Thursday, March 5, 2009

Bodies of Water: Cold Missouri Waters

So far this week, we have had posts about types of bodies of water, a lake, a pond, an ocean, and so on. Such songs tend to use the body of water as a symbol or metaphor. And we have seen that such songs can be very powerful.

Here, however, is a song which mentions a specific body of water in the title, in this case the Missouri river. The song is also very specific, telling the tale of a particular time and place.

James Keelaghan: Cold Missouri Waters


James Keelaghan is a prime example of a great Canadian artist who is not well enough known in the United States. His style ranges from folk to folk-rock, and his voice is one of the best doing this kind of music.

Cry Cry Cry: Cold Missouri Waters


Dar Williams, Lucy Kaplansky, and Richard Shindell got to together for a one-shot album in 1998. For this project, they called themselves Cry Cry Cry.

The album notes explain that Keelaghan “wrote this account of the first fire fighter to create an oasis within a forest fire by deliberately scorching a circle around himself....” It happened at Mann Gulch, in western Montana, on August 5, 1949, and the narrator’s full name was Wag Dodge. To this day, the hills of Mann Gulch are dotted with the thirteen crosses mentioned in the song, which mark the exact spots where the fire fighters’ bodies were found. One of the these crosses is shown above.

Tom Juravich: Cold Missouri Waters


I got to wondering, as I planned this post, if there were other interesting versions of the song. Tom Juravich chose to slow the song down to emphasize its tragic elements.

Juravich sings mostly about the labor movement on his recordings. He fit this one onto an album of songs that celebrate the working man. Juravich is also a professor of Labor Studies at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

Note: if you saw my post earlier this week of Ain‘t Life a Brook, you may have missed my update. Have a look and a listen.

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