This and The Fox are what I think of as the two core family songs. We sang this from as early as I can remember and my father played the Band's version on the record player all the time. I taped his records to take to college...
This is the song my parents chose to raise girls on? Oh, and I do have it memorized....
Ten years ago on a cool dark night
There was someone killed 'neath the town hall light
There were few at the scene and they all did agree
That the man who ran looked a lot like me
Ok, it starts with a murder. Someone is killed, in the town, at night. Be careful, little girls, bad things can happen at night. Even under the town hall light.
The judge said "Son, what is your alibi?
If you were somewhere else then you won't have to die"
I spoke not a word although it meant my life
I had been in the arms of my best friend's wife
It is about infidelity and not only infidelity, but infidelity with his best friend's wife. This song is a morality play. He doesn't speak. I see the magazines at the counters in the grocery store and think about how different this song is from our current culture. Divorce and splashed all over the papers, that's what the celebrities do today.
She walks these hills in a long black veil
She visits my grave where the night winds wail
Nobody knows, no, and nobody sees
Nobody knows but me
So she doesn't speak either. She remains faithful to him in visiting his grave, but the marriage must continue, because she only goes at night, veiled.
And this song is narrated by a dead man.
The scaffold was high and eternity neared
She stood in the crowd and shed not a tear
But sometimes at night when the cold wind moans
In a long black veil she cries over my bones
She watches him die for their sin. This song is about ethics, really. The two of them had broken their code of honor and paid the price, which was that he died for a different crime. And did the man who really killed the person in the first stanza then go free?
Why wouldn't they speak up? Perhaps she had children and he couldn't support them. Perhaps they truly considered it a sin, a dishonor, a horrible mistake. Perhaps he was part of the family and they chose not to disrupt it. Perhaps honor and honoring his best friend was more important than love.... Our current culture seems to think that love conquers all, but it doesn't in this song. Did they do the right thing? This is a song to discuss and to think about and yes, a song to raise girls.
Though I think the husband and any children would know that there was something.... a parent and partner can't really hide that deep sorrow....
It was written by Danny Dill and Marijohn Wilkin in 1959 and originally recorded by Lefty Frizzell.
Lefty Frizzell: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=50k18gL76AU
The Band, 1968: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YMwPd27sg_k
Johnny Cash, 1968: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5pYA46dyKh4
Lots of others.... and us.