Skip to main content

Song Translation: Copperhead Road

The language of the American south is a rich and varied thing, rooted in English but infused with bits and pieces of Native, European, and African languages. Then there's Redneck, the official language of country music. Today, I'll attempt to translate an outlaw country song for those less fluent in the language than a native southerner such as myself.

The subject of today's translation will be Copperhead Road by the great Steve Earle. Released in 1986, it was and remains Earle's highest-selling single. Lyrically, it tells the story of a young Appalachian man making his way in the world. The song lyrics will be italicized, the translation in plain script. Let's begin:


Well my name's John Lee Pettimore
Same as my daddy and his daddy before


Allow me to introduce myself. I'm John Lee Pettimore III.

You hardly ever saw Grandaddy down here
He only come to town about twice a year


My grandfather was not one for travelling, although he occasionally made an appearance in the public square.

He'd buy a hundred pounds of yeast and some copper line
Everybody knew that he made moonshine


Grandfather was an amateur chemist well-known for his artisanal distilled spirits.

Now the revenue man wanted Grandaddy bad
He headed up the holler with everything he had


Federal law enforcement agents knew of Grandfather's activities and mounted an investigation of the property.

'Fore my time but I've been told
He never come back from Copperhead Road


This took place before my birth, but family lore has it that the investigation was unsuccessful and the lead investigator's whereabouts remain unknown to this day.

Now Daddy ran whiskey in a big block Dodge
Bought it at an auction at the Mason's Lodge


After taking over the family business, my father purchased a transport vehicle at a sale held by a local fraternal organization. 

Johnson County Sheriff painted on the side
Just shot a coat of primer then he looked inside


A former government vehicle, it was painted a flat gray color before further modification. 

Well him and my uncle tore that engine down
I still remember that rumblin' sound


Mechanical skill runs in the family. My father and his brother improved the engine's performance. 

When the Sheriff came around in the middle of the night
Heard mama cryin', knew something wasn't right


In the early hours one morning, local law enforcement arrived at our house. Mother's reaction gave me a feeling  of impending doom.

He was headed down to Knoxville with the weekly load
You could smell the whiskey burnin' down Copperhead Road 

Father had been involved in a fatal accident in the course of his delivery. The vehicle was lost to fire. 

I volunteered for the Army on my birthday
They draft the white trash first, 'round here anyway


Upon reaching adulthood, I embarked upon a military career. This is not uncommon for those of similar social status in my area, but some wait until called upon to enter into service. 

I done two tours of duty in Vietnam
I came home with a brand new plan


Inspired by the resourcefulness of my so-called enemy, I developed an outline for my post-military career. 

I take the seed from Columbia and Mexico
I just plant it up the holler down Copperhead Road


After importing strains of cannabis hemp with higher levels of THC than domestic varieties, the seeds are planted in the small valleys along the road on which I dwell. 

And now the D.E.A.'s got a chopper in the air
I wake up screaming like I'm back over there


As with my forebears, my activity has attracted the attention of Federal law enforcement, who surveil the area with rotary wing aircraft, the sound of which triggers the PTSD developed during my wartime experience. 

I learned a thing or two from Charlie don't you know
You better stay away from Copperhead Road


Viet Cong-derived methods of boobytraps and snares are utilized on my property; you are advised to steer clear. 

Copperhead Road
Copperhead Road
Copperhead Road


This is the place I call home. 

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

In Memorium: Shaun Mullen, A Most Generous Man

Author, editor, blogger, and so much more Shaun Mullen has passed. Noting his blog  Kiko's House  hadn't been updated in a while, I did a search and discovered his  obituary . My friendship with Shaun goes back to 2006. While living in Australia, I'd discovered his blog when searching for informed commentary on US foreign policy in the Middle East. Sadly, much of that policy remains unchanged 14 years later, but that is for another post. Shaun  had noticed that his blog wasn't rendering correctly in Internet Explorer and asked if anyone could suggest a fix. I, being a bit of a tech head at the time, suggested Firefox or similar browser, and the problem was solved. We kept in and out of touch, finding common ground in music (I mentioned my love for the Grateful Dead and Shaun sent a dozen CDs of concert recordings. By International mail. The man was generous to a fault.), worldview, and more. My old site got its greatest number of hits when Shaun linked to a few of m

Finding Adventure In A Google-Mapped World

Technology has made our world a smaller place, a place less mysterious and perilous. Where once one had to travel to see a destination, now we simply look it up and look at pictures. This is both an advantage and a loss, and I'll try to explain in the paragraphs that follow.  Gone are the days of grand adventure, of heading off into the unknown. While it is true one can set off on a small, personal adventure, you're never too far away from information that can remove obstacles and inconveniences from your path, but remember those things are part of the path , and to remove them removes at least some of the adventure.  So, what to do? I suggest doing what technology regularly does: miniaturize.  Get to know your local area. You may think you already know it, but a few minutes of online research will have you raising your eyebrows. For example, I recently learned an old bridge just a short distance from home holds the distinction of being the oldest bridge still in use in the cou

A Black Swan Of My Very Own!

 One week ago, I, along with all employees of the print division of Brown Industries, was summoned to a meeting. Tensions were high and fear was palpable, as work had been slow for several weeks. Layoffs, it seemed, were to be announced.  If only it were so simple. Speaking through a poorly set up PA system, one of the two CEOs announced that funding that had been sought had fallen through and the company could no longer sustain operating costs. Brown Industries, inventor of the carpet sample industry and economic juggernaut for more than 60 years, would permanently suspend operations.  I was suddenly unemployed.  All were stunned. A short Q&A session took place in which we were reassured this wasn't the fault of labor, this was a failure on the management level. Cold comfort, to say the least. My immediate coworkers and I returned to our desks and began filling boxes with photos and other personal effects. I was reminded of the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008 and seeing fo