Monday, September 22, 2008
Walter Brennan died exactly 24 years ago (well, 24 years ago yesterday, but you'll excuse me). Besides being the winner of three Best Supporting Actor Oscars (for Come and Get It, The Westerner, and Kentucky, none of which I've seen), Brennan is also the progenitor of the greatest spoken-word record in the rock era.
I speak of course of "Old Rivers," Brennan's tribute to his farm's hired hand and his mule, which went to Number Five in 1962. (Despite the fact that Brennan was known for his work in Westerns, he was actually from Swampscott, Massachusetts.) One of the most marvelous effects of this piece comes in the chorus, which goes:
One of these days
I'm gonna climb that mountain
Walk up there among them clouds
Where the cotton's high
And the corn's a-growin'
And there ain't no fields to plow.
Although Old Rivers is presented as the epitome of a hardworkin' man, Brennan provides a little clue as to his underlying attitudes when he reads the chorus; each time, he pauses for a little stammer on the word "fields," as if he wants to say another word that begins with F but immediately thinks the better of it.
I believe this is the same reason Roger Daltrey stutters on the line "Why don't you all f-f-f-fade away" in the Who's "My Generation." (I suspect, in fact, that the whole stuttering trope was introduced simply for that one effect.) But the Who didn't have anything on Walter Brennan.