Saturday, February 02, 2008

Chasing the Rising Sun: The Journey of an American Song by Ted Anthony

When I was a kid I remember poking around the 700's in the reading room of the old Carnegie library in Lafayette, Indiana. While there I found a book of sheet music with a red library binding that had the lyrics of "The House of the Rising Sun" in it. I knew the song. It was such a mysterious reflective song, about a life done gone wrong in New Orleans, and I wondered at that young age just what The House of the Rising Sun was. Later in life I pretty much had it nailed down that it was a brothel in Storyville, perhaps one with a round window under the eaves that looked like a rising sun ... but now I find out that no one really knows what "the House" refers to. The author of the book Chasing the Rising Sun examines the origins and meaning of the song. He's pretty obsessive about it. He collects recorded versions of it, and travels around searching for pretty much any reference of it. We find out that perhaps the "House" is a bar in England, or a long gone hotel/brothel in New Orleans, and that the author really doesn't really find the meaning of the House of the Rising Sun in the end. What he does find is the soul of America -- of who we are and how we got here. Which is stuff like families coming together to make music and eat BBQ with Pepsi poured over it, or an old guy who loves early American recorded music so much that he's got a better collection of 78's than the Library of Congress in his New Jersey basement, which is the same library that sent a guy and his wife out in the 1930's with a special vehicle fitted out to make recordings of the local folks making music in the hills of Appalachia, who just so happened to record a little girl singing the song the way we know it, which ultimately gave us the Animals version that we are familiar with.

1 comment:

Bob Feldman 68 said...

Thought you might be interested the public domain folk song about the New Orleans Disaster, "Destroyed By A Rising Flood," that's posted on the following link, since it's sung to the same traditional tune as the "House of the Rising Sun" folk song: