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#66 -Raise ‘Em Up On Honey. Notes on the etymology of the word cracker

Posted in Cracker, David Lowery Solo, Sparklehorse with tags , on January 5, 2011 by davidclowery

 

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The word Cracker has an interesting history one that I felt worthy of further elaboration. It’s origination is widely disputed. Was it from the  ‘crack’ of the whip of the white vaqueros that herded  Spanish cattle in Georgia and Florida? Was it because they were such  poor people they cracked and ate their seed corn?

The most interesting etymology of the word purports to illustrate a history of  friction between the dominant English culture and Celtic subculture  of the British Empire including North America.  This is not my theory.  It has been thoroughly researched and written about by several historians. Much is in dispute but clearly  the word Cracker is intimately associated with Celtic culture in particular the Scots-Irish of the American frontier.  The most notable author to propose this is Grady McWhiney.  In his book Cracker Culture: Celtic Ways of the Old South McWhiney  argues that Cracker is synonymous with being of Celtic origin.  Here is a brief summary of historical uses of the word.

Cracker as in a braggart or sharp and entertaining speaker.  In Shakespeare’s King John

“What cracker is this same that deafs our ears with this abundance of superfluous breath?”

Craic in middle english also was  used to mean “to enter into” conversation.  Especially loud boisterous conversation.  Hence  to “crack” a joke.

McWhiney points out that this is exactly the use and spelling of the Gaelic word craic.  This and other uses of the word  from this  period generally reference the Scottish and other Celts of the British Isles.  These included not just the well know Irish, Scottish and Welsh but also lesser known Celtic groups like the Cornish,  The Manx and the Hebrideans.  One must remember that at this time the British Isles had yet to be fully conquered  much less  anglicized.  Later many of these troublesome un-anglicized groups were shipped overseas to the North American colonies.  The southern American colonies and maritime Canada were prime destinations. Many of these wild celts arrived in the new world fully un-anglicized. Speaking their native tongue and chafing under the English ways.

Certainly by the time these Celts hit the new world at least some of them were being called “Crackers”

From Wikipedia:

As early as the 1760s, this term was in use by the English in the British North American Colonies to refer to Scots-Irish settlers in the south. A letter to the Earl of Dartmouth reads:

“I should explain to your Lordship what is meant by Crackers; a name they have got from being great boasters; they are a lawless set of rascalls on the frontiers of Virginia, Maryland, the Carolinas, and Georgia, who often change their places of abode.”


First a little curious fact about the state of Florida.  It was a spanish colony from 1513-1763.  It then became an English colony for a brief 20 years.  In 1783 it was handed back to Spain after the American revolution.  But during those 20 years,  many colonists from Georgia and colonies to the north were encouraged to settle in Florida. When the spanish regained control they continued to encourage American settlers to move there by offering land grants.  About 20 thousand american immigrants and 40 thousand spanish colonists lived in florida at the time it was ceded  to the United States in 1819.

The white cowboys who herded cattle in Spanish Florida alongside the Spanish Vaqueros were purportedly called “Quáqueros.” A corruption of the spanish word for Quaker which was also generic insult for any protestant.  Others say they were  given the name “Crackers” by other white Floridians and Georgians because of the crack of their spanish whips.

McWhiney and others argue since these were mostly  freed Scots-Irish indentured servants  they were already called Crackers. Further the pan-celtic preference (at that time)  for ranging cattle on common land ( in this case sparsely populated Spanish Florida)  as opposed to the english preference for penned sheep and hogs, lends some credibility to the account. Cattle herding was the preferred livelihood of many of these immigrants.

As a footnote the battle between the advocates of private land for grazing and the advocates of a common free range often played out violently through American history.  It ended in a stalemate. East of The Rockies most grazing activities happens on private land.  In the West,  The Federal Government owns much grazing land through the BLM or Bureau of Land Management. Historically this agency then doled out grazing rights.

I have often wondered if the Scots-Irish had a such a deep seated ideological preference for ranging and common grazing land as McWhiney proposes, what did  those in Texas  think  as the US army methodically killed and subdued their Native American analogues?  By this I mean the Comanches and other  buffalo herding plains Indians. For ultimately the Indian Wars were a process of converting the Indian common lands to private land. Yes they may have been happy to see the murderous  cattle rustling Comanche vanquished and confined to reservations. But were they not saddened by the following influx of settlers?  For it were these settlers that destroyed the greatest commons the world ever knew.  It was settlers from the east that  divided the great sea of grass into a patchwork of poor farms and meager homesteads.  Did the Texan Scots-Irish descendants secretly prefer the commons loving Comanches to their new neighbors?

Allow me to divagate for a moment so  that I can make perhaps my most glancing reference yet to a song from our catalogue.   Raise ‘Em Up on Honey.   This is the opening track from my Solo Album The Palace Guards (Feb 1st 2011). In this song the protagonist proposes a very Cracker-like return to the common. Although for the purposes of marijuana cultivation.

Go up on the mountain build a little shack just over the line

well BLM they won’t complain cause no one surveyed this in a while

home school the children give them weapons training

just in case the DEA comes snooping round again

go up on the mountain where the water comes from glaciers blue.

With my red beard, cowboy hat and preference for the wild frontier I could easily pass for one of these Scots-Irish “lawless rascals” so detested by the English overlords.  And why not?  My  murky family history would support this.  Lowery is a common enough name not only in Celtic parts of the British Isles but very common through the main Cracker heartland.  Indeed my great grandfather came from “somewhere in Georgia” and settled deep in the Piney Woods of Southwestern Arkansas.  The Piney Woods are a distinct ecoregion covering 54,000 square miles of eastern Texas, Mississippi, Louisiana, southern Arkansas and extreme southeastern Oklahoma.  But it must also be somehow culturally tied to the Georgia and Florida Cracker heartland.  And for a simple reason.  Spanish Cattle.

 

Those Crackers herding cattle in Spanish Florida were herding a type of cattle that is still referred to today as “Cracker Cattle“. This is somewhat of a misnomer as this breed of cattle is a Spanish breed that the Conquistadors brought to Florida.  Cracker Cattle had a very close cousin further west known as Pineywoods Cattle.  These also were remnants of the Spanish herds.  Whether they were brought west by Florida Crackers or whether Florida Crackers followed them to the piney woods is immaterial.  There is somehow a connection.  Indeed some historical sources equate the term “pinelander” and “cracker”.  But This Is Pinelander Soul doesn’t have the same ring.

Finally the Piney woods immediately reminds me of another Pejorative.  Peckerwood.  My grandfather used to endearingly refer to me as his little Peckerwood.  Years later I looked it up and was shocked to find it was probably the only known slur for red haired white people.

In 1999 I returned to the Piney Woods for my grandmothers funeral.  There was a sea of people at the small church graveyard.  More than 100 people.  Most of these were my blood kin.  The majority direct descendants of my grandmother.  There were 90 year olds and nursing great-great grandchildren.  It was impressive and beautiful spring day. The children were beginning to run in a pack.  My wife at the time, Mary was pregnant with our first child.  She looked out at the crowd and gestured with her head  ” I want one of those”.  I looked at where she gestured but i didn’t understand.  “One of those”  she pointed at a flaming redhead of a boy that bounded past us barefoot and freckled.  Two more followed.  I looked across the churchyard and realized that my clan was full of these redheads.  I laughed.  “Careful what you wish for”.

My grandmother was of course famous for saying of her red-haired progeny.  “red-hair is how god marks the crazy ones”.

We must have seemed exotic to Mary.  Her family also of Celtic origin are textbook Black Irish. The Black Irish largely from counties in the west of Ireland, are not “Black”. They almost look spanish with their black curly hair and dark brown freckles.  And as it turns out for good reason.  The Black Irish do appear to be from the Iberian peninsula as they share common genetic markers with the Galicians, Basque and Portuguese.  I reference Mary, her sisters and their love of broken, old and decrepit houses in this track I recorded with Mark Linkous.

16 Eyes Of Mary

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Raise Em Up On Honey

going up the mountain where the water comes from glaciers blue
take along my sweetheart gonna raise ourselves up a brood
raise em up on honey from bees and buckwheat wine
if we can go do this make our clothes from hemp and twine
go up on the mountain where the water comes from glaciers blue
go up on the mountain build a little shack just over the line
will BLM* they won’t complain cause no one surveyed this in a while
home school the children give them weapons training
just in case the DEA comes snooping ’round again
go up on the mountain where the water comes from glaciers blue
every fortnight or so the bible thumpers they come around
they’re worried ’bout the eternal souls of our daughters and our sons
they’ll be fine they’ll move into the city start black metal bands
give up and move back up the mountain again
raise their little broods on mountain waters from glaciers blue
Eyes of Mary
You were born
With it inside
A secret twin in your wounded side
Bits of hair
Teeth and String
And Yellow flowersOpen Up
Let it all in
Let the strange parade begin
A piece of pie
A piece of cake
For Every sister

Let the eyes of Mary
Carry you away now
Let the eyes of Mary
Carry you away now

A baby born
It’s made of leaves
And Carried round the maypole tree
By Irish Girls
With jet black hair
And dark brown freckles

Let me bring
You bits of string
Tired and worn and sagging things
Under the weight
Of old crows feet
And the seasons

Let the eyes of Mary
Carry you away now
Let the eyes of Mary
Carry you away now
Let the Brides of Jesus
Carry you away now
Let the Brides of Jesus
Carry you away now.
Away now
Away

#31 Brides of Neptune-Cracker. Did the ferry sink? Is this the underworld? Or is it just another gig in Victoria BC.

Posted in Camper Van Beethoven, Cracker, Sparklehorse, Victor Krummenacher with tags on August 17, 2010 by davidclowery

 

01 Brides of Neptune
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In summer of 2009, Cracker was doing a Northwest run with our sister band McCabe and Mrs Miller (Victor krummenacher). It was 4th of July Weekend. A terrible time to play anywhere in the US except right before a fireworks display. So as we weren’t booked at any fireworks displays our agent sent us up in to Canada for the Weekend.
It had been at least 13 years since I’d been to Victoria with Cracker or Camper Van Beethoven. So we didn’t really know what to expect. Victoria (which is confusingly on Vancouver Island and Vancouver City is not) can be an insular place. It’s a college town/government town. It’s only reachable by ferry and aside from  provincial government types and college students, the only visitors it gets are those peculiar weird tourists that visit the islands of washington.

The Northern part of the island is also very wild still. Parts of it can be very Northern Exposure. Our promoter was from somewhere up north on the island. It may or may not be a giant hydroponic pot growing operation.  Which is especially weird cause there is seems to be some kind of police training centre on the island as well.

But when you are downtown in Victoria,  it’s a fairly cosmopolitan place. which by nortwestern or Cascadia standards that means there are some Fluevogs mixed in with the Birkenstocks.  The couple times we played there when i was in Camper Van Beethoven it reminded us favorably of 1980′s Santa Cruz.

But back to our story. The ride on the ferry from the mainland was spectacular.  We all sat out on the deck took pictures of each other , it was hot by BC standards,  75,  and i realized i probably should be wearing sunscreen.  How do people get to live in this part of the world?  They must have done something very good in a past life: Pushed a pram of quadruplets out of the path of an oncoming bus.  damn.  Victor Krummenacher and I reminisced about doing this same trip with The Catheads in 1986 or 1987.  Mark Zanadreas and I were so hungover we quickly became seasick and ended up vomiting over the railings in tandem.  Much to the horror of our Canadian hosts.  We were young so i’m sure by 7:00pm we felt completely normal.

But back to our story. When we arrived at the venue  in Victoria July 4th 2009 we were a little surprised. It wasn’t really in the quaint victorian downtown but on the outskirts of town.  It was a pretty weird place. Just a gigantic cinderblock box.  It was a combination venue,  hotel, and liquor store on the ground floor. Around back in the basement it also had a strip club and a chinese restaurant.  We were pretty early so we all checked into our rooms.  About and hour after we got to the hotel,  the local promoter called jason our tour manager.

“I just drove down the Island, hey do you mind if i come to your room and take a shower”

And then it started to get weird.  There was also some sort of event center in the hotel and it appeared to be preparation for a wedding.  And not just any wedding.

I’ve always marveled at how multi-cultural is Canada.  Toronto Ottowa and Montreal are of course famous for this.  But the west also has it’s own pan-commonwealth queens dominion polyculture.  I can not think of any proper way to say this that is politically correct.  It appeared that preparations were underway for an Indian-dot/Indian-feather wedding.  Or at least the two largest pluralities at the wedding appeared to come from these two subsets of Canadians.  It was like a Fellini movie, paper mache elephants, people painted blue , heavily embroidered vests and many variations on the bear claw pendent.  Cowboy boots and Saris.

hmm interesting.

 

 

And when we went into the club it appeared to have a model of the Parthenon for a stage except there were multiple television sets in the walls between the columns.  The overall effect was that of a Russian mobster nightclub in Azerbaijan.  That night as we began to play to the handful of people who had shown up, I noticed at the door that one of the doorman had some kind of bulldog or pitbull mix on a leash.

It was then that the devastating reality sunk in. We were in the underworld.  While crossing the Strait of Georgia clearly the ferry had sunk and we had all drowned. For some bizarre reason in my minds eye i briefly saw us being accidentally torpedoed by the USS Jimmy Carter (SSN-23). ( I’d recently seen a clip of it being launched or something.) And now like the crew in the song Brides of Neptune we had drowned but did not realize that we were dead.

The dog at the door? Well that was Cerberus.  Greek underworld. Remember the greek Parthenon behind us?  Also it seemed that the greek underworld shared space with the Indian-dot afterlife, as i was sure that at some point i’d seen Shiva walking around the hotel.  It wasn’t a wedding after all!

And now for eternity we would be playing this nightclub every night. Well nearly every night. When Shiva needed more room for a special holiday or  if there was a sudden influx of visitors due to a  disaster up  on the Indian subcontinent: Move over greek underworld!  And Hades would summon the ferry.  And that ferry would take us to the usual Russian-Azerbaijani nightclub only this time in Elysium, the Asphodel Meadows or  Tartarus.

 

And the reason the ferry had sunk was all my fault.  I had not remembered to play the song Brides of Neptune in Vancouver and Vancouver is a port city.   This was a superstition that I had  developed. Or maybe it was more like an OCD tic: Touch the doorknob twice with my left hand before opening it with my right or there will be a axe murderer in my hotel room when I open the door.  That’s more of a tic right?

My superstition went something like this. If we don’t play Brides of Neptune in a port city, then one of the ships that leaves the next day will sink, or a sailor will drown.  I developed this superstition as Johnny,  and I stood in front of the Seafarers Memorial in Homer Alaska sometime in 2001 or 2002.  I felt so stupid.  Some showbiz know-it-all writing about sailors lost at sea. There were over 100 names on the bricks and the population of Homer AK at that point was about 5,000.  What did i know about the sea? and the lost seafarers.

Nothing except that i seem to mention the sea and sailors a lot in my songs.  And the english side of my family were mostly sailors.  And my grandfather was torpedoed either 2 or 3 times in WWII.  I suppose that is the reason i mention sailors and the sea so often:

I want everything

Saint Cajetan

Take me down to the infirmary

Dr. Bernice

Minotaur

Be my love

there must be more right?

I also have the sneaking suspicion that i was a sailor in a past life and drowned at sea.

Alas the sea is also some kind of allegory for me.  A great and immense sadness. The place where all things are eventually lost.  We crawled from the sea in the distant past.  But it waits for us in the quick and near future.  And now I’ve mixed Hades with Poseidon. When you die you become a Bride of Neptune.  Neptune is just the Roman name for Poseidon.

But i can’t help thinking of the sea as the immense sadness when i hear this song.  For this is one of the songs that i worked up with Mark Linkous.  This is a song that he plucked from a pile of small unfinished ideas i kept on cassette tapes.  each titled something like “work tape oct 1997″.  These were snippets of song about 30 seconds to 3 minutes long. I’d record them onto an old cassette recorder I always kept handy.  We were listening in the basement of my studio when we came across this one.  ” I like that one, let’s make that a song”.  So we did.  The only words i had were “brides of neptune cross the waters bring us your sons and bring us your daughter”.  We created the music first and then eventually the story came to me.  And you can totally tell that this is Mark Linkous playing the bubbling gurgling keys and guitars.  It’s his signature sound.

 

I think of the sea as this immense sadness in this song because  March 8th 2010 Mark shot himself in the heart.  He had an immense sea of sadness in his soul.

I don’t have that. That darkness. I understand it mind you.  But it isn’t me. We are all lost at sea, but it’s not a tragedy.  It’s a black comedy. A giant clown cemetery with The Catheads just too damn hungover to dance on our clown graves.  While i don’t exactly dance around the seafarers memorial in the video,  I talk to the lost and dead seafarers.  I send them on a inscrutable voyage with monkeys and pot head mermaids.  I send the dead out with a mysterious cargo that they can never get near because it’s “guarded by monkeys”  (see post  #3 guarded by monkeys).  But they aren’t really sad.  They are lost but not sad.  Understand the distinction?

In the US and many other navies there is an ancient traditon known as The Line Crossing Ceremony. It is a complex ritual in which the sailors (regardless of rank) who have crossed the equator before (shellbacks),  ritually abuse and mistreat the sailors who have not crossed the equator before (pollywogs).  The simple chorus of Brides of Neptune came to me after my ex-brother in law who was a young US navy officer related to me his ordeal during his first crossing of the Equator.  It is too complex to explain here. But your best hope is that you become a Bride of Neptune.

Finally we come to the Horse and Cow.  I am not far from the Horse and Cow Bremerton WA as i write this.  The Horse and Cow is a bar frequented by Submariners. Neptune is often portrayed followed by a Horse and Cow.  In superstition sailors would sometimes tattoo a horse and cow on each ankle.  So they wouldn’t be sunk at sea.  In WWII this was especially common.  The fear was very high that they would be sunk by a submarine.  Somehow the submariners adopted the Horse and Cow as their symbol.  Both of the related  artists i have mentioned in this post,  Sparklehorse and the Catheads  worked Submarine into their album titles.  Both albums I produced.

Also I distinctly remember Mark Linkous telling me that the spanish flotillas would throw there horses and livestock overboard if they thought they were in danger of sinking.  And consequently spanish sailors believed the sea to be haunted by ghost horses. (see reference in the song Be My Love)  I’ve googled this but to no avail.

However I am superstitious. A clear indication I must have been a sailor in a past life.  I am going out now to get a horse and cow tattooed on each ankle.

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[INTRO:]
[C] [G] [C] [G]

[C] She says this is my movie, [G] [Gmaj7] [Em] [Em7]
[C] so you’ll do what i tell you. [G] [Gmaj7] [Em] [Em7]
[C] There’s a mixup in Bali - [G] [Gmaj7] [Em] [Em7]
[C] you get chased by a monkey. [G] [Gmaj7] [Em]

CHORUS
[D] Brides of Nep-[Em]-tune cross the wa-[C]-ter,
bring us your [G] sons and bring us your daughters.
I won’t forsake [Em] thee deep in the blue [C] sea;
I’ll take you home. [G]

[C] I tried dating a mermaid; [G]
[C] she buys pot from the first mate. [G] [Gmaj7] [Em] [Em7]
[C] That mysterious cargo [G] [Gmaj7] [Em] [Em7]
[C] is still guarded by monkeys. [G] [Gmaj7] [Em]

Then
REPEAT CHORUS x2

[INSTRUMENTAL SECTION: (Chords as intro)]

REPEAT CHORUS x2

Brides of nep-[Em]-tune [Cm]
Brides of Nep-[G]-tune [Gmaj7]
[REPEAT CHORD SEQUENCE THROUGH ENDING]
Brides of Neptune
Guarded by monkeys

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