Tuesday, February 07, 2006 ... 2:00 PM

Gillian Welch, "Throw Me a Rope" -- The Chords

October 2007 update:Looking for an MP3 of this song? Write something about Gillian for the Tent Revue and I'll send it to you. Look here.

My post on the lyrics for this song is by a mile the most accessed page on this weblog. It comes up first on all the Google searches. I'd feel more gratified if these seekers stuck around to read any of my other posts, but even so I can't think of another Google search I'd rather top.

So last week this guy Kurt Herrmann left a comment letting me know he'd been working out chords for this tune using the lyrics I posted. He said he'd submit his interpretation to the On-line Guitar Archive, a one-stop library for home-brewed chord and tablature transcriptions. I checked the other day, and right there it is:

Gillian Welch, "Throw Me a Rope" lyrics and chords
(update Sept 18, 2007: That link has been down for a long time, and it looks like it ain't coming back. Here's a new one that still works. )

I tried to puzzle out the chords myself a couple of years ago. I was staying with a friend in Virginia, sleeping on her futon. It was late at night in October, and I was lonesome as I've ever been. I didn't have my own computer, or a live recording. I had the memory of the tune and a Korean-made resophonic guitar, blue like in the Cowboy Junkies song. I went straight to the minor chords. I found the G major in there somewhere. But with nothing to guide me, pretty soon I gave up and went back to "Good-Night Irene."

Kurt seems to be the first fan to have posted the chords to the Web. That surprises me. The tune appears on any number of live recordings circulating in the last few years, and it's indelible, especially if you hear it in person. I'm convinced that the song's imagery pinches some pressure points in the collective unconscious. To listen to it live is to share a spooky dream with a roomful of strangers. After hearing it about five times in person the first couple of months it appeared on their setlists, and unable to then play it on CD, to wash away its memory with the intention of evoking it, I felt strongly that Gil & Dave should never commit this tune to tape. I didn't want them to fix it in permanent form. A recording would palsy its own reach. Imagine swimming in a lake, color surface temperature fragrance. Now imagine taking a photograph of the lake, and then replacing your memory of the lake with the photograph.

Everyone with a broadband connection has got an MP3 of this song now, culled from some dank audience recording. It's another slot on the iPod. I've got several versions in my library. Portland OR, Shepherd's Bush Empire, Lexington KY. I prefer some to others. I like a little guitar break David Rawlings spins out after the first line of the second verse on the Prairie Home Companion performance from November 1, 2003. I can put the cassette on and listen to it this afternoon. I was ecstatic about this at first, sitting in front of the FM receiver, tape rolling, never mind my own heady conceit about the song's living spirit. I wanted it. I took the cassette to my car, and played it over and over in rush hour traffic. Now I don't remember what this song sounded like reaching out to me from the stage. It has fallen to the grass, irretrievable.

Kurt deserves thanks for making it possible to strum along. This gives the tune a different sort of life. The experience is not communal anymore, but intimate. Lots of folks will be sitting on beds with their Epiphones and trying to hit that spooky alto vocal range by the pale light of their iBooks, with Kurt's transcription as a guide.

He lists the title of the song as Untitled, aka Throw Me A Rope. "Throw Me A Rope" is how fans nearly always refer to the tune in discussions and concert setlists and download info files and so forth. It's the folk title of the song. On Gil & Dave's Austin City Limits appearance in 2004, the program lists the title as "The Way It Would Be." BMI, the organization that collects performance royalties for Gil's & Dave's publishing companies, lists the registered title as WAY IT WILL BE (Legal Title). So which is it, "Will" or "Would"? I don't know. If only in small ways it is still alive, and changing.



thanks for the post - always enjoy dropping into your blog - keep it up.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2/07/2006 5:38 PM  

Love your site. As a transplanted Tarheel I really got into your breakdown on Charlotte's musical past. The "power chord" was born with Link Wray in Dunn, NC, you know, just a ways up the road from y'all.

By Blogger Jim Pipkin, at 3/01/2006 6:12 PM  

I called it the way it will be for a long time, and then I started seeing throw me a rope everywhere.

I was a lucky dog. First time I heard the song I was [sorry gil...] booting it AT THE FILLMORE in sf. Boy am I glad I did! I just enjoyed it for a few weeks and then learned it.

I have had the great pleasure of playing it out more than a few times [usually only when I have a duet partner though]. THe chorus harmonies are all but essential imo.

anyway, thanks for the words! and a great blog [ ifound it via Kossoy sister search and noticed your ladyfriends sweet review. I know what she means about the intamacy thing re: dave's paying. I don't feel too intrusive w/ him, but I feel exactly like that watching pat metheny. except it IS too intimate no if's and or buts. There is no doubt in my mind that we are seeing a man who is experiencing the same flow of sex energy that people only usually get the normal way...

anyway cheers, i'm bookmarkin yer ass....so take that!

By Blogger David, at 4/02/2006 4:41 PM  

anyone know where I can find a recording of this? I really want to sing/play it, but I can't remember the whole melody

By Anonymous elizabeth, at 2/12/2007 11:01 PM  

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Making Notes: Music of the Carolinas
(Novello Festival Press, April 2008)
includes my essay, "Link Wray"


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