David Dodd (ddodd) Tue 2 Sep 03 15:05
Cumberland Blues w: Hunter m: Garcia, Lesh AGDL: http://arts.ucsc.edu/gdead/agdl/cumb.html LASF: http://www.whitegum.com/songfile/CUMBERLN.HTM
Alex Allan (alexallan) Tue 2 Sep 03 18:47
Cumberland Blues Lyrics: Robert Hunter Music: Jerry Garcia, Phil Lesh Copyright Ice Nine Publishing; used by permission. I can't stay here much longer, Melinda The sun is getting high I can't help you with your troubles If you won't help with mine I gotta get down I gotta get down Gotta get down to the mine You keep me up just one more night I can't stop here no more Little Ben clock says quarter to eight You kept me up till four I gotta get down I gotta get down Or I can't work there no more Lotta poor man make a five dollar bill Will keep him happy all the time Some other fellow's making nothing at all And you can hear him cry Can I go, buddy, can I go down Take your shift at the mine Gotta get down to the Cumberland mine That's where I mainly spend my time Make good money, five dollars a day If I made any more I might move away Lotta poor man got the Cumberland Blues He can't win for losing Lotta poor man got to walk the line Just to pay his union dues I don't know now, I just don't know If I'm coming back again I don't know now, I just don't know If I'm coming back again
David Dodd (ddodd) Mon 22 Sep 14 16:32
From my post about the song on dead.net's "Greatest Stories" blog, September 4, 2014: When the plans for a print version of what had been an online-only resource (the Annotated Grateful Dead Lyrics) were first bandied about, it was my wife, Diana, who came up with the idea of using small drawings to provide illustrations throughout, rather than photos. The idea comes from print dictionaries (remember those?), which have traditionally used small drawings sprinkled throughout to add interest to a very dry discourse. I particularly liked the idea of small, hand-drawn maps to illustrate the locations of geographical references in the lyrics. And I love what Jim Carpenter came up with for Cumberland. My annotation for the word Cumberland in the song mentions a variety of possibilities for the geographical location of the song, also pointing out that Cumberland, England, the source of the various named sites in America, was a mining region as well. So, Carpenter drew a globe spinning in space and drew a series of arrows, all labeled Cumberland, pointing to various spots on the surface of the planet. Very fun! But all that aside, this is a wonderful story song, with several twists and turns along the way. And since Labor Day was Monday, it seems appropriate to talk about a song from Workingmans Dead that is, at least partially, about work. And one that contains a reference to unions. (I know from reading Blairs biography of Garcia that he came from a strong pro-union background.) The essential question posed by Cumberland Blues is one of work / life balance. Our narrator is involved with his sweetheart, Melinda. He is worried that if he keeps staying up nights with her, hell be unable to hold his job at the mine. And if he is late, he could easily lose his job, since there are always plenty of workers desperate for the work: Some other fellow making nothing at all / And you can hear him cryin / Can I go buddy / Can I go down / Take your shift at the mine? OK, maybe someone can help me here. When I took economics in college, I know that the professor introduced us to a concept that clearly applies to Cumberland Blues. Specifically, he spoke of a principle whereby workers who earn more than a certain amount will have the scales tipped and move on to a better location or a better life. Make any more, I might move away. There was a phrase for this principle, but I cant seem to come up with it. Anyone? The mine is life, in this song. Without the mine, no job: no food. Thats where I mainly spend my time. But theres a consciousness that there must be something more to life, that the mine traps its workers into a vicious cycle where even finding the time and energy to keep a lover satisfied becomes difficult. (Or, theres the possibility that Melinda is just plain too demandingafter all, the singer implies that the relationship is one-sided ) The musical setting by Garcia and Lesh is, once again, perfect for the material. It borders on some out-of-control bluegrass breakdown combined with a 1930s or 1940s novelty tune. I found the following description of one particular Cumberland Blues, performed at Universal Amphitheater, June 30, 1973, on the Grateful Dead Listening Guide site: When Phil kicks it in to Cumberland Blues, we are off to the races. One thing that I have no trouble mentioning is my opinion that I find this to be my absolute favorite, and possibly the best Cumberland Blues Ive ever heard the band play. It is this very recording that sparked and cemented my theory of thematic undercurrents running through the decades of this band. In this Cumberland, Viola Lee Blues is alive and well. Jerry is clearly allowing all the exploration of that earliest of Grateful Dead jams to infuse and distil into his Cumberland solo work. Psychedelic Bluegrass to the highest degree. When his solo begins to cycle into a whirlpooled syncopation leading down a twisting rabbit hole, the already clear Viola Lee tendencies come bursting forth causing us to laugh out loud and shake or heads in stark amazement. Its molten primal Grateful Dead, splashing in every direction. If you play the game with me about which five Grateful Dead songs would you take to a desert island, this Cumberland Blues would be coming with me. The fire within this version provides an anchor to this show, and it spreads out in every direction. (By the wayI did try to figure out who the writer was on this post, but had no luck beyond a possible credit to david. Anyone know who the writer is?) Hunter, in his A Box of Rain anthology, adds a footnote to the song: The best compliment I ever had on a lyric was from an old guy who'd worked at the Cumberland mine. He said, 'I wonder what the guy who wrote this song would've thought if he'd ever known something like the Grateful Dead was gonna do it.' So it resonates as an authentic folk song, a true workingmans ballad about the complexity of life when you have to struggle for each dime. Lotta poor man got the Cumberland Blues / He cant win for losin Lots of little lyrical touches in the song bring up points of resonance that help with the sense of folk song tradition. It sounds like real people talking, for one thing. Can I go, buddy Lotta poor man got to walk the line just to pay his union dues. And theres one of my favorite lines: Little Ben clock says quarter to eight I had one of those Baby Ben alarm clocks beside my bed growing up, so it was an early moment of recognition for me, the kind of moment that recurs so often in the lyrics, adding up to a personal relationship with the words, in such a way that, well, means each of us takes a very personal meaning from the songs. I, for one, am having a lot of fun sharing those meanings (potential meanings or personal meanings ) and hearing from others. And I have to apologize for the fairly large number of slips I have made over the course of these blog postslast weeks assertion that the number one is never mentioned in the lyrics was just plain ridiculousthe result of relying on a computer search instead of a quick search of my own mind. But you have all been very kind and assiduous in correcting me, so I think its ok. Heres to the working man (and woman)! Happy Labor Day week, everyone.
Robin Russell (rrussell8) Tue 23 Sep 14 05:45
Was your economics professor possibly referring to a "darg"? As I understand it, a darg was the amount of coal a coal miner should cut in a day. If a miner cut more than the darg persistently they might well have to move away, or risk serious injury. When I was working at a printing factory one summer in the innocence of my youth, I was invited out the back at lunch time by some of my fellow workers and beaten up for "exceeding the darg".
David Dodd (ddodd) Tue 23 Sep 14 11:57
I think, from comments on the post, that the concept was the Iron Law of Wages.
coal will turn to gray (comet) Tue 23 Sep 14 21:04
Workingman's Dead. Dig it. The blues are for that feeling of knowing that life is and will always be unfair to the workingman.
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