Monday, October 19, 2009

The House of the Amazing Grace

The House of the Rising Sun was one of the first songs I ever learned to sing with guitar, and that was in New Orleans, working at a mental hospital next to Audubon Park, living in the Garden District and heading down to Preservation Hall as often as possible. These men's voices, especially that last wail, remind me of Sweet Emma the Bell Gal, who headlined the Preservation Hall band, and was well into her eighties or nineties. When she sang Just A Closer Walk With Thee it was such a powerful experience it bordered on shamanistic. It certainly got you over into what Jung called the collective unconscious. It wasn't just Sweet Emma you heard, but the "toils and snares" of generations before that brought that song to that point. Music was just the vehicle.

Amazing Grace is among the dozen or so musical touchstones of my musical life, particularly the Judy Collins version from the 70's with the massed folk choir singing all those harmonies. I've never understood why it was just a one off recording and they didn't go back and make a whole album like that. It's the one hymn nearly everyone knows. Just like House of the Rising Sun it seems to manifest some archetype that most people recognize on some level. Whenever I perform either song, there's usually someone coming up afterwards to thank me.

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