Sunday, April 17, 2016

Talking Heads – "Take Me to the River" (1978)

I don't know why
You treat me so bad

In the fall of 1861, some 5000 Union troops were stationed where Muddy Branch flows into the Potomac River, about 20 miles northwest of our nation’s capital.  Their mission was to protect the C&O Canal – which was used to ship coal, grain, and other freight to Washington – from Confederate raiders.

Robert Gould Shaw
One of the soldiers stationed at what later became known as Blockhouse Point was Lieutenant Robert Gould Shaw, a 24-year-old, Harvard-educated Bostonian.  Shaw didn’t enjoy his time at Blockhouse Point, complaining to his mother about the unhealthy climate: 

We are in the worst camp we have ever had.  It is in a hollow, where the dampness collects . . . . Our Lieut. Col., Capt. Savage, Capt. Mudge and the adjutant are sick in bed . . . and two Lieutenants are also laid up – they seem to have a sort of intermittent fever and it prevails among the men, too.  Other regiments are in a much healthier state, probably because they are all a good way from the river, while we are near it. 

Shaw later took command of the first all-black regiment in the Union Army, the 54th Massachusetts Infantry. 

Shaw leading the attack on Fort Wagner
He was killed in July 1863 as he led his regiment in a frontal assault on Fort Wagner, a Confederate fortification near Charleston, South Carolina.  

Shaw and the 54th Massachusetts are depicted in a large bronze relief sculpture by Augustus Saint-Gardens, which is located on Boston Common:

He and his troops are the subject of the 1989 movie, Glory, which was nominated for several Academy Awards:

The area around Blockhouse Point is now a park.  It’s only about ten miles outside the Washington Beltway, and no more than half an hour’s drive from my house.  But I wasn’t aware of the park's existence until one day last month, when I was looking for a good place for a hike.

I walked south on the blue-blazed Blockhouse Trail:

Bordering the park to the west is a horse farm:

After walking a mile or so, I came to a bluff that overlooked the C&O Canal and the Potomac River:

Here's a short video I took from that spot:

Look closely and you'll see a couple of bikers on the towpath between the Potomac and the C&O:

About the only wildflower I saw on my walk was the good ol' cutleaf toothwort (Cardamine concatenata):

After hiking back to my car, I drove to the 185-year-old Seneca Aqueduct on the C&O Canal, which is only a few minutes away from Blockhouse Point.  In the next 2 or 3 lines, we’ll visit Seneca Aqueduct and Rocklands Farm, a nearby farm and winery where I took some refreshment and rested my weary bones.

* * * * *

I originally planned to feature Al Green’s original 1974 recording of “Take Me to the River” in today’s post.  As great as is, I don’t think Green’s version is as good as the Talking Heads’ 1978 cover of the song:

Others who have covered the song include Foghat (it’s better than you might think), Bryan Ferry (worse than you might think), and many others – Levon Helm, Annie Lennox, Delbert McClinton, and the Commitments among them.

And don’t forget the Billy Big Mouth Bass version of the song:

Click below to buy today’s featured song from Amazon:

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