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This Culture of Honor


Lee Knight

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I wrote a song about Harlan County a year back or so. Then last night as I was reading Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers (great book, read it), the concept of cultural tradition came up. Harlan had its share of those old hillbilly feuds. Like the famous Hatfield and McCoys not too far away from Harlan. This happened all through that same mountain range. All real stuff. The thing not talked about much is how prevalent this family feuding was. And why?

 

Theory. You can't farm a rocky hillside. But you can heard sheep on one. Just like the borderlands of north England. Just like the valleys of Appalachia. Did I mention Harlan was settled by 8 families from North England. Herders of sheep. Farmers have to get along. Cooperation behooves all. But shepards? They're mean. You can't steal a man's crop very easily, but his sheep? They have to be perceived as strong. Or their herd will be pilfered one by one and the family left to starve. Even suggest a slight in my family's direction and I'll have to set things straight. Or this valley will eat me alive. Family against family if need be.

 

Updating here as I go:

 

 

Title change:

 

It's a Matter of Honor

 

V1

1819... west into Appalachian land

Eight clans... from the South Highlands ran

All of them calling this same narrow valley their home

But you still can't harvest fields planted in hills of rock and stone

 

pre

It's hard to steal a farmer's crop

But a shepherd's flock runs free

That alone will make a man mean

 

C1

It's a matter of honor

Born generations ago

From the borderlands of Northern England

To this dirty Appalachian snow

You cross that line and steal what's mine

You'll find what you already know

It's a matter of honor

That won't let go

 

V2

One Turner boy against a Howard's in a betting game of cards

Each man's eyes, red with fire, showed their utter disregard

Then two accusing fingers called the other one a cheat

And met next day on a one block, strange and remote Appalachian street

 

Pre

You can't ignore disrespect

Or this valley will eat you alive

The day William Howard died

 

C2

It's a matter of honor

Born generations ago

From the borderlands of Northern England

To this dirty Appalachian snow

You cross that line and steal what's mine

You'll find what you already know

It's a matter of honor

That won't let go

 

V3

Stop your crying!, Momma Howard snapped at him

Die like a man, just like your brother did!

She belonged to a world of blood and guns and honor

William shut his mouth and died bringing no disgrace upon her

 

pre

You can't wipe out that blood!

Pointing to the dirt where her son had died

And Momma never cried

 

C3

It's a matter of honor

Born generations ago

From the borderlands of Northern England

To this dirty Appalachian snow

You cross that line and steal what's mine

You'll find what you already know

It's a matter of honor

That won't let go

No, it'll never let go

 

 

 

Some from reading, some from stream of bs, here are my notes:

 

Borderlands

 

Culture of honor

 

Just dumb enough to be fearless

Just smart enough to be dangerous

 

Devil Jim

 

1819, west into Appalachian land

 

Scratching out a living herding sheep on a rocky hillside

 

Remote and strange place

 

The Howards and the Turners did not get along

 

One owned the tavern, the other the courthouse and jail

 

Cross Mr Turner and you will be spoken to

Do it again and

 

These were not pleasant people

 

Son for son they played against each other in a game of poker

The finger of accusation, each a cheat in each other's eyes

 

Next day they met in the street

Little Bob Turner lay dead at Howards' feet

With a shotgun blast putting end to any speculation

 

The Turner's ambushed a Howard team

The Howards returned like a bad dream

Till blood ran like water down their valley stream

 

You can't wipe out that blood!She said.

Pointing to the dirt where her son had died

 

More dead.

 

The county was in an uproar

 

Stop you're crying!, Momma snapped at him

Die like a man, just like your brother did!

She belonged to a world of blood and guns and honor

William shut his mouth and died bringing no disgrace upon her

 

Blood County

 

WE ain't gonna have any murder court here this term folks

Y'all pick up your things and head on home

The red faced judge looked at Mr. Howard like it was a joke

Then Mr. Howard made his displeasure quite clearly known

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Its a great read Lee - are you saying these were English people in the story?


If so , I would suggest "mother" rather than "momma"

 

 

Not English. These were hillbillies with a direct bloodline to North England/Southen Highlands. Pure stock immigrants.

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Not English. These were hillbillies with a direct bloodline to North England/Southen Highlands. Pure stock immigrants.

 

 

 

cool cool....as you were...

 

i love these proper factual songs that still feel like a lyric

 

no idea how you're going to go at it musical...very interested though

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This is cool.

 

It is a little odd to have the mother being the one telling him to die like a man. Where is the dad? Did he die too? If so, it might be neat to reference that instead of brother or possibly both or maybe father in the first verse and brother in the second with mother getting harder each time.

 

The first line of the pre is phrased awkwardly, he said.

 

You might also consider telling more about why this is happening.

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This is cool.


It is a little odd to have the mother being the one telling him to die like a man. Where is the dad? Did he die too? If so, it might be neat to reference that instead of brother or possibly both or maybe father in the first verse and brother in the second with mother getting harder each time.


The first line of the pre is phrased awkwardly, he said.


You might also consider telling more about why this is happening.

 

 

Yeah, I'm thinking V? is V2 or 3. But first, "Momma" did say that! Crazy stuff. Mrs. Howard shouted at her son to die like a man like his brother did a week before. Crazy. So, I'm thinking V1 (and V2?) might have a distillation of some of these ideas below... (referencing my notes)

 

1819, west into Appalachian land

 

Scratching out a living herding sheep on a rocky hillside

 

Remote and strange place

 

The Howards and the Turners did not get along

 

One owned the tavern, the other the courthouse and jail

 

Cross Mr Turner and you will be spoken to

Do it again and

 

These were not pleasant people

 

Son for son they played against each other in a game of poker

The finger of accusation, each a cheat in each other's eyes

 

Next day they met in the street

Little Bob Turner lay dead at Howards' feet

With a shotgun blast putting end to any speculation

 

The Turner's ambushed a Howard team

The Howards returned like a bad dream

Till blood ran like water down their valley stream

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V1

1819, west into Appalachian land

Eight families from the south highlands ran

You can't harvest fields planted in rock and stone

And found the same in the valley they called their home

 

pre

It's hard to steal a farmer's crop

And these shepard's herds were lean

That alone can make a man mean

 

C1

This culture of honor

Born generations ago

From the borderlands of north England

To this dirty Appalachian snow

You cross that line and steal what's mine

You'll find what you already know

This culture of honor

Won't let go

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This is a good story to tell.

OK - the minor key is an obvious choice and references back to the early English, Scots and Irish ballads that went to America.

But I'd also think of how other honour killing songs have been arranged in a contemporary manner.

 

The Band - Long Black Veil

Fairport Convention - Matty Groves

 

Another template is Dylan's 'Lonesome Death of Hattie Carrol' where he binds the tale together with a chorus of 'And you who philosophise disgrace...... now a'int the time for your tears'.

And then ends the song with 'now's the time for your tears'

It's such a good device to punctuate the storyline with a universal truism.

 

Anyway - I look forward to see how this evolves.

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V

Son against son in a game of cards

Each man's eyes showed their disregard

Two accusing fingers called the other one cheat

And met next day in the little town street

 

Pre

You can't ignore disrespect

Or this valley will eat you alive

The day Little Bob Turner died

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This is a good story to tell.

OK - the minor key is an obvious choice and references back to the early English, Scots and Irish ballads that went to America.

But I'd also think of how other honour killing songs have been arranged in a contemporary manner.


The Band - Long Black Veil

Fairport Convention - Matty Groves


Another template is Dylan's 'Lonesome Death of Hattie Carrol' where he binds the tale together with a chorus of
'And you who philosophise disgrace...... now a'int the time for your tears'.

And then ends the song with
'now's the time for your tears'

It's such a good device to punctuate the storyline with a universal truism.


Anyway - I look forward to see how this evolves.

 

 

Thank you! That is great stuff to reference. Excellent idea.

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This may be an American language thing, but in English English you can't really say this :

 

pre

It's hard to steal a farmer's crop

And these shepard's herds were lean

That alone can make a man mean

 

Firstly it's a flock of sheep, and secondly a shepherd is a person who herds the sheep.

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Whew, this is tough. A very rough 1st draft that'll need to be rerererewritten I'm afraid...

 

V1

1819, west into Appalachian land

Eight families from the south highlands ran

You can't harvest fields planted in hills of rock and stone

And found the same in the valley they called their home

 

pre

It's hard to steal a farmer's crop

And these shepard's herds were lean

That alone will make a man mean

 

C1

This culture of honor

Born generations ago

From the borderlands of north England

To this dirty Appalachian snow

You cross that line and steal what's mine

You'll find what you already know

This culture of honor

Won't let go

 

V2

The Turner boy against the Howard's in a game of cards

Each man's eyes showed their disregard

Two accusing fingers called the other one cheat

And met next day in the little town street

 

Pre

You can't ignore disrespect

Or this valley will eat you alive

The day William Howard died

 

C2

This culture of honor

Born generations ago

From the borderlands of north England

To this dirty Appalachian snow

You cross that line and steal what's mine

You'll find what you already know

This culture of honor

Won't let go

 

V3

Stop your crying!, Momma Howard snapped at him

Die like a man, just like your brother did!

She belonged to a world of blood and guns and honor

William shut his mouth and died bringing no disgrace upon her

 

pre

You can't wipe out that blood!

Pointing to the dirt where her son had died

And Momma never cried

 

C3

This culture of honor,

Born generations ago

From the borderlands of north England

To this dirty Appalachian snow

You cross that line and steal what's mine

You'll find what you already know

This culture of honor

Won't let go

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This may be an American language thing, but in English English you can't really say this :


pre

It's hard to steal a farmer's crop

And these
shepard's herds
were lean

That alone can make a man mean


Firstly it's a flock of sheep, and secondly a shepherd is a person who herds the sheep.

 

 

Yeah, it's an ugly line. I just changed it to:

 

But a shepard's herd runs free

 

Does that fix the issue? Or maybe:

 

But come sundown a shepard's herd runs free

 

I'm trying to boil down to the idea that crops were safe, but sheep weren't from thieves. And rhyme with "make a man mean" to show how the very nature of tending sheep make them a) not trust their neighbors, and b) over time prone to defending their honor to never appear weak.

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I really like this. I am a huge fan of Mark Knopfler. His songwriting has always included these types of detail and emotion rich stories, true 'ballads' in that old English sense. I listen to his songs like "Sailing to Philadelphia" and "Boom Like That" and "Henry's Hammer" and wish that I could write like that. In this song you have. There is a story and there are real people with real feelings. There is a visceral earthiness that rings of time and place and truth. I hear the music, Appalachian fiddle echoing the sound of bagpipes, clawhammer banjo accented by understated, reverb drenched Stratocaster lines - but perhaps I'm getting ahead of you. I have no criticism or suggestion other than a question about the name 'Howard'. Is it intentional or used because of the sound and cadence? I ask because it is a name I associate with songs about Jesse James.

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Sheep form flocks; cattle form herds. But I see now that OldGit already pointed this out.


LCK

 

 

Flockin' A! I'm a little dense here. Got it guys... I'll update. Thanks. In Gladwell's book he uses the terms "herdsman" and "herding". So I was mistakenly using the term herd. It makes sense now, that a herdsman might herd a flock of sheep. Got it. Thanks

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