Monday, November 21, 2016

You'll Never Leave Harlan Alive

Darrell Scott is a genius.  He was born in 1957 in London, Kentucky, but moved to East Gary, Indiana as a child.  By the time he was a teenager, he was a professional musician in Southern California.  He later moved to Toronto and Boston, where he attended Tufts University.  Since 1995, according to Wikipedia, he has lived in Nashville, Tenn.

In 1997, he did an album called "Aloha from Nashville," and that album contains the second-best song ever written about Kentucky.  (Stephen Foster wrote the best song about Kentucky.)  I've spent a lot of time trying to understand Kentucky this year -- it seems so far from Northern Virginia these days.  But Darrell Scott is a genius, and he figured it out better than I will a long time ago:

You'll Never Leave Harlan Alive

In the deep, dark hills of eastern Kentucky 
That's the place where I trace my bloodline 
And it's there I read on a hillside gravestone 
"You will never leave Harlan alive" 

Well my grandad's dad walked down Katahrin's Mountain 
And he asked Tillie Helton to be his bride 
He said, "Won't you walk with me out of the mouth of this holler 
Or we'll never leave Harlan alive" 

Where the sun comes up about ten in the morning 
And the sun goes down about three in the day 
And you fill your cup with whatever bitter brew your drinking 
And you spend your life just thinking how to get away 

No one ever knew there was coal in them mountains 
Til a man from the northeast arrived 
Waving hundred dollar bills, he said "I'll pay you for your minerals" 
But he never left Harlan alive 

Well Granny, she sold out cheap and they moved out west to Pineville 
To a farm where Big Richland River winds 
And I'll bet they danced them a jig, and they laughed and sang a new song 
"Who said we'd never leave Harlan alive?" 

But the times, they got hard and tobacco wasn't selling 
And old Granddad knew what he'd do to survive 
He went and dug for Harlan coal and sent the money back to Granny 
But he never left Harlan alive.