Living Room Songs — Track 3: “Who Will Sing For Me?” by Earl Scruggs/Doc Watson/Ricky Skaggs from Three Pickers.
Living Room Songs — Track 4: “Wish To The Lord I’d Never Been Born” by Bob Coltman from Lonesome Robin.
I’m listing both of these because I’ve already posted quite a bit about the Bob Coltman song so I think I can talk about them together. Looking at that post, I think Bob Coltman’s describes the force of the song well with his line, “Summing up, this is one of those intensely vision-laden songs I love, that just entangle you deep in the brush and mire and dust and deep woods of somebody’s intensely felt locality. ”
Track 3, the song from Three Pickers was, actually the inspiration for doing a folk/bluegrass mix in the first place. I’d gotten that album, listened to it a bit, and new that I liked it. But then I happened to grab it for a car trip and, somehow, in that setting I was struck by how beautiful the album was, and I wanted to share it.
It’s a relatively recent concert album that features three people who were all extremely famous in their prime and are now getting older. At the time of the recording Earl Scruggs and Doc Watson were, respectively, 78 and 79 years old. Ricky Scaggs was comparatively youthful at 48 years old, but he had been performing in public since he was seven years old, so he still is somebody with a long career behind him.
Knowing that, I think, lends additional poignancy to the treatment of mortality in this song.
When friends shall gather round
And look down on me.
Will they turn and walk away
or will they sing one song for me?
This concert reflects many of the virtues that I appreciate in traditional music — they clearly have
a deep, emotional connection to the music which, in this case, they have been playing for their entire life. What must it be like, I wonder, to sing a verse like that, when you’re at an age to be acutely conscious of one’s mortality. It is at the same time so stark and so tender. It takes death as a fact of life, but the song isn’t sad, it just asks for one song. The way they sing it, it feels like you couldn’t imagine a better way to feel alive, and rooted in one’s life than to be singing with good friends.
As a note about the sequencing, in an earlier draft I had these in reversed order, with the Bob Coltman coming first, but I think this order is better. It keeps up a little bit more energy through the first three songs. The Bob Coltman song is more patient, and is less emotionally dynamic, which slows down the pace. In this order I think it works as a chance to follow “Who Will Sing For Me?” with something that’s equally rooted, but doesn’t make as much of an emotional claim on the listener. You can listen to “Wish To The Lord I’d Never Been Born” and still carry into some of the emotions from the previous song and it isn’t a problem.
I also feel like those two songs solidly move from the first two which both feel contemporary, and establish a very traditional feel which carries through in various ways for the next 7 songs, more or less.