07 July 2008

Pay me my money down!

On the iPod lately has been Bruce Springsteen’s The Seeger Sessions. Actually, I’ve been enjoying this collection for several years now, and have even used several cuts from it in class as examples of alternative stories that might be told. “The Ballad of Jesse James” offers another perspective to this American outlaw icon, and in class we spend not a little time investigating differing accounts of the man and his gang, and studying the historical context from which he evolved and which he influenced. I am intrigued myself by some details which separate this ballad from those recounted by the New Riders of the Purple Sage’s version in “Glendale Train.” In the former, the train is robbed late at night on a weekend, but in the latter the event takes place “this morning at half-past nine,” and suggestively, during the work week.

Here, though, I want to talk about “Pay Me My Money Down” which I have also used in class as a voice of the oppressed working class. But that is another story. What I want to note here is how I think our lives might be lived as the music in this song was made. It starts with Springsteen alone on his guitar singly and almost plaintively—pay me my money down—and then the musicians who have been gathered begin to join in until finally all are playing together—pay me my money down! It is a raucous and joyful sound. And then the fun begins and Springsteen starts calling out direction: violin take the solo, then the accordion, then the trumpet, “then let’s bring it up to Bflat,” and up the key goes. The verse ends and Springsteen calls out “Alright, someone,” and someone cheerfully gladly enters the conversation. Back down to D, Springsteen calls, and then finally he commands, “Everyone solo,” and at that moment everyone is playing alone together and the sound is magnificent and glorious and fun.

Alright, now, everyone solo! Together!


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