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Lay for the Day
8th September

1897: the Singing Brakeman, the Blue Yodeller, the Father of Country Music was born on this day in Meridian, Mississippi.


Jimmie Rodgers


TB took him off the railroad
And with a voice that was ferrous
And frail as the light striking bowed
And unending telegraph wires
And as straightforward as their code
He fell on his feet on the way
To singing stardom. High-fliers,
Hillbillies, hoboes heard him say:

“It’s death in my chest throws my voice
Out on the air like a night bird
And death on his knees throwing dice
In a box-car with life I heard
As he shook out five and a deuce
Saying that roll won him my soul.
And the whistle wailed a blue third
Like a dog at the moon’s dry bowl.

“When the little red rooster droops
His crest, it’s jelly roll to blame,
Cause my heart jumps right through their hoops
And if it’s another man’s name
She wears, you rounders mind your coops
And I’ll cock-a-doodle on mine.
The sun can’t show his face for shame
When I get up to crow and shine.

“We’ve got no cause to fuss and fight
In the broadest land that God carved.
You go straight on and I’ll turn right:
Fare-thee-well is a trouble halved.
And when you spot me in the light
At the dark end of wicked Beale
I’m two-thirds drunk and still half-starved,
So drop a dime on me, big wheel.

“The porch of my Texan mansion
Is long as a station platform,
Wide enough to hold a dance on,
Swept clean like a college girls’ dorm,
And I sit with shades advancing
Looking out from my brakeman’s cap
At the end of an evening storm
With my wife and guitar on my lap.

“Don’t haul me with six white horses
To lay me down under the yews.
Up on the hill like old Moses
I’ll settle and render my dues.
The valleys and watercourses,
Groves and vineyards – there it all lies.
Though I die in harness, my eyes
Saw the Blue Yodeller’s Paradise.

“Another record, another
Buck. Set me up a folding cot.
With luck I’ll save you the bother
Of doctor and priest. All I’ve got
To do, like a good wee cougher,
Is close my lids and rock and sing
Myself to sleep.” Another shot
Of rye. Fade out the country king.

He left his epitaph written
Around scattered slabs of shellac,
Perishable as his smitten
Flesh, solid as his worth, bright-black
As his humour, his wit and grin.
Two thumbs raised in one photograph,
He vanished like smoke from the stack,
Short-lived, with a last crying laugh.


John Gibbens,
from The Improvised Version, Vol. 2
 

The Lay Reader: an archive of the poetic calendar