Five Hundred Miles
This song seems to me such an essentially American song, simple, strophic, tuneful, and mournful, sharing its themes — of a trip taken far from home, of loneliness, of a kind of exile imposed in equal measures by the exigencies of circumstance, and by those arising from personal shame and pride — with other great American songs (like “Poor Wayfaring Stranger,” for instance, or Woody Guthrie’s “Going Down the Road Feeling Bad”). It’s supposed to have been written by Hedy West, a singer on the Greenwich Village folk scene in the late 1950s-early 1960s, who based it on songs sung by her Appalachian grandmother, and wrote it from the point of view of a railroader.
Rodak has recently made me a Peter, Paul, and Mary convert (which didn’t take much), and here is their almost-heartbreaking version of the song:
Here is Joan Baez’s winningly ingenuous version.
And perhaps my favorite, by the Australian group The Seekers, which sounds slick in comparison to the simplicity of the others, but whose beauty can’t be denied.
Happy Fourth of July to all of our American readers.