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Saturday, December 5, 2015

Two road songs: Thunder and Copperhead

When I'm doing my morning exercises I like to have the TV on, and Thursday I saw some of an old movie called "Thunder Road." I had seen it before, but I remember the title song much better. It was sung by Robert Mitchum who starred in the movie and was such a favorite in my neighborhood that the boys all sung it on the junior high school bus.

That part of the DC Maryland suburbs was full of families who after WWII moved there from small towns and rural areas, often in the Appalachian Mountains, and the story "about the mountain boy who ran illegal alcohol" (as the song lyrics go) was like a folk epic to many. We loved certain kinds of outlaws, and in the car culture of the 1950's and early 60's transporting moonshine in a hot car was about a cool an outlaw as we could imagine. Bruce Springsteen later wrote a song with the same name, and I've read that he took the name from a poster he had once seen of the movie.

Driving to the dentist a few minutes later, another song by Steve Earle came on the radio. "Copperhead Road" tells a story about a young man who could have been the son of the main character of "Thunder Road." He sings that his father and grandfather made moonshine, but after two tours in Viet Nam his plan was to grow marijuana in the same area of the surrounding Southern mountains- Copperhead Road. Having "learned a thing or two from Charlie", he warns, "you better stay away from Copperhead Road." He was ready to protect his illegal crop just as his father and grandfather had protected their whiskey still in the same woods.

I think I've observed before that Americans have often made folk heroes of criminals, going back to Jesse James after the Civil War, Bonnie and Clyde in the 1930's, and the continued popularity of the Godfather movies.

1 comment:

  1. Copperhead Road is one of my faves from one of my fave artists (and secret heart throb) Steve Earle, who we will be seeing as one of the 40 or so musicians on the Cayamo Music Cruise in January -- so psyched.