Alice asked the Cheshire Cat, who was sitting in a tree, “What road do I take?”
The cat asked, “Where do you want to go?”
“I don’t know,” Alice answered.
“Then,” said the cat, “it really doesn’t matter, does it?”
The adventures of Alice in Wonderland take place underground and much like her question as to which path to take our own subterranean excursion has led us on a diverse exploration of the various interpretations of being underground.
First up is “visual kei” band Dadorama – characterised by the use of varying levels of make-up, elaborate hair styles and flamboyant costumes – similar to Glam Rock – a fast-paced Japanese interpretation of that story in Alice in Underground.
Remember my previous avatar? The Cheshire cat has green eyes, and so too does the old woman with barbed wire hair; incredible luminous green eyes that light up The Hole in Townes Van Zandt’s song.
It sounds very much like The Hole is a metaphor for hell or Hades: the underworld, where in the ancient Greek myth Orpheus journeys to rescue his wife Eurydice and from the ‘folk opera” Anaïs Mitchell and co. with Way Down Hadestown, going way down under the ground.
Caves and caverns are full of twists and turns, much like life and it’s equally possible to lose your way as sung by Brucie in Tunnel of Love.
New Jersey isn’t known for its coal production, whereas neighbouring state Pennsylvania is the fourth-highest producing in North America.
Whilst there is unlikely to be a Coal War between those two states, our next tune uses the term to describe a schism between two factions, albeit with racial undertones. It has a religious sound and whilst no direct reference to being underground, I claim guru’s prerogative to include this powerful song by Joshua James.
Many songs nominated this week tell of miner’s tales and the hard, dirty and dangerous plight of workers going below.
Our descent of the shaft in this particular mine is in the company of Patience – a young lady hurrier (a child or woman employed to move the corfs – small wagons of coal from the seam to the surface). A desperate tale sung by The Unthanks about the Testimony of Patience Kershaw to the Children’s Employment Commission in the early 19th century that resulted in an Act of Parliament stipulating a minimum age for boys and outlawed the employment of women and girls working in mines.
Apart from dreadful working conditions there was always the risk of collapse or gas build up and if some thoughtless manager lights the fuse it’ll end up in tragedy. The Colliers is based on the Gresford disaster that killed 266 men and boys despite their plea to "hold your fire".
Many a miner suffered from breathing difficulties (coal workers' pneumoconiosis) due to mine dust, also known as – Black Lung Heartache – Joe Bonamassa.
From coal to copper mines, and Seth Lakeman again addressing the tough conditions down that tunnel and shaft for someone else’s profit in Blood Upon Copper.
Several versions of our next tune were nominated this week and I too prefer the Man in Black’s version describing the pitch black of mines as Dark as a Dungeon where the rain never falls.
For all that death in the mines we’ll need Dave Matthews’ Gravedigger, but make sure that you only dig it shallow so that I can feel the rain!
One of the survivors of the invasion of earth in War of The Worlds, an artilleryman has a plan to build a city underground; he hasn’t got far – 10 yards or so! A Brave New World indeed!
Perhaps he should enlist the help of some dwarves as they’re experts at building vast cities underground – just look at Khazad-dûm through the work of Howard Shore and his choir and orchestra; though that fell to orcs, goblins and worse becoming Moria, home to the Balrog.
“Fly! You fools!”
Ascent From The Depths A-List Playlist:
Dadorama – Alice In Underground
Townes Van Zandt – The Hole
Anais Mitchell – Way Down Hadestown
Bruce Springsteen – Tunnel of Love
Joshua James – Coal Wars
The Unthanks – The Testimony of Patience Kershaw
Seth Lakeman – The Colliers (Hold Your Fire)
Joe Bonamassa – Black Lung Heartache
Seth Lakeman – Blood Upon Copper
Johnny Cash – Dark As A Dungeon
Dave Matthews – Gravedigger
Jeff Wayne – Brave New World
Howard Shore – Khazad-dûm (from Lord of the Rings original soundtrack)
B-Neath The Surface B-list Playlist:
The Jam – Going Underground
Simon & Garfunkel – A Poem On The Underground Wall
BB King – Go Underground
Caravan - Nine Feet Underground
Dave Matthews Band – Bartender
Steely Dan – Caves of Altamira
Mumford & Sons – The Cave
Pink Floyd – Fingal’s Cave
Lee Dorsey – Working in the Coalmine
Alice In Chains – Down in a Hole
Johnny Flynn – Tunnels
T Rex – Dandy in the Underworld
Rush – By-Tor and the Snow Dog
Guru’s Wildcard Pick and Shovel:
Foo Fighters – Subterranean
These playlists were inspired by readers' song nominations from last week's topic: Going underground: songs about caves and other subterranean places. The next topic will launch on Thursday at 1pm UK time.
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Fancy a turn behind the pumps at The Song Bar? Care to choose a playlist from songs nominated and write something about it? Then feel free to contact The Song Bar here, or try the usual email address.