I’m Going Back To Old Kentucky #53

From October 1, 2010 through to the end of September 2011, we will, each day, celebrate the life of Bill Monroe by sharing information about him and those people who are associated with his life and music career. This information will include births and deaths; recording sessions; single, LP and CD release dates; and other interesting tidbits. Richard F. Thompson is responsible for the research and compilation of this information. We invite readers to share any tidbits, photos or memories you would like us to include.

Many people have paid tribute to Bill Monroe and his music. Some have spoken with high praise for the man himself, others have been moved to enthuse about his music.

One of the most touching is The Cross-Eyed Child, a poem that John Hartford wrote in Monroe’s honor.  It speaks of the memory of Monroe as well as of the effects that his music has had on all of us.

Hartford knew Monroe well and interviewed him often, so he was well-suited to speak with deep affection and sincerity about the ‘Father of Bluegrass Music.’

Thanks to Eric Hogue of the John Hartford Office we are able to re-print the words to this reverential piece that combines music and monologue. Our thanks are also due to Chris Sharp for facilitating this agreement.

Cross-Eyed Child

The cross-eyed child is left alone,
alone with his lonesome eyes,
While older brothers ride away
in boots and clothes so fine.
He walks the hills and the railroad track,
singing in a voice so high,
A voice so wild it will freeze your heart,
like the heart of the cross-eyed child.

Behind the house, behind the barn,
behind the white oak tree,
Underneath the old back porch,
where he may not be seen,
He hides that they not laugh at him
as they go riding by,
And know the tears that feed the pain
in the heart of the cross-eyed child.

Back inside the darkness there
he hears the fiddle tune.
She takes his hand and pulls him out
and leads him into the room.
Where brothers drink and uncles play
and sisters dance in style.
No drop to stain his determined lips,
the vow of the cross-eyed child.

He wills himself to persevere
as strong he upward grows.
They come to match him, fist and note,
then on their way they go.
He does what he does the best he can,
some say it is his style,
But they can’t see old Kentucky
in the heart of the cross-eyed child.

Still proving himself to people gone,
his pride must have its way.
They’re long since down in the churchyard ground
on the hill so far away.
He sings his song to the midnight sky,
a wail on the radio dial,
And around the world they hear the blues
in the heart of the cross-eyed child.

And no one grins, we all chime in
to pick with the cross-eyed child.
(C) John Hartford

Here Hartford, assisted by Mark Schatz, Chris Sharp and Mike Compton, presents a rendition of The Cross-Eyed Child captured on video …

An audio recording of The Cross-Eyed Child is on the John Hartford and the Hartford Stringband album Good Old Boys (Rounder CD 0462, 1999).

Hartford died on June 4, 2001, after a long battle with non-hodgkin’s lymphoma and is well-remembered by a legion of fans.

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About the Author

Richard Thompson

Richard F. Thompson is a long-standing free-lance writer specialising in bluegrass music topics. A two-time Editor of British Bluegrass News, he has been seriously interested in bluegrass music since about 1970. As well as contributing to that magazine, he has, in the past 30 plus years, had articles published by Country Music World, International Country Music News, Country Music People, Bluegrass Unlimited, MoonShiner (the Japanese bluegrass music journal) and Bluegrass Europe. He wrote the annotated series I'm On My Way Back To Old Kentucky, a daily memorial to Bill Monroe that culminated with an acknowledgement of what would have been his 100th birthday, on September 13, 2011.