Song of the Week: “Dink’s Song” by Andrea Van Kampen

by Douglas Cowie on 19 April 2019

Each Friday I pick a song–new, old, borrowed, blue–that’s been on my mind and in my ears, and write a short post about it.

This is “Dink’s Song” by Andrea Van Kampen:

“Dink’s Song” is a folk song that I first came across in The Penguin Book of American Folk Songs by Alan Lomax. In his notes, Lomax writes that a woman at a levee camp on the Brazos River sang the song for his mother in the early 1900s, and he describes it as “part blues, part British lyric, and all perfection.” There’s a hotel tapes Bob Dylan version of it, and at the end of that version, Dylan claims to have heard it from a woman named Dink, which strikes me as some classic Dylan mythmaking/bullshit (I don’t mean that unkindly). Dave Van Ronk sings it, too, and there’s a Jeff Buckley version.

The thing about all those versions by dudes, is they’re all pretty fast and, for lack of a better term, aggressive. They’re all shouting their “fare thee wells,” like if they don’t yell it down the line or valley or whatever, she won’t hear, and, to my ear anyway, it flattens the emotion of the words and tune. I learned to play this song from the book, long before I’d ever heard a version of it, and so always followed the instruction, “slow, with pathos,” which is more in line with the way Andrea Van Kampen plays it, and which is partly why I like her version so much. She emphasizes the longing, the pathos, and she places the ache of the song somewhere deeper than just I’m sad because my lover is up and gone. I also think the song is much more interesting positioned from the point of view of a woman than just another man lamenting a lady that’s left.

Although there’s quite a bit of overlap, the lyrics of all of these versions also depart pretty widely from the one in the book, which is neither here nor there, really, but suggests a certain amount of (self-?) censorship in the Lomax version.

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