Chickasaw Mountain by Leslie Fish

I’d like to take a few minutes to wax poetic on a song I just recently discovered:

Chickasaw Mountain by Leslie Fish (lyrics, buy)

There are so many reasons I love the song. However, I’ll focus on the lyrics since I’m not very good at explaining why I love music aside from contributing factors like “it sounds celtic” and “it incorporates violins”.

I’ll start by focusing on the most obvious layer of the lyrics:

It’s a folk ballad, where the singer tells of the Faustian bargain a friend made with a being known as the Lady of the Morning Star. I love the impression this layer of meaning gives.

At first, it makes various references to deals with The Devil, with lines like Call Her Lady of the Morning Star and making it his sister’s apple tree that he winds up hanging on.

…but, at the same time, it makes it very clear that this is NOT Lucifer, with the lines Name your goal; She won’t ask your soul and this passage:

Seek no level of God or Devil
She’s something older by far
Call Her Lady of the Morning Star

The overall impression is that The Lady of the Morning Star is some kind of primordial Fae-like being: An immortal with incomprehensible motivations, who views mortals as toys for her amusement and is so ancient that, if Lucifer does exist in this setting, he was likely named in reference to her.

The Fae feeling is further reinforced by the last line Any wild place on Earth will do!

(It’s a common theme that the Fae and other such creatures shy away from civilization and dwell in “the wild and untamed places of the world”.)

On a purely emotional level, this layer of meaning is all I care about and I can’t get over how much I love it.

However, on an intellectual level, there’s still more to come. Let’s move on to the second layer of meaning:

According to the subtitle, the song is a tribute to Phil Ochs.

Seen in this light, a second complete set of references emerge.

For example, these lines:

She offers two bargains; the price is deep and dark
One takes your life and the other leaves a mark

…and these lines…

Whoever has wisdom can guess what lies unsaid
The cost of the gift to the living and the dead
Still if you feel you’ll gain from the deal
You’ll play with the old Morning Star

If that’s not a metaphor for the “live fast and die or burn out young” pattern that takes so many great artists, I don’t know what is.

The rest of the song follows Mr. Ochs’s rise and fall closely, with phrases like these:

Made him the best of his generation
Sang till the end of the war
And not a moment more.

…which reference his status as one of the biggest names among Vietnam War protest singers and his subsequent descent into mental illness immediately thereafter… finally ending with the lyric Hanging on his sister’s apple tree, a reference to how, less than a month before the one-year anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War, Phil Ochs committed suicide by hanging while living with his sister.

CC BY-SA 4.0 Chickasaw Mountain by Leslie Fish by Stephan Sokolow is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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