May 26, 2005

Irene

It's a warm, still March night when I hear her, walking home from the nearby pharmacy. It's dark and late, I am wrapped in my thoughts, and am also trying to pick my way over some inexplicable rubble on the road. I haven't noticed the shadowy figures who stand near the gate of a building I am approaching. So I am startled when one of them breaks into mellifluous song as I get close, her voice sailing clear and strong into the night. I am even more startled when I recognize what this lovely voice is singing: that old standard from Huddie Ledbetter and the Weavers, Goodnight Irene.

Woman and two kids, dressed in dusty raggedy clothes, carrying little bundles on their backs. Walking down the street, stopping to sing in the hope of coins flung from windows and balconies; asking me, in between lines, for a few too.

And right now, the woman sings Goodnight Irene.

From the way she pronounces the words, from how she runs syllables together so oddly, I guess that she doesn't understand what she sings. But she sings nevertheless.

    Sometimes I live in the country,
    Sometimes I live in town,
    Sometimes I take a great notion,
    To jump in the river and drown.

    Irene goodnight, Irene goodnight,
    Goodnight Irene, goodnight Irene,
    I'll see you in my dreams.

I stand and watch them stroll, until they turn the corner and I can't see them any more. But I still hear the lilting words, softer now. Goodnight, goodnight.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Wow. This post just made my day. How many blogs quote Ledbetter songs, and that too in such a lovely setting?

Regards,

Krishna

zigzackly said...

Strange that I should pick this post to leave a comment on.
I rarely comment at all, I must confess, because I do most of my blog reading via RSS feeds, so don't get to see the conversations that unfold below posts.
But here I was, on a computer that's not mine, without my familiar bookmarks and Firefox-assisted memory for passwords, ambling around the web in my usual insomniac fashion, following links from URLs that I do remember, and the zigzag path I was taking brought to mind a now-dead reprobate uncle who used to croon this very song when in his cups crossed my mind, and I saw this post.
Just HAD to comment after that. Even if I'm not saying anything.

zigzackly said...

Strange that I should pick this post to leave a comment on.
I rarely comment at all, I must confess, because I do most of my blog reading via RSS feeds, so don't get to see the conversations that unfold below posts.
But here I was, on a computer that's not mine, without my familiar bookmarks and Firefox-assisted memory for passwords, ambling around the web in my usual insomniac fashion, following links from URLs that I do remember, and the zigzag path I was taking brought to mind a now-dead reprobate uncle who used to croon this very song when in his cups crossed my mind, and I saw this post.
Just HAD to comment after that. Even if I'm not saying anything.

Dilip D'Souza said...

Krishna, thanks. Question, what else did Ledbetter write?

Zigzackly, your uncle sounds like a delight. Must have been. Did he have a wife called Irene?

Anonymous said...

Dilip,

The great Ledbetter, better known as Leadbelly, is the giant on whose shoulders many other blues musicians stood, including Muddy Waters, Son House, Blind Lemon Jefferson et al.

You must have definitely heard some of his songs like "Cotton Fields" (popularized later by CCR), "Where did you sleep last night (made famous in '92 by Nirvana on their "Unplugged" outing) and "Rock Island Line" (one of the earliest examples of blues, country and rhythm combining to give us rock and roll).

If American Roots music interests you, definitely give Leadbelly a spin.

Regards,

Krishna