Urban Cowboy is a 1980 movie with a soundtrack steeped in western songs that had great Redneck lines like, "single bars and good time lovers were never true, telling those sweet lies and losing again." The song that really got my attention and one that I liked but over time have become conflicted about, is called Cherokee Fiddle song by Johnny Lee. Johnny Lee if that's not a good old Redneck sodbuster name, just call me Billy Bob Thornton.
You see, I am a fan of most things Indian. I go to purple in the mood ring colours when I see an Indian hockey player in the National Hockey League, a MMA fighter in the UFC, a football player in the NFL (I spelled out the NHL, because most people don't know hockey), an Indian actor and songs naming Indians. So when I hear songs like Seminole Wind, Come and Get your Love, it's exciting for me. So to hear Cherokee fiddle it made me happy, and not only that, the song is really catchy. The Rosemary Butler back up just complimenting Johnny Lee's lines, "when you smell smoke and the cinder, just slick back your hair," takes the song to a higher plane. Remember I was in just 20 years old when the song came out, I had been to my first Sweat Lodge Ceremony at that age. My Indian-ness was never in question but I didn't have a deep philosophical view of things, I just knew and everyone around me was Indian. Those who were not Indian were not family or worthy of exploration. I know that was arrogant, stupid and limited my knowledge. I didn't ponder too deeply the story and lines in the Cherokee Fiddle song. Well later on, the song did kind of bother me, same thing with the song by Tom T. Hall, Old Dogs, Children and Watermelon Wine. Old Dogs, Children and Watermelon has such a nice melody and you naturally dream of good times but with a little melancholy.
I wondered if Tom T. Hall was being racist, even though there are no racist lines but the old trope of the Black gentlemen associated with watermelon, does make you cringe somewhat. The line "Women think about they-selves, when menfolk ain't around" is a bit of old style attitudes. So you kind of don't feel all that good about the song after a few years. Well that's what I thought about Cherokee Fiddle and the images portrayed in the song. Michael Martin Murphey wrote the song and he says it was about "an Old Man he saw playing fiddler at a train station one time." Wikipedia has the story of the fiddler player who is actually a Choctaw Indian, named Dean Kirk. When diving into the lyrics of the song, it doesn't paint a very good picture about the Cherokee fiddler player and his fate.
The story about the fiddle player is that he "put on a good show," "played for the whiskey," and was "not seen again," and "no one missed him." It paints a story deeper than an Indian drinking whiskey but of a people gone forever and no one ever to miss them. "With Indians dressing up as cowboys, cowboys putting on feathers and turquoise on, the fools playing fiddle have gone, folks never going to miss them and the Cherokee fiddle (people) gone forever." The song, the tune is very catchy and it will have you drawn in, but at the end of it, it is a very sad story, even an ugly one. So true of many stories when it comes to the Indian when the narrative is from the point of view by white folk.
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