12/31/09

In My Time of Dying

 The last blog post of 2009 is a good one. It's about "In my time of dying", an old american folk/blues song. It's writer is unknown.
What an amazing song. It keeps fascinating me. A cover/interpretation of this song is part of the first track on my 2nd album The Desert Holds A Flower (Tutl, 2009). The track is called "In my time of dying/There is a garden".

The other day I experienced renewed excitement about the song. A friend posted a youtube clip on Facebook that blew me away. The clip is from guitar documentary It Might Get Loud, featuring awesome axe heroes Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin etc.), The Edge (U2) and Jack White (The White Stripes etc.) In the clip the three of them are jamming the Led Zeppelin version of "In my time of dying". It's amazing. But we'll get back to that later. Let's have ourselves a short history lesson, shall we? :) Let's look at some of the versions that exist;

The first recorded trace of the song was performed by black American singer Blind Willie Johnson sometime in the late 30’s. This version is called “Jesus Goin' A-Make Up My Dying Bed” and the melody is in the guitar with a different vocal. Some of the lyrics are similar. Blind Willie Johnsons music is heartfelt and breathtaking;


The next known recorded example that I know of is from Bob Dylans first album back in 1962. It's this version that is the backbone of all later versions. The guitar playing is spot on and the vocal is so full of...I don't know what it is full of. Just listen. An amazing performance from a young man who is already old at this point;

                           
Then we have the full blown band version, courtesy of English rock heroes (some might say dinosaurs) Led Zeppelin. From the double album Physical Graffiti (1975). 10 minutes of pure jammin':


Excellent musicians in Led Zeppelin. But then came punk music which shook things up a bit and in this next version you can definitely hear that punk has come and gone. The band is Spacemen 3 and they are one of the finest psychedelic/noise rock acts from the 80's. Jason Spaceman later formed Spiritualized. Their version of "In my time of dying" (titled "Come down easy") originally appeared on the bands debut album Sound of Confusion (1986) but the version I'm posting here is from a collection of Sound of Confusion demos and outtakes, titled Taking Drugs To Make Music To Take Drugs To (1990).
This version is darker and more drug oriented than the others. Somehow they manage to combine the gospel element and the drug element and somehow they make it work. Say what you will. There is no denying the pure hypnotic power of the music.


Fast forward some 20 years and up next we have Martin L. Gore. Martin Gore is the primary songwriter of Depeche Mode and there are so many examples of his genius songcraft in the bands discography. Martin has released two solo albums, Counterfeit and Counterfeit2, both featuring covers/interpretations of some of his favourite songs. The opening track on Counterfeit2 is "In my time of dying" and it was actually this version that introduced me to the song (with Dylans version following soon afterwards).
I'm guessing that Martin knows his way around Blind Willie Johnson and American folk music in general, because the Depeche Mode song "John The Revelator" is based on the old spiritual of the same name, which is also found on any Blind Willie Johnson comp you might find. And the general "bluesy" character of much DM material also supports this little theory of mine :) Here's the amazing album version where Martin delivers a fascinating electronic soundscape for this old folk/blues classic:


And a video clip of a live performance which is pretty good:


And then, last but not least; the clip that made me dig the song all over again; The mighty instrumental guitar jam of Page, The Edge and White. Hard to tell who's the greatest axeman here. Funny to see and hear how clearly defined their individual styles are and how they work together in what appears to be an impromptu jam situation. Dig it:


Wow...

And there it is again; "In my time of dying". A song that has lived its own life for many decades now. A song that keeps popping up in different places. What sends shivers down my spine about the song is that the narrator seems to be someone who is truly homeless in some "existential" sense; he's standing outside of civilization looking in. The stars are his blanket and the stones on the ground are his pillow. A bit like Lucky Luke :)

I'm also proud to say that we managed to do a version of the song for my 2nd album that was released earlier this year. Even a version that I think does the song justice, since it's not just a straight forward cover, but also an interpretation or re-imagining of sorts. I decided to place this song first on the album since it marks out a journey. A place where things began. I prefer the stuff that cuts to the bone and says it out loud. There's no time for chewing the fat. And it's also the oldest song on the album. Way older than me.



Thank you for 2009 with wishes for a good 2010. Rock on.


IN MY TIME OF DYING
Well, in my time of dying don't want nobody to mourn
All I want for you to do is take my body home
Well, well, well, so I can die easy
Well, well, well
Well, well, well, so I can die easy
Jesus gonna make up, Jesus gonna make up
Jesus gonna make up my dying bed.

Well, meet me Jesus, meet me, meet me
in the middle of the air
If these wings should fail to me,
Lord, won't you meet me with another pair
Well, well, well, so I can die easy
Well, well, well
Well, well, well, so I can die easy
Jesus gonna make up, Jesus gonna make up
Jesus gonna make up my dying bed.

Lord, in my time of dying don't want nobody to cry
All I want you to do is take me when I die
Well, well, well, so I can die easy
Well, well, well
Well, well, well, so I can die easy
Jesus gonna make up, Jesus gonna make up
Jesus gonna make up my dying bed.

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