by Walter Price
Probably a title that would catch attention for not all the right reasons these here days but this is song that has many personas, many incarnations. “In The Pines”, “Where Did You Sleep Last Night” and “The Longest Train” being just three of the titles used on popular versions of the fabled late 1800’s folk tune. A song that started off (according to legend) with four simple yet profound lines.
“Black girl, black girl, don’t lie to me
Where did you stay last night?
I stayed in the pines where the sun never shines
And shivered when the cold wind blows”
These lyrics have led to 150+ variations of the song over the past 100 years traveling themes of race, death, loneliness, rape, cheating, confrontation and the plight of wandering worker of the early to mid-20th century. Interesting that elements of the song have been changed to fit the performer’s needs but the heartbreaking soul of the song is always intact.
I was going from one place to another when I heard a couple boys from the Leipzig International School talking about the song and debating if Kurt Cobain wrote the song about Courtney Love or his mother Wendy with one adding his knowledge that someone named Lead Belly wrote the song in the 1800’s. Well here is the short-skinny boys; Cobain found the song through his friend Mark Lanegan (Hear It) and even recorded it 1990, a full three years before Nirvana catapulted back into popular music lore.
True is that Lead Belly recorded it (but he didn’t fully write it) several times under different titles starting in 1944. I don’t know what meaning Cobain added to song to give it so much passion that garnered praises from the world of fans and music critics but damn if he didn’t knock continued interest in the song 20+ years after that MTV special.
The song’s history is in progress…