I’m four blogs into Setting Free The Songs, and I’m already feeing like I’m taking this song reflection thing a little too seriously. A look back at Dead Horse Trampoline is an opportunity to lighten up a little. Because this song is silly, gross, funny, and truly offensive to some. And all those things tickle me pink.
Dead Horse is my most well known song in the folk world. (That means tens upon tens of people have heard it.) A lot of people love it and a lot of people hate it. Your mileage may vary. I don’t care either way.
As a songwriter, it’s always great when other people want to sing your song. This song has had legs because it was adopted by brilliant singer songwriter and monster guitar player, Justin Roth. I’ve known Justin for a long time. We’ve both been going to the Rocky Mountain Song School for 20 years, and he is dear to me. I will always be grateful to him for spreading this song around. I’ve even been reprimanded by one his fans for failing to credit the writer, Justin Roth, when I sang his song. (Proving the old adage, “You can lead a horse to liner notes but you can’t make him read.”) His version of the tune is way cooler than mine will ever be. For Justin’s version, picture an audience of college kids at a brew pub. For my version, picture the audience of Hee Haw. (See Justin play it here)
Another wonderful songwriter who sometimes plays this song is Antje Duvekot from Boston. She recently played DHT while building houses in south America. Her hardy army of house builders adopted it as their little anthem (defying all logic and good taste.) I try to muster a little faith when I send a song out into the world, and sometimes beautiful little ripples circle back. This was on of my all time favorite little ripples. Here’s Antje’s version.
Dead Horse has been flogged by Faux Renwah in the California Gold Country, and by Rose Kimball and Judy Painter in Texas . I’ve been told of it being heard in bluegrass festivals and cowboy poetry gatherings. I even heard one of my favorite bands, the Waybacks, play it once. It didn’t stay on their set list for long though. Perfectly understandable...
So who does this song rub the wrong way? Lotsa people!!! Native Americans to whom the horse is sacred, equestrians, PETA members, parents of young impressionable children, fold radio DJ’s with sensitive listeners, and oh so many others. Ummm… Sorry folks. I’ll try to defend my obnoxious creative offspring in my next blog entry (when I’ll actually talk about the song’s content) But it’s okay if you still hate it. I have learned that the song greatly improves with alcohol consumption.
I do wish to express my undying love and gratitude to those who like it though. There have even been some exclusive song circles that made a place for me on the basis of this tune alone. “Oh, you wrote Dead Horse Trampoline? Here, sit on this velvet cushion. Jeeves! Bring this man a beer!”
Truth be told, I’ve written a lot of songs now, and I think a lot of them are way better than this one. But for some reason this is the one that reaches the most ears. It is to me what Dead Skunk is to Loudon Wainwright. Ours is not to reason why. You don’t always get to choose.
I will leave off with this. Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings is arguably one of the most beautiful pieces of music ever written. It was broadcast over the radio when FDR died, and has been played at the funerals of JFK, Albert Einstein and Princess Grace, among others. Soon after it was played at JFK’s funeral, Barber did an interview on classical radio WQXR, which serves the New York City metropolitan area. Regarding Adagio for Strings, he said, "They always play that piece. I wish they'd play some of my other pieces."