A quibble about the Mod’s recent open letter to Robbie Robertson, in which he said: “you’ve… …written perhaps rock’s greatest story song ever, ‘The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.’” In the article linked to the Mod’s post, Bill Flannigan makes a similar assertion.
Now I like TNTDODD well enough (although it’s hardly among my favorite Band songs) but I don’t understand what the story is supposed to be. It just kind of runs through a bunch of Civil War images without any discernable plot (not unlike Thin Lizzy did with random Western images in the Cowboy Song). I would ask you to either explain the plot of this “story” to me or please refer to the song as “Rock’s Greatest Civil War Imagery Song” from now on.
In the meantime, I submit “Tom Ames Prayer,” one of a dozen or so songs by Steve Earle in which he tells a much more cohesive story than TNTDODD:
Everyone in Nacadoches knew Tom Ames would come to some bad end Well the sheriff had caught him stealin’ chickens and such by the time that he was ten And one day his daddy took a ten dollar bill and he tucked it in his hand He said I can tell you’re headed for trouble son and your momma wouldn’t understand So he took that money and his brothers old bay and he left without a word of thanks Fell in with a crowd in some border town and took to robbin’ banks Outside the law your luck will run out fast and a few years came and went ‘Till he’s trapped in an alley in Abilene with all but four shells spent And he realized prayin’ was the only thing that he hadn’t ever tried Well he wasn’t sure he knew quite how but he looked up to the sky Said you don’t owe me nothin’ and as far as I know Lord don’t owe nothin’ to you And I ain’t askin’ for a miracle Lord just a little bit of luck will do And you know I ain’t never prayed before but it always seemed to me If prayin’ is the same as beggin’ Lord I don’t take no charity Yeah but right now Lord with my back to the wall I can’t help but recall How they nearly hung me for stealin’ a horse in Fort Smith Arkansas Judge Parker said guilty and the gavel came down just like a cannon shot And I went away quietly and I began to file and plot Well they sent the preacher down to my cell He said the Lord is your only hope He’s the only friend that you gonna have When you hit the end of Parker’s rope Well I guess he coulda’ kept on preachin’ ’till Christmas but he turned his back on me I put a home made blade to that golden throat and asked the deputy for the key Well it ain’t the first close call I ever had I’m sure you already know I had some help from you Lord and the devil himself It’s been strictly touch and go Yeah but who in the hell am I talkin’ to, there ain’t no one here but me Then he cocked both his pistols and he spit in the dirt and he walked out in the street