Aug 7, 2011

Revisionist Gospel: Farther Along, Winter's Bone, Maredith Sisco, Mississippi John Hurt

 Here are two versions of a grand old song I'd forgotten about. You might want to stop with the two cuts I've found and skip my reflections. The lyrics are also included at the end.

‪Mississippi John Hurt - Farther Along‬‏ - YouTube

‪Winter's Bone Soundtrack - "Farther Along" Marideth Sisco‬‏ - YouTube

The version I remember best is on the album called Trio (Dolly Parton, Linda Rondstadt, and Emmy Lou Harris) in 1986. The two here today are by Mississippi John Hurt and Marideth Sisco (who had escaped my attention until her fine musical performances in the movie, Winter's Bone. Several of those are available on YouTube).

Back in the 80s, I found the tune and the Trio's voices irresistible, but I fussed about the song's motif of whiny envy, comparison and competition, beginning in the third line and recurring in several of the verses. I still hear something bitter within the melody I love, something that reminds me of the old idea of keeping up with the Joneses, except that the Joneses can't be kept up with--they get to sin and prosper till the cows come home while I have to sit around being tempted and tried, though perfectly holy, or at least pretty damned holy, or at least holier than the bastard across the street, with his Mercedes, single malt, and nubile harem. He makes me so mad I could just spit--or start a holy war, whichever comes first.

As human and inevitable as those emotions and thoughts might be, their self-righteousness is also one reason Christianity and (I presume) other religions get hit hard by satirists--and get abandoned by a lot of decent, thoughtful people. 

In the last two verses, the song tries to resolve all its preceding neighbor-blaming. That might be too little, too late, especially in a piece so long. But in time, I've grown somewhat immune to the hymn's theme of covetous rivalry and resentment because I like its main idea--which might be as relevant to science as it is to theology.

Sometimes I like the way I've edited it so that I can feel the music. My amended script goes something like this:  by prayer or test tube, t's unlikely we're ever gonna understand it all, but if we do, it will be much, much farther along. So try a little patience--oh, all right, a little tenderness too. Then shut up and go with it. Shut up about the other guy; I don't know his demons, and there's plenty for me to glory in right here if I keep my eyes and ears open. Of course, like other humans, I preach better than I practice.

Enough. Here are the actual lyrics: 

  1. Tempted and tried, we’re oft made to wonder
    Why it should be thus all the day long;
    While there are others living about us,
    Never molested, though in the wrong.
    • Refrain:
      Farther along we’ll know more about it,
      Farther along we’ll understand why;
      Cheer up, my brother, live in the sunshine,
      We’ll understand it all by and by.
  2. Sometimes I wonder why I must suffer,
    Go in the rain, the cold, and the snow,
    When there are many living in comfort,
    Giving no heed to all I can do.
  3. Tempted and tried, how often we question
    Why we must suffer year after year,
    Being accused by those of our loved ones,
    E’en though we’ve walked in God’s holy fear.
  4. Often when death has taken our loved ones,
    Leaving our home so lone and so drear,
    Then do we wonder why others prosper,
    Living so wicked year after year.
  5. “Faithful till death,” saith our loving Master;
    Short is our time to labor and wait;
    Then will our toiling seem to be nothing,
    When we shall pass the heavenly gate.
  6. Soon we will see our dear, loving Savior,
    Hear the last trumpet sound through the sky;
    Then we will meet those gone on before us,
    Then we shall know and understand why.


    Michelle said...

    Great words in these lyrics.

    Jeff M said...

    All I'll say about Winter's Bone... they should have made her use a hack saw.

    Rune Eide said...

    Self-righteousness is the word. It ought to be humility. There is a difference between those who change the terrain when the map don't fit, and those who do it the other way around. The first is the hallmark of extremists (whether religious or idealogical), the second of science performed as it should be. Science is not an ideology - it is a method.

    Anonymous said...

    Made me think of something slightly different. Ye olde "religion is the opiate of the masses."

    Ken Mac said...

    heck, these are beautiful photos!

    Banjo52 said...

    FC, yep, some of 'em anyway. Wonder what the tune would be like without the words and vice versa. But word choice as simple as "why others PROSPER" is a cut above, and there's more where that came from.

    Jeff, please remind me. I'm gonna feel stupid.

    RuneE, those are very nice and important distinctions, aren't they. I'm not sure I've heard "method" vs. "ideology" before, and I like it a lot. Maybe it should apply to political institutions as well.

    AH, I can see why, but other things make me think of that more than this song does. It's just that neighbor-envy (neighbor-hatred?) thing that bugs me here.

    Of course, I think these two performers could sing "Praising My Carbuncles" and give me the shivers.

    Thanks, Ken.

    Lovers' Lane