Tea for the Bloggerman

Lyrical Musings: High Water Everywhere
September 20, 2008, 11:05 pm
Filed under: Concerts, music | Tags: , , , ,

I just got back from seeing Joe Bonamassa at a free concert at the Clark County government center. Excellent show. Joe had some technical problems in the beginning (who doesn’t?), which caused the band to completely drown him out for a song and a half. His first solo, gone. Only he could hear it. But from then on out it was a rockin’ set.

The highlight of the show was Bonamassa’s searing rendition of “High Water Everywhere,” a song with a long history. The song was written sometime after 1927 by the timeless bluesman Charley Patton, written about the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 which caused great destruction throughout Mississippi and Louisiana. The haunting lyrics and tone reflect the helplessness and the heartache of those affected by the flood, Patton repeating that there is nothing to do but pack up and leave his former home and life behind beneath the flood.

High Water Everywhere by Charley Patton

Backwater at Blytheville, backed up all around
Backwater at Blytheville, done took Joiner town
It was fifty families and children come to sink and drown

The water was risin’ up at my friend’s door
The water was risin’ up at my friend’s door
The man said to his women folk, “Lord, we’d better go”

The water was risin’, got up in my bed
Lord, the water was rollin’, got up to my bed
I thought I would take a trip, Lord,
out on the big ice sled

Oh, I can hear, Lord, Lord, water upon my door,
you know what I mean, look-a here
I hear the ice, Lord, Lord, was sinkin’ down,
I couldn’t get no boats there, Marion City gone down

So high the water was risin’ our men sinkin’ down
Man, the water was risin’ at places all around,
boy, they’s all around
It was fifty men and children come to sink and drown

Oh, Lordy, women and grown men drown
Oh, women and children sinkin’ down Lord, have mercy
I couldn’t see nobody’s home and wasn’t no one to be found

The song went through many covers and variations since the late 20s and I won’t bother talking about it. Skip on down to September 11th, 2001 where, just hours before the World Trade Center attack, Bob Dylan’s “Love and Theft” was released. Among “Love and Theft”s many blues songs is a song titled “High Water (For Charlie Patton).” Easily the best song on the album, Dylan takes Patton’s description of a natural disaster and puts it in a modern social context, speaking of God, love, and evolution as well as nature’s fury. Take a look:

High Water (For Charlie Patton) by Bob Dylan

High water risin’ – risin’ night and day
All the gold and silver are being stolen away
Big Joe Turner lookin’ East and West
From the dark room of his mind
He made it to Kansas City
Twelfth Street and Vine
Nothing standing there
High water everywhere

High water risin’, the shacks are slidin’ down
Folks lose their possessions – folks are leaving town
Bertha Mason shook it – broke it
Then she hung it on a wall
Says, “You’re dancin’ with whom they tell you to
Or you don’t dance at all.”
It’s tough out there
High water everywhere

I got a cravin’ love for blazing speed
Got a hopped up Mustang Ford
Jump into the wagon, love, throw your panties overboard
I can write you poems, make a strong man lose his mind
I’m no pig without a wig
I hope you treat me kind
Things are breakin’ up out there
High water everywhere

High water risin’, six inches ‘bove my head
Coffins droppin’ in the street
Like balloons made out of lead
Water pourin’ into Vicksburg, don’t know what I’m going to do
“Don’t reach out for me,” she said
“Can’t you see I’m drownin’ too?”
It’s rough out there
High water everywhere

Well, George Lewis told the Englishman, the Italian and the Jew
“You can’t open your mind, boys
To every conceivable point of view.”
They got Charles Darwin trapped out there on Highway Five
Judge says to the High Sheriff,
“I want him dead or alive
Either one, I don’t care.”
High Water everywhere

The Cuckoo is a pretty bird, she warbles as she flies
I’m preachin’ the Word of God
I’m puttin’ out your eyes
I asked Fat Nancy for something to eat, she said, “Take it off the shelf –
As great as you are a man,
You’ll never be greater than yourself.”
I told her I didn’t really care
High water everywhere

I’m getting’ up in the morning – I believe I’ll dust my broom
Keeping away from the women
I’m givin’ ’em lots of room
Thunder rolling over Clarksdale, everything is looking blue
I just can’t be happy, love
Unless you’re happy too
It’s bad out there
High water everywhere

And with the hurricanes that have been devastating Louisiana in recent years, the lyrics of both songs have resonated with an even greater force. People can connect with the despair Charley Patton feels and the cynicism Dylan describes.

Then there’s Bonamassa’s version. High winds bearin’ down on New Orleans, ever’thing lookin’ blue. Hurricanes don’t discriminate. Break it down, Joe:


Lyrical Musings: Station to Station
September 1, 2008, 5:44 pm
Filed under: music | Tags: , , ,

Here’s a new feature I’m going to experiment with for this blog. I’ll post a youtube video of a song I have been pondering along with the lyrics, and then take a closer look at the lyrics and what they could mean. Here is the first in the series, David Bowie’s “Station to Station” from the album with the same name.

Rehearsal video of the song. Rough but fun to watch.


Station to Station by David Bowie

The return of the Thin White Duke
Throwing darts in lovers’ eyes
Here are we, one magical moment
Such is the stuff from where dreams are woven
Bending sound
Dredging the ocean, lost in my circle
Here am I
Flashing no colour tall in this room overlooking the ocean
Here are we, one magical movement from Kether to Malkuth
There are you
You drive like a demon from station to station

The return of the Thin White Duke, throwing darts in lovers’ eyes
The return of the Thin White Duke, throwing darts in lovers’ eyes
The return of the Thin White Duke, making sure white stains

Once there were mountains on mountains
And once there were sunbirds to soar with
And once I could never be down
Got to keep searching and searching
Oh, what will I be believing and who will connect me with love?
Wonder who, wonder who, wonder when
Have you sought fortune, evasive and shy?
Drink to the men who protect you and I
Drink, drink, drain your glass, raise your glass high

It’s not the side-effects of the cocaine
I’m thinking that it must be love
It’s too late – to be grateful
It’s too late – to be late again
It’s too late – to be hateful
The european cannon is here

I must be only one in a million
I won’t let the day pass without her
It’s too late – to be grateful
It’s too late – to be late again
It’s too late – to be hateful
The european cannon is here

Should I believe that I’ve been stricken?
Does my face show some kind of glow?
It’s too late – to be grateful
It’s too late – to be late again
It’s too late – to be hateful
The european cannon is here, yes it’s here

It’s too late
It’s too late, it’s too late, it’s too late, it’s too late
The european cannon is here


In this musing I will be focusing on the more occult references in the song, as in the line I have made bold above. In this period of Bowie’s life he had been living in L.A. and experimenting quite liberally in Crowley/Kabbalah-esque mysticism and cocaine, the combination of the two creating a terrifying world for Bowie. As the Wikipedia article on the album says (screw proper academic sources): According to biographer David Buckley, Bowie, based in Los Angeles, fuelled by an “astronomic” cocaine habit and subsisting on a diet of peppers and milk, spent much of 1975-76 “in a state of psychic terror”. Stories – mostly from one interview, pieces of which found their way into Playboy and Rolling Stone – circulated of the singer living in a house full of Egyptian artefacts, burning black candles, seeing bodies fall past his window, having his semen stolen by witches, receiving secret messages from The Rolling Stones, and living in morbid fear of fellow Aleister Crowley aficionado Jimmy Page.

I feel for you Bowie; I often fear that Jimmy Page is plotting my downfall (why no Zeppelin reunion tour, why?!?!). And of course the semen-stealing witches. But I don’t mind them too much.

In Nicholas Pegg’s excellent The Complete David Bowie (why won’t WordPress let me underline?! Damn you, Jimmy Page!), he writes that in 1975 bowie had read a book called The Kabbalah Unveiled by S. L. MacGregor, a rival of Aleister Crowley. It is in this book, as well as others that Bowie would have read earlier, that Bowie would have read about the Sephirot (no, not the dude from Final Fantasy). The Sephirot in Kabbalah (and I am by no means an expert on Kabbalah) are ten attributes of God, ways that God can manifest himself in both the physical word and beyond. There are ten Sephirot spheres because ten is a perfect number in Kabbalah. Followers of this tradition see the Sephirot as “a step-by-step process illuminating the Divine plan as it unfolds itself in our world.” The ten spheres of the Sephirot are often drawn in this pattern, which is at times used as a sort of protective emblems (Bowie is seen drawing one on a floor in one Station to Station photograph):

Each of the spheres (ignoring the pillars as that is a whole ‘nother level of craziness) are as follows:

1. Keter – Crown – Divine Plan/ Creator/ infinite light/ Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh – I AM THAT I AM (Supreme/ Total Consciousness)
2. Chokmah – Divine Reality/ revelation/ Yesh me-ayin – being from nothingness (Power of Wisdom)
3. Binah – Understanding/ repentance/ reason (Power of Love)
4. Chesed – Mercy/ Grace/ Love of (intention to emulate) God (Power of Vision)
5. Gevurah – Judgment/ strength/ determination (Power of Intention)
6. Tipheret – Symmetry/ balance/ compassion (Creative Power)
7. Netzach – Contemplation/ Initiative/ persistence (Power of the Eternal Now)
8. Hod – Surrender/ sincerity/ steadfastness (Intellectual/ Observational Power)
9. Yesod – Foundation/ wholly remembering/ coherent knowledge (Power of Manifesting)
10. Malkuth – Lower Crown – Kingdom/ physical presence/ vision and illusion (Power of Healing/ Accomplishment/ Level of Realization of Divine Plan)

And so we have the background for the one line I have been dissecting: “Here are we, one magical movement from Kether to Malkuth.” Kether translates to “Crown” and is described as such by the early Kabbalic text Bahir: “The first Sephirah is called the Crown, since a crown is worn above the head. The Crown therefore refers to things that are above the mind’s abilities of comprehension.” Malkuth, in turn, means “Kingdom” and symbolizes the material world, including space and the planets and is notable because Malkuth “emanates from God’s creation — when that creation reflects and evinces God’s glory from within itself.” So simply, the line is referring to a path through the unknown and unattainable to the physical world and to that which is conceivable.

But it is not quite that simple (this is supposed to be simple? Damn you, Jimmy Page!). According to Pegg’s encyclopedia, Bowie combined the concepts of the Sephirot with a concept in Christianity of the “Stations of the Cross,” a reference that Bowie himself supposedly confirmed as the true origin of the title. The Stations of the Cross are commonly depicted moments of the final hours of the life of Jesus, which are usually as follows:

1. Jesus is condemned to death
2. Jesus receives the cross
3. Jesus falls the first time
4. Jesus meets His Mother
5. Simon of Cyrene carries the cross
6. Veronica wipes Jesus’ face with her veil
7. Jesus falls the second time
8. Jesus meets the daughters of Jerusalem
9. Jesus falls the third time
10. Jesus is stripped of His garments
11. Crucifixion: Jesus is nailed to the cross
12. Jesus dies on the cross
13. Jesus’ body is removed from the cross (Deposition or Lamentation)
14. Jesus is laid in the tomb and covered in incense.

And so on one level we have the line “driving like a demon from station to station,” which, on the outside, and in combination with the track’s opening sound effect, means what it says: driving, in a train probably, from one station to another. Then as we dig deeper we find another meaning, comparing the romantic trials and tribulations of the Thin White Duke (“Oh, what will I be believing and who will connect me with love?”)  to the suffering and death of Christ, an allusion that is then blown up to a much larger cosmic and metaphysical level represented by the Sephirot.

But in the end the Duke throws it all away. All the metaphysics and convoluted occultism, throws it all away. The complications of the universe become nothing to him toward the end of the song. It becomes too much for him, he becomes lost in it. The universe becomes a confusing place, and in trying to explain the insignificance of his suffering he has brought himself more pain. “It’s not the side effects of the cocaine/I’m thinking that it must be love.” In the end the answer is love. In struggling to deal with this love, the Thin White Duke turns to cocaine and Kabbalah, but it doesn’t work. He realizes that it’s “too late.” The music becomes frantic and desperate when compared with the slow Kabbalic crooning. The Duke tries to reverse what has happened, but it’s “too late.” ”I won’t let the day pass without her” but it’s too late. It is interesting to note that in that rehearsal video above Bowie ends the song with the refrain “the return of the Thin White Duke, throwing darts in lover’s eyes/the return of the Thin White Duke, throwing darts in lover’s eyes/the return of the Thin White Duke, making sure white stains” showing the Duke’s failure and return to the sorrowful expanses of metaphyiscs, and the White Stains of Aleister Crowley.

So there it is in a nutshell. Probably all bullshit on my part, but it was fun writing. Feel free to comment and let me know if I’m completely off base.