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September 19, 2007



Mr P, another fine post.

In search of the pastoral, I came across this site with the lyrics to all the original Carter Family's songs:


Plenty of material for those with a mind to parse! Here is the first song under "A":


Far away in sunny mountains
Where the merry sunbeams play
There I wander through the clover
Singing to a village maid

She was dearer than the dearest
Ever loving kind and true
And she wore beneath her bonnet
Amber tresses tied with blue


Fate decreed that we be parted
Ere the leaves of autumn fell
When two hearts are separated
That had loved each other well

She was all I had to cherish
Ever loving kind and true
Now I see in every vision
Amber tresses tied with blue

Mr. Peperium

Exactly. Here is yet another facet of Pastoral, another large part of the kind's stock in trade: the swain's lament for his lost love. You can almost see the "degeneration" of the form if we think of our high school English classes. By Shakespeare's time the form was so established the Bard was able to play it for comedy (remember what goes on in Arden forest). By the time the Carter Family sang the lyrics you found it had been imported in the repetoires of waves of Scotch-Irish immigrants, now in ballad form.

Mr. Peperium

Of course, those are just guesses. Especially the last part.

But working within the "expectations" of a form or type or kind of verse can lead, as the lyics you found illustrate, to very satisfying results, emotionally and aesthetically (whatever the difference is).

We tend these days to think of ourselves as beyond all that, but I can think of no form more formulaic than the latest movie or television sit-com. Not that that's a bad thing: meeting the expectations of the formula in new ways keeps it fresh.


Mr. P.

Very interesting post. I had several reactions, including crying hot tears when I saw "Tim McGraw" in the same sentence as "classic."

I attend a lot of small countryish(sometimes referred to as alt-country or Americana) shows here, in a land that substantially fits McGraw's "where the green grass grows" idyll. At each show there's an interesting mix of people.

With popular country I think the "sophisticated"/"unsophisticated" split is, as you suggest, between producer and consumer.

With the country I prefer, there's a different, interesting split at the consumer level.
There's the button-downs and boots crowd (who actually do depend on rain and tractors) and then there's the ironic t-shirt and trucker-hat crowd (who only depend on permissive graduate admissions policies). One group got their John Deere hat from the dealer the other from an online store.
These two crowds are the country music bell curve outliers - united only in the fact that neither would be caught dead at a Gretchen Wilson show.


Basil Seal

Let's forget Tim and talk about his father, Tug...And did you know, that if you take your old country-western albums and play them backwards, your wife will come back, your dog will come back to life, you will get your job back, your pick-up truck will run again so you won't have to wear it's radiator as a belt buckle...Well written post Mr. P, although those of us who are not aficionados of C-W would be helped by some footnotes and a who's who...I am aware of Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Tennessee Ernie Ford, Ernest Tubb, Buck Owens and Roger Miller, you will have to fill in the rest. I do know who Billy Bob Shakespeare was...Ludwig Bob Beethoven cut an album with a Pastoral track on it as well (see No. 6 in F major (Op. 68) for more information)


Sir Basil, here's a place for you to visit:


It's right out your way, Branson being only 250 miles by pickup from St Louis (a short drive by Midwesterners' standards). You will probably be the only one in opera pumps, however.

Basil Seal

You know, for some reason, which I can't explain, I have not yet found the time to visit Branson...I have no idea why...

Mrs. Peperium

Basil, a piece of unsolicited advice, you'll need a different belt buckle if you want to do Branson right. Trust me on that one...

TWM, what is the country you prefer? Very curious to learn...

Basil Seal

Not to worry, I am sure that Branson and Sir Basil shall forever pass in the night...

Robbo the Llama Butcher

All I know is that Mr. P's ruminations on country music have caused TK's "You Ain't Much Fun Since I Quit Drinkin'" to float through my brain all day.

Not really pastoral, I know. More Bacchic. But heck - it's classical culchah n' stuff, right?

Mrs. Peperium

You know Robbo, I once had a very high-powered colleague whose live-in boyfriend actually told her that... Except it was she who had quit the drinking and whatnot. And in true country song fashion, his heartfelt remarks didn't cause her to see the light and their relationship struggled for another decade or so, give or take a few months.

So yes, it's classical culchah n' stuff as you say....

Basil, it's better this way, really...

Old Dominion Tory

The mawkish sentimentality and alarming ease with adultery expressed in many country music songs notwithstanding, when compared with the sentiments expressed in much of what passes as popular "music" these days and attitudes displayed by many, uh, "artists," a lot of country music and many of its performers have a certain charm and an appealing sense of humor.
Still, I would not go to Branson on a bet.

Mr. Peperium

"There's the button-downs and boots crowd (who actually do depend on rain and tractors) and then there's the ironic t-shirt and trucker-hat crowd (who only depend on permissive graduate admissions policies)."

Absolutely wonderful. Yes, I should have made allowance for those fans who wear boots out of the necessities of work, not the dictates of fashion--and who actually need to listen to the forcast for more than an idea of whether ot not they need to take along an umbrella. My experience with C-W has been an urban one, the only "country" aspect of the fan base being a pronounced twang and possibly an aunt or uncle who still live in Bowling Green. They all may drive trucks, but unlike Brad Paisley's new Chevy there is nary a spot of mud on the tires.

Either way both groups--and everyone in between them--subscribe to the basic outlook of Pastoral. Unsophisticated=good (among other reasons, because it's easier to do) while sophisticated=bad (because, among other reasons, it's harder to do). I would even suggest that, with the coming of the '60's and the elevation of the "authentic" person (sexually permissive, outspoken to the point of rudeness, political activism draping an enormous self-centerdness) we see the natural outcome of the Pastoral sensibility.

It is closely related to the myth of the "Noble Savage" which, contrary to popular perceptions, was not hatched from the brain of the Philisophes at the end of the 18th Century. It is a notion at least as old as Rome; orators and poets used the Germanic tribesmen up north as a foil whenever they wanted to pillory the effete sophistication of the capitol of the empire. I've even found it suggested that this dynamic was one of the elements that fueled the Reformation (healthy, honest, manly Germans vs corrupt, effete, overly-ornate Rome).

Mrs. Peperium

Mr. P, I think you and I fall into the second catagory....Remember when we rented what is now Robbo's summer house and you would put the Jeep in 4 wheel drive to go up and over and down his driveway. And I asked you why you were doing this and you said because we do need to use it occasionally...

Then the only road kill we ever caused doing that on Robbo's driveway was to a garden toad. And that toad didn't even have the decency to stay stuck to the tires. He just laid as flat as a pancake in the gravel until I nearly tripped over him...


Mr P, you write of the '60s "authentic person" (great description, by the way) as the natural outcome of the Pastoral sensitivity.

What of Cincinnatus at the plow and the stout yeoman of the agrarian ideal? Does the Jeffersonian model actually -- and necessarily -- lead to the Democratic Party of today?

Meantime, your "Noble Savage" reference might inspire a post on the popularity of the blues singer Leadbelly among the liberal sophisticates of Manhattan in the 1940s.

At any rate, on the pastoral ideal front, here is an article you may appreciate by Richard Brookhiser, "Upstate Burgeoning":


Brookhiser writes:

"I CANNOT be what I am not. However long I live in the country, I will always be a city guy who writes; maybe a suburban kid who read and wanted to write. Nothing startling about that. How many rural poets were actual farmers? Hesiod maybe; John Clare. Most bards of the simple life have been second-homers (Horace, Virgil) or soldiers in the occupation force of the upper class (Jefferson). But even a provisional acquaintance with country life can make the classics real in a way that a class with Harold Bloom couldn't. Having a weekend house in a field is a year-long field trip."


Mr. P,

If I start talking about music I'm going to break the blog. So I'll be really brief.

I'm a big fan of (older)Texas songwriters, though there are precious few of them around. One man - who I saw here at a tiny place in central Illinois just a month or so ago - is still touring. His name is Billy Joe Shaver and he may well be America's greatest living songwriter. And I don't say that whimsically. He certainly is the only man who commands the stage enough at a show to stop the music and encourage (a by this time raucous) crowd to get themselves right with the Lord, and then sing a capella about it.

He's got a bunch of albums but a recent one, Freedom's Child, is as good a place to start as any.

One of my favorite songs of his is called "Heart of Texas" and, written out here, it bolsters your point, I think. (Though written out doesn't do it justice.)

The Heart of Texas where I was born
by twist of fate
the lonestar state's
where I'm coming from
God a'mighty's been good to me

where I grow'd up learning bout the Alamo
with a swellin pride
down deep inside
sayin go man go
you can be all you want to be

yeah it's right there where the best is
smack dab in the heart of Texas
thank you, ma'am

papa run off before I was born
mama picked cotton just to raise us kids in the Texas sun
we grew up in the cotton fields

so I learned how to work
and I learned how to fight
I learned how to put a bunch of words together as the years rolled by
God gave me a way to go

Also, for another act you won't find in Branson, check out Son Volt's first album "Trace" or second album "Straightaways." Both are really outstanding, non-popular country. They're from down around Basil Seal's town, though on the Illinois side. As it happens, that little corner of Illinois pretty much spawned the genre.

Okay, I promised I'd be brief. So I'll stop there.


Mr. Peperium

I really want to repsond to the new crop of comments...and I will when work lets up!

Thanks for your patience!

Old Dominion Tory

Jefferson, Washington, and others who Mr. Brookhiser oddly describes as "in the occupation force of the upper class" might not have been stout yeomen, but there is no doubt that they took agricultural matters quite seriously. They had to; it represented not a weekend dalliance or a noble hobby, but their very livelihoods and their fortunes.
The lure of country life, the pastoral, also was important to the "upper class" in Boston. A fascinating look at the agricultural bent of the Codfish Aristocracy can be found in Tamara Thornton's "Cultivating Gentlemen: The Meaning of Country Life among Boston's Elite, 1785-1860."
As to the classical notion of the stout yeoman in an agrarian republic, the American ideal perhaps was best captured by de Tocqueville, "When, by a frightful road across a sort of wilderness, you arrive at a cabin, you are astonished to find a civilization more advanced than in any French village. The attire of the farmer is trim; his cabin is perfectly clean; usually, you see at his side his newspaper; and his first wish is to talk politics with you."


For an even deeper dichotomy between the cultivated and the natural, you can examine the Vagabondal musical tradition in English sea shanties:

Let Your Back and Sides Go Bare

I would sooner be a beggar as a king
I'll tell you the reason why:
A king cannot swagger or walk like a beggar
Or be half so happy as I.

cho: Let your back and sides go bare, me boys
Hands and feet grow cold.
But give to your belly, boys, ale enough
Whether it be new or old.

I've sixpence in me pocket and I worked hard for that
Landlord, here it is.
There isn't any Turk going to make me work
While the beggin' is as good as it is.

Sometimes we call at a nobleman's hall
Beg for bread and beer.
Sometimes we are lame, sometimes we are blind
Sometimes too deaf too hear.

Sometimes we lie like hogs in a sty,
Frost and snow on the ground.
Sometimes eat a crust that's rolled in the dust
And be thankful if that can be found.

Old Dominion Tory

If you're not already acquainted with them, I think you'd enjoy the music of The Virginia Company (which plays 18th century ballads and such) and David and Ginger Hildebrand who also specialize in 18th century music. http://www.colonialmusic.org/ColonialMusic.htm
I own a number of recordings from both and enjoy them immensely.

Mrs. Peperium

Excuse me, I am interrupting this lovely discussion to let Mr. P know I am so going to kill him...

Mr. P, as you know today was lunchroom duty and my 2 friends were there and I let them admire my new parfum with a "what do you think?" They thought it was very nice and different. They asked what the top scents were. I told them I did not know.

I cam home and have been googling around. Finally Nieman Marcus came forth with the goods. Do you know what the two tops scents Bulgari employs for the scent you picked out?

Hint: no florals...no spices...no aromatics either...


I am speechless....truly speechless...



Thank you for the recommendation - it sounds marvelous. Aside from bluegrass, my familiarity with American folk music is shamefully narrow. My love of folk music began with Celtic and has already broadened somewhat to include Nova Scotian and French Canadian. However, a dear friend introduced me to this lovely fife and drum recording last year: Middlesex County Volunteers "Guardian Angels"

For those who also countenance highly cultivated European music, I recommend this recording:

Father M.

Vodka and dark chocolate? Excellent! That sounds far more attractive then having some overbearing too-flowery lilly and carnation odor and smelling like a casket spray. (I like Lavandula by Penhaligon for ladies)

Basil Seal

Fr. M, I have some Blenheim Bouquet by Penhaligon...do you know it?

Basil Seal

Dear TWM,
Actually Jay Farrar and Mike Heidorn from Son Volt and Uncle Tupelo are both from Belleville, Illinois, which is where you will find Uncle Basil...I live on the east side of the river...

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