"Oh! Susanna": The Story Behind The Song Continues
One of the bigger surprises from Bridge 2011 weekend was the pairing of Dave Matthews & Neil Young on "Oh! Susanna".
For many, this was a concert highlight.
Above is the video for The Big 3's "The Banjo Song (Oh Suzanna!)" from 1963.
As we mentioned recently, with all of the anticipation for the upcoming album Americana by Neil Young & Crazy Horse, there's been a lot of focus on the song "Oh! Susannah".
Yesterday, we posted the campy Bananarama cover of "Venus" which is a cult classic YouTube video by Shocking Blue which is based off of the Americana tune "Oh! Susannah" and its riffs. "Venus" was written by Robbie van Leeuwen and originally recorded by Shocking Blue for their 1969 album, "At Home".
And just as we were reminded about The Byrds version of "Oh Susanna" and James Taylor with Johnny Cash's version of "Oh Susanna" along comes another "Oh Susanna" version.
And as the legacy and history of "Oh! Susanna" continues to flap around on The Judgement Not To Pre-Judge "Americana", here's a comment by Matt & Jes Wedding:
First off, no one is snickering at Neil. Nor are they snickering at James Taylor because he didn't give a 15 minute lecture on "the history of the song Oh! Suzanna" before he played it live.
Song meanings change over time.
The original intent and malice that the song was written with and for is no longer present in the current incarnation of the song in our collective "Americana." Is it interesting to see where the song originally came from and how it has changed over time? Yes. But if this song has become "illegal" to reproduce in your mind because an old version of the song (which is not what Neil is playing) was racist, then there are a whole lot of other things that should be "illegal" as well.
As I stated, song meanings change over time. This one has had 150 years to churn away in the collective American psyche, and in the mid-60s was reborn as a different song with a different meaning...you know, the version that EVERYONE knows. Not the original version that NO ONE knows.
In a much more recent example of song meanings and change over time, think about Eddie Vedder and the song "Alive." Here is Ed recounting how the song has changed during VH1 storytellers, from twofeetthick.com:
Ed retells the story of “Alive” saying “it’s a song about someone I know very well (laughs) … Ok, it’s about me” and goes on to say how the chorus is sung by fans with exuberance and it has trancended from being a song about a curse, to being an uplifting song. He concludes with “you changed the meaning of the song, you lifted the curse”
And it only took 15 years to completely reverse and change the meaning of the entire song. Different circumstances, sure, but same idea.
So snicker away if that helps you. I just don't see the point in living life stuck in 1830.
More on "Oh! Susanna": The Story Behind The Song
Set for a June 5th release, you can now pre-Order "Americana" on Amazon.com (Thanks! You'll be helping to support us.)