Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Me and Henry Fonda

This song was born of an out-of-context comment, a few text messages, and the folk influences of Dylan, Guthrie, and Seeger.

The initial spark came during a rehearsal of a play, written by a local author. In the play is a devil character who, in the opening scene, is drinking tea and smoking a cigar. After a night of rehearsing, the director gave a note to the actor portraying Satan, referring to the cup as

“the devil's tea”.

As a lover of bourbon, this term immediately brings to mind the prohibitionist propaganda of the 20's and 30's in America. I can picture some matronly woman scolding her squirrely teenage sons as to the horrors of “the devil's tea”. Meanwhile Grandad's got a still on the hill, sippin' on white dog on the way to church on Sunday. This is a caricature of a time that was probably much more serious than I envision, but the Norman Rockwell painting in my mind is much more entertaining.

I mulled over this phrase. It just smacked of folksy artistry, but I couldn't come up with another line. That's when I called in the big guns. Brian Wilcoxon is an amazing singer songwriter friend of mine out in Indy. I texted him the line,

“Sippin' on the devils tea”.

He responded with,

“Me and Henry Fonda, sippin' on the devils tea”.

Henry Fonda, aside from being a great actor, has always held special significance to me, as he was one of Jimmy Stewart's best friends as they were emerging as young actors in New York, and remained close to Stewart throughout his life. As a great admirer of James M. Stewart's life and works, I loved this referrence. Henry Fonda, in my mind, is the symbol of stalwart friendship and companionship amidst hardship. I sat there a moment, rolling the cadence of this line around in my mouth like a taste of Kentucky bourbon. Then I replied,

“Me and Henry Fonda, sippin' on the devil's tea
riding in a box car all the way to Tennessee”,

paying homage to the preferred transportation of Guthrie and Seeger during their early years. From there, the rest of the folk form unfolded. I attempted to evoke the repetitive feel of a spiritual hymn, and even added in a little protest song at the end.

So here it is. As always, post any thoughts, comments, additions, etc.

Me and Henry Fonda

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Me and Henry Fonda, sippin' on the devils tea
riding in a box car all the way to Tennessee.

Ain't got no where to go
Ain't got no row to hoe

All I got is freedom, that's the only thing I need.

All I ever known is the shirt upon my back
All I ever known is the dirt so good and black

Don't need no roof above
To block out all of God's good love

All I needs the open sky to know just where I'm at.

Every time I get a dollar than the taxman takes it back
Every time I try to holler than the cop man gives me flack

Got to get away from it all
somewhere I can stand strong and tall

Got to find my freedom and fight to get it back.

Everyday and everynight the train runs down the line
Everytime I look, the clock keeps keepin' time

Gotta make the best of this place
Runnin' the big human race
Gonna ride these rails til I find what sure is mine.

If you have any ideas or comments, please post below. Feel free to offer suggestions on style, technique, recording methods, instrumentation, lyrics, or anything else. Again, the purpose of these entries is to spur dialogue that will improve the level of this piece.

1 comment:

  1. You're Jimmy Steward...Brian is Henry Fonda? Boxcar to Tennessee... large mobile home to Kentucky?

    It's wonderful hearing this song and knowing the context of what's been going on in your life lately...

    Someday you may tell that part of your story, but for now I think listeners will know that this is your heart, your life.

    Potentially more than you realize.