Wednesday, March 02, 2005


live in constant fear

Floyd Tillman, Slipping Around.

In the old songs, adultery was matched with death. Songs in which, for example, a husband kills his wife for straying ("Matty Groves"), or a woman murders her lover for looking elsewhere ("Love Henry") had been a staple of popular music since the Middle Ages.

But WWII, which had spurred so many hasty, ill-advised marriages, had at the same time provided a worldwide setting for a colossal number of affairs and had abetted experimentation in all forms (there was an Onion headline from one of their fake 1940s newspapers that read something like "War Over: Let's Forget Our Homosexual Experiences"). So when soldiers returned from the war to face women they hadn't seen in years, and with each unsure as to what the other had been up to, relations between the sexes had far more shadows than in the past.

"Cheating songs" have become a country music cliche, but at the time, songs like Floyd Tillman's "Slipping Around" were fairly radical in their subtle, amoral approach to a subject that folk music had once taken so deadly serious. The narrator and his woman have to live in fear of being discovered, but they're not going to stop and no one seems to be judging them.

Tillman, along with Ernest Tubb, can be credited with spreading honky tonk beyond its Texas origins. Honky tonk was loud, pulsing music meant to be heard on a jukebox over the din of a Saturday night barroom. This was music for a new generation of displaced Southerners who had gone in search of work west to Texas and California, and north to Detroit and St. Louis. Its subjects generally were drinking and romance--the singers excelled at the former and failed miserably at the latter.

"Slipping Around", recorded in Houston in January 1949, is a mix of temporal styles--Woody Carter plays a traditional waltz on fiddle, and J.D. Standlee's steel guitar playing is pretty standard. But there's something new and uneasy in Tillman's drawling baritone and his sharp, single-string electric guitar playing, not to mention in his subject matter. You can find it here, on what appears to be the only decent Tillman compilation on CD (and which is going out of print.)

Note from the Mgt.: For those blessed with Turner Classic Movies, Nicholas Ray's They Live By Night is airing on March 8. The film is, appallingly, unavailable on DVD or even VHS, so this is the only form in which one can see it these days--it is well worth your time.

No comments: