal rest, and find a way to make something happen.

I can hardly wait to get my hands on this recording. I really am sorry I'll never have the chance to hear Stamper live. He's influenced a lot of my favorite performers. A year ago, when I heard that Stamper had passed, my life was completely different. I had awakened enough to move on from my marriage, and then a few months later fell deeply in love with another emotionally unavailable man. Consequently, while I had sort of moved on, I had drifted back into a half-sleep, my life in a semi-suspended state while I waited for him to send up a signal that he felt as I did, that we were supposed to be together and move forward as a family. He was 350 miles away and my heart was with him, not really as much in my own life, where it should have been. So while I knew that Stamper's passing was meaninful, I was pretty clueless, and it was just another sad event in the community of music I loved.

Eventually, I woke up to the fact that I was running in place alone, and gradually gained the strength to release myself from what should have been "it". On the night before Easter, ironically, I celebrated my new life, avowed to stay awake, to not compromise my life the way I had been, mine and that of my children. I drove out to the country to see Ralph Stanley; his pin-drop-audible rendition of "O Death" ("Conversation with Death," popularized in the movie, "O! Brother, Where Art Thou") had new meaning. I had skirted another death of spirit and soul; later that year I would catch Death looking at me but would leave without giving him my number.

One thing that has meant a great deal to me as I learn about the people behind this music is that they never give up. Like Art Stamper, these brushes with disaster are inconveniences in the way of the next project. These are people who, like me, want to work until they drop because it doesn't really feel like work, it's how one lives. It's more than a lifestyle, it's a directive, a vocation for which we are chosen, and it's almost as if that bears us beyond whatever pain, grief, sorrow, or uncertainty holds us down. It's like we're all in this life thing together.

This lyric, for Darlin' Corey, is another of many versions that I picked because again there are phrases or ideas borrowed from, or more accurately, shared with, other songs of this ilk -- the "ilk" being an old time fiddle tune to back the story of a colorful mountain character. Personally, I like the idea of sitting on the shore, with a 44 in one hand and a banjo in the other. At this juncture, that's far more likely than sitting on the beach with John Cusack's head in my lap and a glass of Pinot in hand.

No matter. Cusack is a Who fan, and while the Who is awesome, I'm still waiting to see Pete pick up a banjo (yes, for all I know, he does play the banjo, and if you happen to know that, fill me in!). Click the title to hear a sample.

Darlin' Corey
Wake up, wake up, darlin' Corey.
What makes you sleep so sound?
When them reveenooers are comin'
For to tear your still house down.
Well the first time I seen darlin' Corey
She was settin' by the side of the sea,
With a forty-four strapped across her bosom
And a banjo on her knee.

Refrain:Dig a hole, dig a hole, in the medder
Dig a hole, in the col' col' groun'
Dig a hole, dig a hole in the medder
Goin' ter lay darlin' Corey down.

The next time I seen darlin' Corey
She was standin' in the still-house door
With her shoes and stockin's in her han'
An' her feet all over the floor.
Go `way, go `way, darlin' Corey.
Quit hangin' roun' my bed.
Hard likker has ruined my body.
Pretty wimmen has killed me mos' dead.

Wake up, wake up my darlin';
Go do the best you can.
I've got me another woman;
You can get you another man.
Oh yes, oh yes my darlin'I'll do the best I can,
But I'll never take my pleasure
With another gamblin' man.
Don' you hear them blue-birds singin'?
Don' you hear that mournful sound?
They're preachin' Corey's funeral
In some lonesome buryin' groun'.

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