Saturday, June 20, 2009

Music and Storytelling

I was listening yesterday to the song "Over The Hills (and Far Away)" as performed by the Finnish band Nightwish. The song is actually a cover; it was originally performed by Gary Moore - at least, I first heard it on his 1987 album Wild Frontier, and Wikipedia seems to confirm that it was his creation.

However, "Over The Hills" is almost a cover of "The Long Black Veil" (written by Lefty Frizzell in 1959, and covered by almost everybody since then: Johnny Cash, Dave Matthews, The Chieftains...). I say 'almost' because the music and lyrics are, in fact, completely different; and because I have no idea whether one inspired the other, or whether it's a case of independent invention (or somewhere in the middle). Either way, the stories told are similar enough that I cannot hear one without thinking of the other.

Let's start with the older song:

The Long Black Veil

Ten years ago on a cold dark night,
someone was killed 'neath the town hall lights.
There were few at the scene, but they all agreed,
that the slayer who ran looked a lot like me.

Chorus ~ She walks these hills, in a long black veil.
She visits my grave, when the night winds wail.
Nobody knows, nobody sees,
Nobody knows, but me

The Judge said son, what is your alibi,
if you were somewhere else, then you won't have to die.
I spoke not a word, though it meant my life,
for i'd been in the arms of my best friends wife.

Chorus*

Now the scaffold is high, and eternity's near.
She stood in the crowd, and shed not a tear.
But some times at night, when the cold wind moans
In a long black veil, she cries over my bones

Chorus ~ She walks these hills, in a long black veil.
When the cold winds blow, and the night winds wail.
Nobody knows, nobody sees.
Nobody knows, but me.

Over the Hills (and Far Away)

They came for him one winter's night.
Arrested, he was bound.
They said there'd been a robbery,
his pistol had been found.

They marched him to the station house,
he waited till the dawn.
And as they led him to the dock,
he knew that he'd been wronged.

"You stand accused of robbery,"
he heard the bailiff say.
He knew without an alibi,
tomorrow's light would mourn his freedom.

Over the hills and far away,
for ten long years he'll count the days.
Over the mountains and the seas,
a prisoner's life for him there'll be.

He knew that it would cost him dear,
but yet he dare not say,
Just where he'd been that fateful night,
a secret it must stay.

He had to fight back tears of rage.
His heart beat like a drum.
For with the wife of his best friend,
he spent his final night of freedom.

Over the hills and far away,
he swears he will return one day.
Far from the mountains and the seas,
back in her arms again he'll be.

Over the hills and far away.
Over the hills and,
over the hills and,
over the hills and far away.

Each night within his prison cell,
he looks out through the bars.
He reads the letters that she wrote.
One day he'll know the taste of freedom.

Over the hills and far away,
she prays he will return one day.
As sure as the rivers reach the seas,
back in his arms again she'll be.

Over the hills and far away,
he swears he will return one day.
As sure as the river reach the seas,
back in his arms is where she'll be.

Over the hills and far away,
she prays he will return one day.
As sure as the rivers reach the sea,
back in her arms is where he'll be.

Over the hills,over the hills and far away.
Over the hills,over the hills and far away

Okay, so... the premise, in both cases, is a man who is accused of a crime and can't speak in his defense because he was cuckolding his best friend at the time. In "The long Black Veil", the crime is murder and the man is hung for it, leaving his friend's wife to mourn in secret. In "Over The Hills", the crime is robbery, and the man is sent away to prison for a decade, where he waits impatiently for freedom and return (and the unfaithful wife waits also).

However, to my eyes the big difference between the two songs is the fourth line of "Over The Hills". He's accused of robbery because his pistol was found, presumably at the scene of the crime. (Maybe they found the pistol somewhere else, but that interpretation doesn't make much sense to me.)

"The Long Black Veil" is a song about a miscarriage of justice; "Over The Hills" is about a man who was framed for robbery, probably by the jealous best friend with whose wife he was sleeping.

2 comments:

  1. Maybe the Wife planted the pistol to avert her husbands suspicion off herself?

    I think way too much about these things....

    ReplyDelete
  2. Well, that would explain why she didn't offer to provide his alibi...

    ReplyDelete

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