“Straw Foot” by David Eugene Edwards – “It ain’t no sin boy, to be forgiven”

strawfoot
I like this song because it is in a musical style I really like, has interesting lyrics, and because it is about the forgiveness of sin. Many of us have heard or read the late Christopher Hitchens promote his view that substitutionary redemption, on which Christian salvation is based, is “morally repugnant.” I don’t wish to present a critique of Hitchens here, or a defense of substitutionary redemption, although I have found a very excellent blog post that presents a fairly comprehensive response to Hitchens. My own purpose here is simply to share this great song by David Eugene Edwards, which includes the verse,
Tell me how it is that
You don't want what he's given
It ain't no sin boy
To be forgiven

16 Horsepower – Straw Foot Lyrics

I guess you didn't hear me
When I told you for the first time
Well don't you worry
It won't be the last

All I need a floorboard
An' a wooden shoe
Step aside
An' let my lady through

Hay foot, straw foot
Low we lay 'em down
Hay foot, straw foot
Up an' back around

See the high priest
He took my place
When the judge looks to me
He saw his son's face

Not gonna join you in
Your tower of babel, boy
Tired o' that talkin'
I'm sick o' that noise

Hay foot, straw foot
Low we lay 'em down
Hay foot, straw foot
Coverin' ground

I'm not alone
An' looks can be deceivin'
When we get down to it
You're talkin' when you should be leavin'

I've been to Nebraska
It reminded me of Spain
All the questions loaded
All my answers same

Hay foot, straw foot
Low we lay 'em down
Hay foot, straw foot
Coverin' ground

Let us not mince our words
Let's say it true this time
I need your forgiveness
Just like you need mine

Tell me how it is that
You don't want what he's given
It ain't no sin boy
To be forgiven

Hay foot, straw foot
Low we lay 'em down
Hay foot, straw foot
All over town

On the meaning of the song:

The overall story of the song is difficult to discern, since it seems to probably be by design similar to the songs of Bob Dylan on John Wesley Harding. I have this suspicion since David Eugene Edwards (16 Horsepower) has covered “As I Went Out One Morning” from John Wesley Harding, and it is very similar to Straw Foot in these ways. Like those Dylan songs, it is more evocative, with imagery and feeling, than with a straightforward story. Probably the song has some baseline narrative which it has evolved from. As a side note, I like Kelly Joe Phelps, who I heard sometimes writes complete short stories that he then bases his songs upon.

Because of this musical “genre,” and the words and images that are plain, the song seems to be based on some story of two soldiers from the tumultuous Civil War period of America. The structure of the song is four verses of two stanzas each, with the “Hay foot, straw foot” chorus following each verse.

The first stanza seems to be about the failure of their communication, the subject thereof quite possibly of forgiveness that has been rejected:

I guess you didn't hear me
When I told you for the first time
Well don't you worry
It won't be the last

The second stanza could be about the slow rate of progress, since walking/marching is the method of transportation. The song speaks of a “floorboard’ which would imply riding in a wagon, and a “wooden shoe” which may imply that even a more durable show would be an improvement. This may be a metaphor for the slowness of progress in communication and redemption. The “lady” that is mentioned seems to evoke the concept of the propriety of making an allowance in troublesome times for the “finer” and more meaningful aspects of life. (Just a guess!)

All I need a floorboard
An' a wooden shoe
Step aside
An' let my lady through

The third stanza seems to be a definite allusion to the substitutionary redemption of Christianity, with the “high priest” being Jesus and the “judge’ being God his Father.

See the high priest
He took my place
When the judge looks to me
He saw his son's face
The fourth stanza possibly portrays the change of purpose that follows from the redemption he has. That purpose is portrayed negatively, in that he plans to not join in the “Babel” of society, again a biblical allusion to the Tower of Babel in Genesis.
Not gonna join you in
Your tower of babel, boy
Tired o' that talkin'
I'm sick o' that noise
The fifth stanza may continue this line of thought, and is concerned with the fact that the person he is talking to throughout the song, should also “be leavin'” the Babel but instead they are hesitating by just “talkin.'” The sixth stanza may be showing that Nebraska and Spain are both part of the Babel, and to try to find meaning in “Babel” is basically an oxymoron.
I'm not alone
An' looks can be deceivin'
When we get down to it
You're talkin' when you should be leavin'

I've been to Nebraska
It reminded me of Spain
All the questions loaded
All my answers same
The seventh and eighth stanzas become more explicit regarding the need they each have of forgiveness from each other, and from God, by “what he’s given.” The speaker does not understand what good reasons there could be to reject God’s forgiveness. I find it uncanny here to think of two things: firstly, that the lines “Let us not mince our words, let’s say it true this time” strikingly remind me of Dylan’s lines “Let us not talk falsely now, the hour is getting late“, and secondly, the applicability of the line “It ain’t no sin son, to be forgiven” to Christopher Hitchens.
Let us not mince our words
Let's say it true this time
I need your forgiveness
Just like you need mine

Tell me how it is that
You don't want what he's given
It ain't no sin boy
To be forgiven

Based on the allusions and images of the song, my guess is that the song is about the Babelic system of fallen humanity that seeks to produce and enforce the drum beat that we all are to march to. We find ourselves as soldiers in a forced march and possibly participating in evil deeds, but we also find that deeper existential needs such as redemption call us to ‘be leavin’ the system. The Babel of humanity believes in self-glorification and denies the realities of sin and the need for forgiveness and redemption both between ourselves as humans and between us and God. The goal of the biblical builders of Babel in Genesis was “to make a name for ourselves.” So the dialogue of the two soldiers may be regarding their shared needs for forgiveness, redemption, and desertion from the system of Babel. The song portrays the necessity of individual responsibility in the face of a system that enforces conformity.

It is also interesting that Christopher Hitchens thought that Christianity was a system of totalitarianism, while his own brother Peter thought that Christopher’s own views were immensely totalitarian, views that stemmed in part from his denial of the human need for “substitutionary redemption.” (See The Rage Against God by Peter Hitchens)

Note on the term “Hay foot, straw foot” from Bruce Catton:

AMERICAN HERITAGE

Hay foot, Straw foot!

The Civil War soldier marched to his own individualist cadence, but he was much like today’s G. I.

Bruce Catton

April 1957  | Volume 8,  Issue 3

Similarly, the drill sergeants repeatedly found that among the raw recruits there were men so abysmally untaught that they did not know left from right, and hence could not step off on the left foot as all soldiers should. To teach these lads how to march, the sergeants would tie a wisp of hay to the left foot and a wisp of straw to the right; then, setting the men to march, they would chant, “Hay-foot, straw-foot, hay-foot, straw-foot”—and so on, until everybody had caught on. A common name for a green recruit in those days was “strawfoot.”

On the drill field, when a squad was getting basic training, the men were as likely as not to intone a little rhythmic chant as they tramped across the sod—thus:

March! March.! March old soldier march!
Hay-foot, straw-foot,
Belly-full of bean soup—

To the reader:

I try to keep these posts as short as possible, while knowing that their content has probably provoked some thoughts, questions, implications, or critiques. Therefore, any of these from the reader are greatly appreciated in order to “fill out” these posts. Many thanks in advance!

“Likes” are also much appreciated because it helps me know if I’m posting things of interest.

Original Content © Bryan M. Christman and Manifest Propensity, 2013. Excerpts, links, and reblogging may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Bryan M. Christman and Manifest Propensity with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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