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  • Writer's pictureDeanna Dahlsad

Goodnight, Irene, Goodnight

In 1933, on a prison visit to Angola (Louisiana State Penitentiary), John Lomax recorded Huddie "Lead Belly" Ledbetter singing his song Goodnight, Irene. Lead Belly was at the time imprisoned for attempted homicide for stabbing a man in a fight, though he also was by that time a convicted, then pardoned for his musical talent, murderer.

The lyrics of Goodnight, Irene tell of the singer's recent marriage and thoughts of his troubled past with his former love, Irene, who is still in his heart. The song expresses his sadness, frustration, and suicidal fantasies - most noted in the lines "Jumping in, into the river and drown" and "I'm gonna take morphine and die".

In 1950, one year after Lead Belly's death, the American folk band The Weavers recorded Goodnight, Irene. The song lasted 25 weeks on the chart, peaking at #1 for 13 weeks. This means your parents or grandparents were swooning and waltzing to a song about misplaced love & suicide.

Others would also record the song in the 1950s, including Johnny Cash, Jimi Hendrix, The Grateful Dead, Frank Sinatra, and Tom Waits. There was a country version by Ernest Tubb and Red Foley as well.

Lead Belly styled himself "King of the Twelve-String Guitar", famously wielding his unusually large Stella twelve-string. Bob Dylan, Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Allman Brothers, & Kurt Cobain credit Lead Belly as a major influence on their music. Lead Belly was the essence of what an early blues man often endured. Lonnie Donegan, George Harrison, Van Morrison & Ronnie Wood have all stated in one form or another that without Lead Belly's influence the British popular music scene of the 1960s would never have happened.

The Goodnight, Irene Lamp is a functional piece of mixed media assemblage art. Materials included in this piece are vintage sheet music, vintage vinyl records (33 ⅓ LPs & 45s), a pair of red 45 spindle spiders as Irene’s earrings, and the feathered lampshade features a vintage piece of costume jewelry, in red gold, bearing the name Irene.

Aside from being a play on light and dark, this working lamp is also a lot of fun to turn off and say, “Goodnight, Irene.”

In residence in the LunaTique booth at Fargo Antiques & Repurposed Market, booth #55, $124.95.


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