Leadbelly - Goodnight, Irene
Goodnight, Irene was first recorded by Huddie Ledbetter in the early 1930s. By most accounts, Leadbelly learned this American folk song from an uncle before landing in prison, first for murder and later for assault. He developed and recorded Goodnight, Irene at Louisiana State Pen.
I discovered this song when I picked up Ken Kesey’s Sometimes a Great Notion in middle school. I opened the cover and the epigraph read:
Sometimes I live in the country
Sometimes I live in town
Sometimes I take a great notion
To jump in the river and drown
The song is commonly described as a story of a troubled love and a murky past. For me, it’s always been about wanting to do it all and feeling overwhelmed with having to choose between experiences that will never be the same. I want to live in the country and I want to live in the city, I want to be everywhere while I’m young, I don’t understand a reality that makes me choose, and sometimes the frustration feels like too much to take. That made my head explode as a teenager and is still a kick in the gut half a lifetime later.
Lead Belly’s vocals + twelve strings = one plus one.