Even though I've only been playing bluegrass music for a little under a year, I have come to the understanding that it is never a bad idea, when writing a song, to kill off a character within said song, no matter how upbeat the actual music is. It's part of a sort of laughter-and-tears aesthetic that bluegrass shares with a lot of the Celtic music from which many tunes stem: perky fast music, casual wording, depressing substance.
Natural disasters are an obvious way to kill off characters, so I figured I would fire up Google in search of some earthquake bluegrass. And nearly immediately - perhaps because it is the title track of the album in question - High Country's "The Earthquake" turned up.
The lyrics are pretty much what I expected: a happy relationship is destroyed by the house falling on the girl. There is a good sense of the suddenness of the earthquake, though, since the singer keeps talking about how things were, but in the present tense - as if the quake hadn't happened - then juxtaposes the reality of the events against it by inserting a chorus. By the end of the song, the depth and severity of the situation has finally hit the singer, once his beloved has been buried. What I think is the best line of the song comes from this stanza:
"She's lyin' there alone at the mercy of nature, and I've never felt so helpless and small."
To have to put the body down in the earth, when the earth's own "misbehavior" is responsible for her death...that has to be a troublesome feeling. (Though, geek that I am, I couldn't hear this part without thinking to earlier in the verse, where he says she's buried at the foot of the mountain. "No!" I thought, "Don't put her there! Not on the fault scarp! No!")
I also really enjoy the music to this one. I listened to it a bunch of times and couldn't figure out the chords, which was both frustrating and exciting, since this one clearly deviates from the I-IV-V-I progression that's the backbone of so many songs in so many genres. The mystery chord turned out to be a flat III, and its presence made me inordinately happy. The melody that fits over these chords is also incredibly catchy. When I played this song for a friend of mine who happens to be an ethnomusicologist whose Master's thesis was on bluegrass, he immediately said it was a cool song, and I caught him humming it in the hallway a few days later. This song stands up on its own musically, with or without the earthquake factor. Excellent.
Remember last week, how I was saying that people in the mariachi band were threatening to make me sing "La falla de San Andrés"? Well, I still don't know if that's happening, but the bluegrass band I'm in (we're tentatively named Inland Wildfire) is definitely working on "The Earthquake," and yours truly is definitely the one singing it. Terrifying, yes? If we're ever in a position to record it, I most likely will inflict this one on my hapless readers...
But you should listen to the real version first. Here's High Country's Rhapsody page.