Saucers of Mud

May 3, 2008

Two observations

Filed under: Uncategorized — matt w @ 7:41 am

Raymond Chandler:Ross MacDonald::Douglas Adams:Terry Pratchett

So the other night I went to see the great band Inner Fire District do a show with a special set of Yiddish songs of labor, resistance, and protest, and (in the other set), they did their Waitsian version of “You Are My Sunshine,” which started with this verse:

the other night dear as I lay sleeping
I dreamt I held you in my arms
but when I woke dear I was mistaken
and I hung my head and I cried

except they changed the last line to “I hung myself and died,” but that’s not relevant to my question, which is: How can the second line not be “I dreamt that you lay by my side”? How? How? It doesn’t make any sense. Ordinarily I’d think this was something that had got distorted in the folk process, but “You Are My Sunshine” was actually written by former Louisiana governor Jimmie Davis, so I don’t know.

(A bit of googling reveals that the “by my side” version can be found in some online lyric transcriptions, especially in combination with the phrase “came disillusion” which seems so silly that it must be the original.)



  1. I don’t see how it makes that verse better, for the second and fourth lines to rhyme. It’s a beautiful verse, it just doesn’t seem to need to rhyme there. I’m singing the two versions to myself now and they both sound good, but I don’t really notice the rhyme in the “lay by my side” version. And note that the pattern of stress in the “lay by my side” version is awkward — the strong stress that’s on “held” in the canonical version, is on “you”, which does not sound right.

    Comment by The Modesto Kid — May 15, 2008 @ 7:37 pm

  2. “I dreamt I had you by my side” would work. But sometimes the less common text is the true text. Assuming that the author’s text is “true.”

    Comment by Matt's mom — May 17, 2008 @ 2:19 pm

  3. One thing is that in every other verse lines two and four are rhymes or off-rhymes. But I think the author’s text is well known; maybe what I’d argue is most likely is that “side” was the original line, and then Jimmie Davis forgot it and substituted “arms” or perhaps thought “arms” was better before releasing it to the world.

    I know that principle — it seems like it should be that the less superficially appealing text of two actually equally valid texts is the true one. I was going to say something more about these principles, in connection with my deduction of a missing verse to “Look Up Look Down that Lonesome Road” (from that Sounds of the Smokies album you have) before I actually heard it, but that story turns out to be complicated.

    Comment by matt w — May 17, 2008 @ 2:36 pm

  4. Along similar lines: I was listening this morning to Alan Lomax’s recordings of rural Kentucky music and was struck by the chorus of “Reuben Oh Reuben” by Emry Arthur:

    Reub a Reub oh Reub, it’s
    Reub a Reub oh Reub,
    Reuben where you been so long?
    I been to the east, I been to the west,
    I been all around this old world.
    I been to the river and I been baptized,
    And now I’m on my hanging ground

    which I know as the penultimate verse of “John Hardy was a Desperate Man”, except with “I been all around this old world” in the proper order for rhyming. (This collection is kind of great for blowing my mind with authentic versions of bluegrass standards that are not quite right. Monroe Gevedon’s performance of “Two Soldiers” just sounds totally off to me.)

    Comment by The Modesto Kid — June 4, 2008 @ 7:44 pm

  5. Oops, the last line of the “Reuben Oh Reuben” chorus is actually, “I’m ready for my hole in the ground.”

    Comment by The Modesto Kid — June 5, 2008 @ 8:02 am

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