Music Monday: Last Days of Harry Carey

About the Song

Music Monday: Last Days of Harry Carey
Harry Carey Sr. / Wikimedia Commons

Harry Carey (1878 – 1947) was an American actor, one of silent film’s earliest superstars. He is best remembered as one of the first stars of the western film genre. One of his most popular roles was as the outlaw, Cheyenne Harry. Carey also starred in director John Ford’s first feature film Straight Shooting (1918). He has inspired practically every cowboy star to the present day and his legacy lives on. I thought I’d take Harry Carey and his films as a springboard to write a cowboy story in a modern experimental song setting, with a touch of blood bath blues and graveyard humor.

The song is a violent story about the death of a cowboy, both physically and intellectually, Harry Carey’s last stand, as it were, in my fictional rendering. The insinuation of suicide is present as Harry Carey is punned with ‘Hara-Kiri’, the Japanese Samurai method of ritual suicide. Carey, in the song, exclaims “nail me in (to the coffin) and take me home” as if he was inviting death to take him.

There are references to the ‘peacemaker’, which is the name of a famous gun that is said to have ‘won the west’ and ‘oracle bone’. These were pieces of shell or bone on which people would submit questions to deities regarding the future. These questions were carved onto the bone or shell in oracle bone script using a sharp tool. The oracle bones bear the earliest known significant corpus of ancient Chinese writing. I’m subtly saying there that I’m steeling or evoking the life of the Harry Carey character to give me the strength to sing this song, to be the character for the four minutes, ten seconds as I say “I stole my life from an oracle bone”.

Here’s a video compilation of clips from some Harry Carey movies.

About the Composition

Kevin Nolan

My style employs two essential elements:

1) When I sing, I’m really more of an actor as I’m not singing in the place of a character, I AM that character. As in this case, on the cusp of self-destruction, Harry Carey, himself.

2) I use non-traditional time signatures to create a uniqueness or novel element to my music. It’s another mechanism to disorientate or derail the listened, along with the violent nature of the song. This song is in 5/4 and 15/8 time signatures. The arrangement, for me, had to be raw and real with a touch of the gothic western and the infernal burlesque. This will go with nine other songs to make up my debut album entitled “Fredrick & The Golden Dawn”, due out early 2014.

‘Last Days of Harry Carey’ – Lyrics

He said, take my gun.
You’re my favorite son,
and you ride that horse
like you stole it.

We all got it coming;
pearls for the swine,
yea we all got our time,
can’t worry a dying man’s mind.

Dishing out the devil’s wages
with a peacemaker and a pocket comb.
Ah, no more of this.
Nail me in and take me home

Take my gun.
You’re my favorite son,
and you ride that horse
like you stole it.

Face in the forest,
I never stood a chance.
I’m just some rum-soaked gunman,
who never took a stand.

Dishing out the devil’s wages,
I stole my life from an oracle bone.
No more of this.
Nail me in and bring me home.