Tuesday, November 9, 2010

"No Depression In Heaven" - The Carter Family


Set Four: The "Lost" Volume; Disc Two; Track Eight: "No Depression In Heaven" performed by The Carter Family. Recorded in New York on June 9, 1936. Original issue Decca 5242.

For biographical information on the Carter Family, see the entry for "John Hardy Was a Desperate Little Man."

"No Depression In Heaven" was written by gospel songwriter and publisher James D. Vaughan, who was born in Giles County, Tennessee on December 14, 1864. This is one of those coincidences/connections that would have delighted Smith, since Giles County is the place that Jim Jackson intends to "go back" to in "Old Dog Blue."

In addition to his contributions as a songwriter, Vaughan also founded WOAN, one of the first radio stations in Tennessee. He also started Vaughan Phonographic Records, the first record company based in the South. He was a great influence on A.P. Carter, who recorded several of Vaughan's compositions. James D. Vaughan died on February 9, 1941. He would be inducted into the Southern Gospel Hall of Fame in 1997.

"No Depression In Heaven" has been covered numerous times by artists ranging from the New Lost City Ramblers to Sheryl Crow. The song was perhaps most famously recorded as the title track to alternative country pioneers Uncle Tupelo's debut album, No Depression. It became so identified by the alternative country music that it inspired the title of No Depression,
the most prominent alt country magazine. The alternative country music is sometimes called the "No Depression" movement.


For fear the hearts of men are failing,
For these are latter days we know.
The Great Depression now is spreading,
God's word declared it would be so.

I'm going where there's no Depression,
To the lovely land that's free from care.
I'll leave this world of toil and trouble,
My home's in Heaven, I'm going there.

In that bright land, there'll be no hunger.
No orphan children cryin' for bread.
No weeping widows, toil or struggle.
No shrouds, no coffins, and no death.

I'm going where there's no Depression,
To the lovely land that's free from care.
I'll leave this world of toil and trouble,
My home's in Heaven, I'm going there.

This dark hour of midnight nearing,
Tribulation time will come.
The storms will hurl in midnight fear
And sweep lost millions to their doom.

I'm going where there's no Depression,
To the lovely land that's free from care.
I'll leave this world of toil and trouble,
My home's in Heaven, I'm going there.


Despite the speculation in Spottswood's notes that this song should have traded places with "Milk Cow Blues" in order to be part of the sequence of topical songs that began with "How Can A Poor Man Stand Such Times And Live?", "No Depression In Heaven" isn't really a "topical song." The song does make reference to then-current events, but unlike "How Can A Poor Man..." or either of Uncle Dave Macon's songs on this volume, "No Depression In Heaven" isn't so much about the events of the 1930s as it is about transcending those events. "No Depression In Heaven" is a song about how ultimately unimportant the circumstances of this world are, when compared with the life to come.

Had it appeared on the original Anthology, there is no doubt that "No Depression In Heaven" would have appeared on the religious disc of the "Social Music" volume. This is a song that promises eternal salvation and liberation from the travails of the material world. The Great Depression is simply the latest of a growing litany of miseries that will be eventually relieved in death.

Vaughan's lyric also makes reference of the end of the world. The speaker in the song refers to 1930s as the "latter days" and speaks, in the last verse, of the "tribulation time" that will come. This refers to the events foretold in the revelation of St. John the Divine. Of course, the world did not end in Vaughan's lifetime, nor in the lifetime of any members of the original Carter Family. People have been predicting the end of the world, based on the prophesies of the New Testament, since the words of St. John were written down (indeed, these events were supposedly going to happen within the lifetime of the Apostles). Despite their perfect record of being wrong, Christians continue to predict that we are living in the last days. Most recently, this type of thinking has made the fortune of author and huckster Tim LaHaye, whose bestselling Left Behind books purport to give an "authentic" and "scholarly" glimpse of the tribulation to come, all dressed up in paranoia and superstition. Get ready for the rapture, but be sure to give Mr. LaHaye your money in the meanwhile.

The Carter Family's reading of this allegedly uplifting song is fascinating. Featuring dual guitars played by Sara and Maybelle Carter, along with the supporting vocal of A.P. Carter (who hasn't been heard on the Anthology in some time), "No Depression In Heaven" has become one of the definitive Carter Family records. The odd thing is that for all comfort Sara is supposedly bringing through the lyric, Sara herself doesn't sound very happy about the whole thing. Her somber, deadpan reading cuts against the triumphant tone of the lyric. Perhaps there is no Depression in Heaven, but Sara doesn't make heaven sound very inviting.

"No Depression In Heaven" is the last of four songs in a row by artists who appeared on the original Anthology. It is also the last song on the Anthology by the Carter Family, who contribute a whopping seven tracks to the set. Not only are there more songs by the Carter Family than any other artist, but the Carters are the only artist to appear on all four volumes. As was mentioned in the entry for "John Hardy Was A Desperate Little Man," it is only fitting that Smith gave over so much space to the Carter Family, as it can easily be argued that they are among the most important musicians in American history.

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Here's Uncle Tupelo (the band that would later give the world Wilco and Son Volt) performing "No Depression In Heaven" during a 1992 appearance in Chicago.



This a version of "No Depression" performed by Sheryl Crow. The video makes explicit tribute to the Carter Family, and to American Folk Music in general.



Here's a version performed by Jeff Crane, Terry Dignon & Anthony Tino live at the Rosendale Cafe, April 28, 2009.



Download and listen to The Carter Family - "No Depression In Heaven"

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