Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Anatomy of a Mixed Tape, Track the Last

17. Over Yonder (Jonathan’s Song)—Steve Earle

Steve Earle - Transcendental Blues - Over Yonder (Jonathan's Song)

This last track of the Mixed Tape series, from Steve Earle’s 2000 album Transcendental Blues, ends with an execution. Mr. Earle sings:

The warden said he’d mail my letter
The chaplain’s waiting by the door
Tonight we’ll cross that yard together
Then they cain’t hurt me anymore

Long a staunch advocate for abolishing the death penalty, Mr. Earle, who spent some time in the hoosegow himself, in 1994, for drug possession, paints a picture here of an inmate who's made peace with himself and what he’s done, and is ready to die.

Here Mr. Earle is in minimalist mode, painting a quick but full picture with deliberate brushstrokes. Earle repeated the feat a few years later in his growled, droning “John Walker’s Blues,” about the “American Taliban” who was captured in Afghanistan by the CIA after the U.S. invasion of that country. In my opinion, it remains one of the best 9/11-related songs.

But so: even though “Over Yonder (Jonathan’s Song)” ends with an execution, it also brings the Mixed Tape series to a close on a hopeful note. Mr. Earle keens, his voice rising to convey the spirit’s escape from its earthly prison (meaning both bars and body):

‘Cause I’m going over yonder
Where no ghost can follow me
There’s another place beyond here
Where I’ll be free, I believe

The harmonium hums, hymn-like; the mandolin’s plucked plaintively, and the song carries the album, and this Mixed Tape, to its end—which ends, like the classic prison movie The Shawshank Redemption, with a simple statement of hope: “I believe.”

1 comment:

Emily said...

Did I ever mention to you that my sister dated John's brother? Very nice (and handsome!) guy. They dated about a year or so, I think, before John was arrested. When the news came out about him, Amy called me and said, "Holy shit, remember Connell? His brother is the American Taliban!" That family is good people, despite what John may have gotten himself caught up in.