Deadwood, South Dakota

Today in the car, Nanci Griffith’s rendition of the song “Deadwood, South Dakota” came on autoplay. 

I’ve posted Griffith’s songs twice before: “Speed of the Sound of Loneliness,” and “Late Night Grande Hotel,” and the latter is one of the selections on Sweety’s and my wedding CD. In these posts, I talk about Griffith’s long and prominent place in our lives, including listening to her CDs on holidays with dear friends. I also mention when I tried to research how to get my sweety and me to one of Griffith’s shows at a very much off-the-beaten-track venue in the USA years ago. Please visit these posts if you haven’t already… the songs are both terrific, and you may enjoy the stories, too.

“Deadwood, South Dakota,” sometimes titled simply “Deadwood,” was written by American musician Eric Taylor, who was married to Griffith from 1976-1982. (He died in March 2020.) It is a beautiful ballad that I love to listen to. A live version of the song appears on Griffith’s albums One Fair Summer Evening (recorded live in August 1988 at Anderson Fair in Houston, Texas) and the compilation, The MCA Years: A Retrospective.

The track opens with an introduction by Griffith, then she begins the ballad, singing about old men in a saloon telling stories about their early lives. The story moves on to stories of aggression with and oppression of the Indigenous people of what’s now South Dakota, and the capture and killing of Lakota leader Crazy Horse. The chorus laments the white man’s value of wealth and possession over respect for the land.

“And the gold she lay cold in their pockets
And the sun she sets down on the trees
And they thank the Lord
For the land that they live in
Where the white man does as he pleases”

(from “Deadwood, South Dakota, by Eric Taylor)

It’s a powerful song that is relevant in a time when the effects of the historical, forced relocation of Indigenous people to reserves and enslavement of Blacks, and the attitudes that brought about these practices, are rightly under scrutiny. There are attempts on both sides of the United States/Canada border at reconciliation, but, frankly, they do not seem near enough to heal the harm of generations of colonialism and slavery.

Now you know a little about why this is my song of the day for today. Thanks for joining me here, and please enjoy. (And if you enjoyed this post, please click the “like” button or, better yet, leave a comment with your thoughts — I’d love to hear from you!)

This is the audio for the song from the Nanci Griffith YouTube (topic) channel

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