Spencer Rifle - Tim at Vance Randolph's Grave


Filmed by Allison Langston who put together a great weekend of events for me in Fayetteville, Arkansas back in October that included a concert under the stars, a visit to 1,500 year old petroglyphs, the Arkansas Archeological Survey's ceramics collection and a webinar sponsored by Arkansas Folk and Traditional Arts and the University of Arkansas Libraries Special Collections, where I talked (and sang) about the "unprintable" (i.e. explicit) folksongs found in the Ozarks by the remarkable Vance Randolph.


Long story short, here I am performing one of those songs at his grave. I didn't know him, but I think he would get a kick out of it. Aside from his own works, most of what I know about him comes from the great biography by Robert Cochran, which is interesting not only because Randolph is such a great subject but as an example of biography and, really, social history. I recommend it.

One of my earliest encounters with Randolph was UARK Press's 1992 release of a two volume posthumous collection of this material edited by the equally fascinating and thorny Gershon Legman. Not long after it came out, my band Cordelia's Dad began performing songs from the collection, and recorded three with Steve Albini in 1997 at the legendary Slaughterhouse in Amherst, MA, a studio that made it's way into Steve's collection of anecdotes about noteworthy recording experiences, not only because of its lack of plumbing and discreet paths out into the bird sanctuary behind it. (As a side note, he flew directly from that recording session to record Jimmy Page and Robert Plant's "Walking Into Clarksdale" at Abbey Road, which I understand has not only bathrooms but prawn sandwiches).

One of the strange things about being any age is the impossibility of conveying what things were like to people who weren't around yet, and how ridiculous it sounds to them- ala Abe Simpson. The year I started playing punk rock, Monty Python's Life of Brian was rated X (!!!) and Ticketmaster refused to put the band name on tickets for concerts by the Dead Kennedys. Not long prior, The Sex Pistols weren't allowed on British radio because of their (PG rated?) name and the fact they said mean things about the queen and had a song about abortion. Oh, they also said fuck a lot. Nothing much naughtier than you'd find in a mother/daughter tik tok of Bored In The House or pretty much anything having to do with politics, nevermind the chirpy frankness of Garfunkel and OatesĀ 

Even most people who were aware of Cordelia's Dad early on don't remember that part of the initial fun was not just obnoxiously loud renditions of sappy folksongs but tender acoustic versions of Anarchy In The UK and the Misfits' "I Want Your Skulls." Part of it to me was that, in the big picture of human sound production, this stuff was all pretty close, sonically, thematically, culturally and historically. It all spoke to basic human experience, or at least concerns and desires, if particularly to people of western European descent in the most recent thousand years or so. I found it all potentially wonderful and interesting, sometimes really funny.

There are still songs among those Randolph found, sung by hard living timbermen and Mormon school girls, that would peel the paint off a Megan Thee Stallion billboard, and some are truly disturbing, although less for frankness than for unvarnished cruelty, even if "it's only a joke." But for the most part, and certainly in the case of the songs we chose, the songs no longer raise the eyebrows they did even as recently (haha) as the 1990s when we recorded them. Some are really tender, and get at some things I'd love to hear more about in song.

At the heart of the songs we recorded was some version of consent. Consent is hardly the simple and magic bullet it's often portrayed as currently, since people will agree for all kind of reasons to all kinds of things that, if they were, for example, less traumatized by life, they would not. But it's a starting place. In this song everyone seems to be more or less in agreement at the beginning and alright in the end. In the recording we did with Albini we changed "he" to "she" in verse 7. There's a lot to be said about balancing representation, ethics, fidelity to cultural/historical accuracy and making engaging music that means something to listeners, but not now. There's also a lot to be said about putting songs like this together with sacred music- something the band thought and talked about a lot before doing it. I still feel it's constructive, and hopefully doesn't hurt too many feelings. We have one preacher friend who found it upsetting, which I'm still sad about.

Patented in 1860, Spencer's rifle was an early repeater. Arf Arf. In older Ozark lingo "pork"=pussy, as does "cock" interestingly enough.

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