Still a mile and a half from here.(what happened to him?)
His head was found in the driving wheel,
and his body never never been found.
my girl, my girl, don't you lie to me,
tell me where did you sleep last night?(come on and tell me something about it)
In the pines, in the pines,
Where the sun don't ever shine,
I will shiver the whole night through.
SUBJECT: WHERE DID YOU SLEEP LAST NIGHT CHRD. BY NIRVANA
Where Did You Sleep Last Night (Huddie Ledbetter)
E5 - 022x0x or 022x00
A - x0222x
G - 320033 or 320003
B - x2444x
B/F# - 22444x
Intro: E5 (E) (F#) (G) (E) A G B B/F# E5 [Repeat 2x]
A Simple Song That Lives Beyond Time
By Eric Weisbard
The New York Times (November 13, 1994) Section 2; Page 36
Immediately after the suicide of Kurt Cobain, lead singer of the rock band
Nirvana, last April, MTV broadcast almost continuously an hour-long
"Unplugged" special that the band had recorded the previous fall. The final
song on the program was unexpected: it was the only one not previously
recorded by Nirvana or even written by an alternative rocker. Called "Where
Did You Sleep Last Night," it had the cadences of an old ballad or blues tune
and lyrics that Mr. Cobain's deathly rasp made absolutely haunting.
In fact, the song was a folk song, usually known as "In the Pines," which
dates back at least to the 1870's. Its appearance in the repertory of a
Seattle grunge singer is only the latest chapter in its complex history. (An
album of Nirvana's MTV concert, "Unplugged in New York," was recently
released on the DGC label.) Those who have recorded the song include the folk
legends Leadbelly, Joan Baez and Pete Seeger, the country pioneers Bill
Monroe and Chet Atkins, the rockers Sir Douglas Quintet and Duane Eddy, the
pop vocalist Connie Francis and the jazz saxophonist Clifford Jordan.
Annette Zalinskas, formerly of the Bangles, recorded the song with her band
Blood on the Saddle on 1986's "Poison Love" album. Australia's Triffids did a
takeoff on "In the Pines." (The genre-crossing Beck used the phrase "in the
pines" in doggerel he wrote for the booklet that accompanies his recent album
Researching the song for a 1970 dissertation, Judith McCulloh found 160
different versions, a finding that raises the question: Why does a song like
"In the Pines" endure and permutate so insistently? The answer may be that
its essence is not a specific story or even a musical style but the kind of
intensely dark emotion that, as is the case with much in American music,
survives longer in popular memory than does treacly sentiment.
The song probably has its origins in the Southern Appalachians, where it is
still passed on as part of an oral tradition. The mystery writer Sharyn
McCrumb says a college friend from Georgia taught her a verse that she used
as a chapter heading in her 1992 novel, "The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter."
As she demonstrated in a telephone conversation, she can also sing a very
different "Mitchell County, N.C." version that includes a reference to the
local Clenchfield railroad line.
Dolly Parton, who performs a version on her recent album "Heartsongs" says:
"The song has been handed down through many generations of my family. I don't
ever remember not hearing it and not singing it. Any time there were more
than three or four songs to be sung, 'In the Pines' was one of them. It's
easy to play, easy to sing, great harmonies and very emotional. The perfect
song for simple people."
In the 1981 book "Long Steel Rail: The Railroad in American Folksong," the
music historian Norm Cohen notes that "In the Pines" has three frequent
elements, not all of which always appear. There is the chorus "in the pines,"
a stanza about "the longest train I ever saw" and another verse in which
someone is decapitated by a train.
"The longest train" section probably began as a separate song, which merged
with "In the Pines"; references in some renditions to "Joe Brown's coal mine"
and "the Georgia line" may date its origins to Joseph Emerson Brown, a former
Georgia governor, who operated coal mines in the 1870's. The earliest printed
version was four lines and a melody compiled by Cecil Sharp in Kentucky in
1917. Another variant, mentioning the train accident, was recorded in 1925 by
a folk collector onto cylinder, a precursor of the phonograph. The next year,
commercial hillbilly recordings of "In the Pines" and "The Longest Train"
How did Kurt Cobain discover "In the Pines"? Long before Nirvana's rise, he
and Mark Lanegan, leader of the Seattle rock group Screaming Trees, formed a
friendship around a mutual love of Leadbelly. Mr. Lanegan owned a copy of the
original Musicraft 78 rpm of "Where Did You Sleep Last Night" that Leadbelly
recorded in 1944. "My father gave me the record when I was a kid," Mr.
Lanegan says. "He was a schoolteacher, and he found in the attic of an old
school a box of blues records." Mr. Lanegan and Mr. Cobain recorded an EP of
Leadbelly tunes, but only "Where Did You Sleep" was released on Mr. Lanegan's
1990 album, "The Winding Sheet," with Mr. Cobain playing guitar.
Although Leadbelly is credited with authorship of "Where Did You Sleep" on
"The Winding Sheet" and Nirvana's "Unplugged in New York," his own discovery
of the song was almost as secondhand as that of the Seattle musicians. Alan
Lomax, the folk music archivist and promoter, reported to Ms. McCulloh that
Leadbelly learned parts of the song from someone who had taken it from the
1917 Sharp version and other parts from the 1925 cylinder recording.
For all its complicated history, the meaning of "In the Pines" may be even
more blurry, a vast continuum of different varieties of misery and suffering.
"This unique, moody, blues-style song from the Southern mountain country is
like a bottomless treasure box of folk-song elements," wrote James Leisy in
his 1966 book "The Folk Song Abecedary." "The deeper you dig, the more you
the context can be altered with a few words. It may be a husband, a wife or
even a parent whose head is "found in the driver's wheel" and whose "body has
never been found." Men, women and sometimes confused adolescents flee into
the sordid pines, which serve as a metaphor for everything from sex to
loneliness and death. The "longest" train can kill or give one's love the
means to run away or leave an itinerant worker stranded far from his home.
In the bluegrass and country versions popularized by Mr. Monroe, the song's
eerie qualities are rooted in the genre's "high lonesome" sound, with fiddles
and yodeling harmonies used to evoke the cold wind blowing. Lyrics about
beheading drop out, but the enigmatic train is almost as frightening,
suggesting an eternal passage: "I asked my captain for the time of day/ He
said he throwed his watch away."
In other versions, the focus is clearly, as the novelist Ms. McCrumb notes,
on a confrontation: "There's a woman doing something not socially acceptable,
and she's been caught at it." In one case, a husband demands: "Don't lie to
me; where did you sleep last night?" In their traditional interpretation, the
Kossoy Sisters begin: "Little girl, little girl, where'd you stay last night?
Not even your mother knows." Despite all the variations of "In the Pines,"
these questions are almost never asked of a man. The woman may also be asked,
"Where did you get that dress, and those shoes that are so fine?" and the
answer is "from a man in the mines, who sleeps in the pines."
In Mr. Jordan's jazz version, recorded for Atlantic in 1965, the singer
Sandra Douglass makes the meaning even more explicit, drawing on a later
Leadbelly version known as "Black Girl." Here the woman is in the pines
because her husband has died under the train, leaving her with little choice
but prostitution. "You caused me to weep/ And you caused me to moan/ You
caused me to leave my home," she sings, perhaps to the cruel fates, perhaps
to the ghost of her husband.
When Hole, the band led by Mr. Cobain's widow, Courtney Love, played in New
York in September, the final encore was "Where Did You Sleep Last Night." The
sense of ghosts was palpable: a widow singing a widow's tune, biting as
heavily into each "don't lie to me" as her husband had. But the ghosts were
already there in the Nirvana version, which looked at death square on -- Mr.
Cobain's voice cracks and pauses during the final line, then soldiers
Mr. Cobain's identification with female rockers, from Hole to the Raincoats,
encompasses the trespassing woman of the tale. And his origins in the
pines-stripped lumber town of Aberdeen, Wash., take in the "simple people"
who, as Dolly Parton notes, have always turned this cry of anxiety into a
source of strength. "In the Pines" will have other versions, of course. But
there is really no need for anyone to ever sing it again.