The Hanging Song
By: Thomas D. Mooney
The Highgraders recently recorded and released “The Hanging Song,” a gallows pole slow burner that tells just about as much plot as possible in just 10 lines. We recently caught up with Charlie Stout, songwriter, vocalist, and guitarist for the band, to discuss the song.
The Highgraders will be playing this Tuesday (February 28) at The Blue Light Live. Glacier Country will be opening.
You can listen to and download “The Hanging Song” off The Highgraders’ BandCamp page here. Like The Highgraders on Facebook here.
New Slang: The song is 10 lines long, about 2:30 in time. By all means, it’s a short song all around. Obviously, the song is about a man being hanged. I think one of the cool things about it, it actually feels like the guy wrote/sung it on the way to the gallows. That all intentional?
Charlie Stout: Definitely. I wanted this song to crystallize the last thoughts of a dying sinner. The first verse suggests the emotional effect and the rest of the verses act as a supporting argument to define the cause. I start with the idea that this guy’s beyond redemption, take you through the crime, the trial, and the gallows. I reinforce the guy’s depression by writing an audience that celebrates his death–can you imagine the last thing you hear before you die being the cheers of a crowd around you? There’s really no other conclusion he can come to, given the information he’s been presented.
NS: You said you thought of the idea for the song back in early January. What was it that actually sparked the idea for the song?
CS: A month ago, I was watching “The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly” where Blondie and Tuco are working a “dragon slayer” scam where Blondie turns over Tuco for reward money and then shoots him down from the gallows just in the nick of time. One fateful day, Blondie nearly misses and Tuco hangs for a moment before Blondie can shoot him free. They ride off in a hurry and 70 miles later, Tuco says, “when that rope starts to pull tight, you can feel the devil bite your ass” and that line stuck with me. I think Tuco was swinging from the rope in my subconscious when my character says “I screamed and kicked my feet against the burning flames of hell.”
NS: It has a real “Nebraska” Bruce Springsteen feel since it’s just you with a guitar. Real simple. Real dark. It fits it. How are you going to play it live?
CS: I wasn’t thinking of “Nebraska” when I wrote it, but actually Steve Earle’s “Pilgrim.” My first Steve Earl record was “The Mountain” which is a weird way to get into Steve Earle, but that’s how it happened for me. “Pilgrim” puts you in the mind of a simple, honest fellow who may not know much theology but knows that he’s walked a weary mile and is soon to receive his reward and rest. As “The Hanging Song” developed I realized I was sketching a portrait in the reverse of Earle’s character, so the first thing that came to mind was to use Earle’s melody as a mirror between the two.
When I presented it to the band, I knew that I couldn’t just wrap drums and bass and guitar around that and make it stick. So I played an approximation of what I thought it could sound like with a band behind it, with a little more drive than what I’d first come up with. It only took about a minute for them to interpret that to mean “something like Neil Young” and so that’s how we’re going to play it. I’m happy with the direction they’ve taken it.