I despise you 'cos you're filthy,
But I love you 'cos you're home.

The history of modern music is peppered with one-hit-wonders. The Nashville Teens with "Tobacco Road" are no exception to this ever-growing list which includes 4 Non Blondes and their tumultuous "What's Up?", Toni Basil of "Mickey" fame, Sir Mix-a-Lot's "Baby Got Back", and many, many others. Written by John D. Loudermilk back in 1960, Tobacco Road has been used, quite literally, as hundreds of remixes and re-releases, from the Teens to David Lee Roth to Bruce Springsteen to Jefferson Airplane, and released in many languages, including Spanish ("La Calle Del Tabaco"), Finnish ("Mies Yksin On"), Hungarian ("Dohány út"), and Czech ("Můj Rodnej Dům"), just to name a few.

The lyrics are one part biographical, and four parts fantastical. The first recording of this smash hit was done by Loudermilk himself, one of the reasons it is known as his signature song, released in 1960 on his self-named 45 LP, which arguably remains the finest recording of the song, as it was precisely how Loudermilk wanted it to sound. Strong and sober, it was originally a folk tune, a soulful treat to the ear. He later re-recorded it in 1962 in a more country way, more lilting and friendly. The Teens version, which was the first time the song reached hit status, was released in 1964, mixed into the pop standard of the time. In the past several years, it has enjoyed remixes that place it squarely in the blues category of music, first done by Lou Rawls in 1963.

Tobacco Road is, in fact, a real place. At the time, it was a sinful place to go, populated by roughnecks and tobacco farmers. Everyone with a sense of self-preservation avoided the place entirely, and even the police wouldn't go there at night, no matter the call. Tobacco Road is so-named because the hogsheads of tobacco were rolled down it on their way to the warehouse where they were further processed. The stench was often overpowering. Loudermilk was not born on Tobacco Road, did not work there, and, like any intelligent person in Durham, avoided it like the plague. On some occasions, however, working as a teenage courier, he would come to it on delivery. He delivered money orders to Tobacco Road, every Saturday night, and was witness to the reason the reputation was well-earned.

Some of the song is of biographical reference. For example, Loudermilk was "born in a dump," grew up in that "rusted shack," a dilapidated home, nestled between two ancient trees, sporting a white porch, a chimney, and four windows. He nearly did only own "what was hanging on [his] back." That is, unfortunately, the end of the truths exposed by his writing. The rest of the song acts as a setting for his childhood: scenery he saw, but never experienced.

This song resonates with the pangs of a childhood burdened by a home that is impossible to love, and even more impossible to forget. The sweet and bitter melancholy displayed in the 1990's Grunge rock finds roots in this song of misshapen memories. A home loathed, but loved because it's all that is known. My personal favorite recording is, in fact, the Nashville Teens recording, a song that is so haunting that all I have to do is read the lyrics, and the song floats through my mind. The sharp and eerie dissonance provided by the two Brits, Arthur Sharp and Ray Phillips are absolutely perfect for this piece. In the midst of bemoaning a life spent in poverty, a triumphant chord of hope is revealed:

Save some money, get rich I know
Bring it back to Tobacco Road

http://www.geocities.com/odetobobbiegentry/lyric/ltobacco.htm -- The complete lyrics.

for wordnerd, in the hope he can understand why

I had never heard this song before. My discovery of it came about in a strange way, at some point in 1994 or 1995, I don’t remember exactly. It was during the time after my death experience when I was grasping for answers to the strange messages and dreams that were overwhelming my resolve to attempt to lead a mostly normal life. While I tried to enjoy the fact that I had somehow suddenly gone from being a wallflower who had to fall into things for them to happen into some kind of magical dude who had the attention of everyone who came into his orbit, I was plagued with dreams and visions that continued to tell me that I had been given a gift. I had been given my life back for reasons that I had agreed to accept in return for having my life back. The sudden charisma and empathy that were bestowed upon me, abilities and gifts I never had before, were given to me for a reason and collecting women and sitting around partying were not the reasons.

Give me the answers
Give me some answers

She turned around to me
You know what she said?
She said, "I can help you,
But there’s something I want from you.
It's a gift.
In return for the information I can give.
I want a gift from you.
I want a gift from you."
I tried my very best to look up to the sky
Then I realized I had no eyes.
I was blind...
Totally blind.
I began to get afraid
Afraid of the dark.
I was afraid,
Afraid in the darkness.
Then I thought about my friends,
Who have no eyesight,
I thought about the world we live in,
And how much it’s nicer.
I was not afraid.
I was not afraid any more.

The only version of this song I am familiar with is the version from the album Eric Burdon declares "WAR". This version clocks in at over thirteen minutes in length and contains a segment in the middle called "I Have a Dream" which in many ways parallels my experience.

Two things conspired to cause me to purchase this CD. The first was the number of times "Spill the Wine," from the same album, started appearing on the radio whenever I was struggling with doubt. The second was that while in a record store, a Newbury Comics in Shrewsbury, Massachusetts, searching for a CD, it appeared in the bin I was looking for something else in. Twice. And in each case it was in no way related to what I was looking for. The second time it appeared, I started wondering why it was showing up twice in places where it did not belong. Then I saw it contained "Spill the Wine" and decided to buy it.

"We want something more than your eyesight."
I thought for a while,
I thought,
What more could she want than my eyes?
And then a terrible feeling crept over me
As I began to realize that I understood what she was talking about.

Along the way, especially from 1994 thought 1996, I tried to avoid what I now see as my sole purpose in this life. I made every effort to block it out of my mind, in part because I had no idea what the dreams and visions were going on about, and in part because I did, in fact, understand in many ways. It scared the crap out of me. Raised and taught in the ways of rational, logical thought and more than willing to reject anything that didn’t fit the equation of the dogma of organized science, I wanted it all to stop, but along the way there were too many signs that I could not look away from. This version of Tobacco Road messed with me in ways that continue to this day. It was as if I was being read a script of my own experience as sung and played by someone else.

The morning after my suicide, I was paralyzed for six hours. I had no idea if I would ever be able to move again, but I was alive, and as time went by, I came to realize how important and meaningful it was that I was alive. Now all I wanted was to be able to walk again. Less than a day after I decided my life was no longer worth living, all I could think about was being able to walk again. Nothing else mattered. My drive to live was stronger that morning than it has ever been and I was willing to force myself to my feet, amidst an incredible amount of pain that seemed to come from my bones and not my muscles. I have never experienced such overwhelming and total pain as I did during the two hours it took to pull myself out of bed and down the stairs.

"Why can’t I fucking walk?!?" I screamed out.

"You gave up this life. Why do you want it back so badly?"

"I don’t know."

"I do. Are you prepared?"

"Whatever you want, I’ll do. Just let me walk. Get rid of this pain, I can’t stand it any longer. What the fuck use is my life if I am going to live it paralyzed like this?"

"Let go of the past and find the path."

"What path?"

"You will know it when you see her. You will have no doubt and the sky will turn to gold."

I passed out on the couch after making it down the stairs to the living room. When I woke up, the pain and the paralysis were gone. I haven’t been the same since.

But it’s got to be changed,
Yes it has.
I opened my eyes once more.
I breathed again,
I walked again.
I was ten times stronger.
They give it back to me
I’m gonna give it back to you.
Life is too precious,
Life is priceless.
Life goes on and on and on
Never stops
Never stops
It just goes on and on and on.

I’ve gotta change that road
I gotta build me a new road
We can walk that road together
Hand in hand.

There is a plan. We're just the slow kids on the back of the bus. That's why we're here.

That is my concrete.
Only a few will understand what that means.
Node for the aged.

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