Monday, November 24, 2008

The Man, The Myth, The Legend: Bill Hayes: "The Ballad of Davy Crockett"

To set things straight: his name wasn’t Davy, it was David. (The only Davy who accepts that name who could be called a living legend is one Davy Jones, who we will get to in the fullness of time.) David Crockett was from Tennessee – the greenest state if only because it was so sparsely populated. He didn’t kill a bear or a ‘bar’ when he was three, though he did demand to learn how to shoot a rifle when he was eight. He grew up in a wild part of the state where violence was the rule – skipping school and leaving home altogether to avoid being beaten – roaming as a pre-teen from town to town. He went all over his home state, learning to hunt and trap to feed himself and make money. He only returned home when he was 16, and was welcomed home by everyone, including his father. He didn’t suffer terrible Kanyesque heartbreak – though a fiancee dumped him, he eventually got married and had children, remarrying when widowed and having more. He served in the Tennessee Militia, then became a congressman, where he did nothing to seal the crack in the Liberty Bell; in fact it seems he was rather unpopular, eventually giving up, telling his constituency to go to hell, as he was going to Texas. (I can just imagine his constituents thinking, “same difference.”) Having ‘lit out’ for the west, he immediately got caught up in the Alamo, and died in still-controversial circumstances, defending a place under siege, doing what he could under probably difficult conditions.

Crockett had been all but forgotten but then a certain W. Disney decided it was time to “renew acquaintance with…cheerful, energetic and representative folk heroes” and before you knew it, there were tv shows and then the raccoon-skin caps were all the rage with kids; kids who wanted a hero and didn’t care much about accuracy. To them he really did kill a bear when he was three, he really did have his heart broken (the saddest part of the song; there is no mention of his death), and he really did seal the crack in the Liberty Bell. Crockettmania was contagious – thus its spreading to the UK, with multiple versions of the song in the charts and (for all I know) little Mancunian and London kids demanding their own caps and toy rifles.

Why such hunger for a simple and forthright figure? Was it due to his being so “robust” and uncomplicated? I don’t know. The song itself has a ridiculously memorable chorus and slower, more serious verses; Davy is a pal, Davy is loyal to his country, Davy is a citizen king. He is a folk hero who was really just a man, even in his own lifetime. Eventually we will also get to another ‘king of the wild frontier’ who also has his own mythos and real life difficulties, who is also energetic and robust; who would agree with Crockett’s own saying: “Be always sure you are right, then go ahead.”

1 comment:

Billy Smart said...

Ha! "Labels; Disney, fur hat, myth" That's a brilliant capsule review in itself.

The newly published Canongate edition of the complete Charles M. Schultz Peanuts strips for 1955 gives a very convincing impression of how Davey Crockettmania captured the imaginations of American children; Charlie Brown and Linus in 'coonskin hats (even Schroeder's bust of Beethoven), Snoopy fantasising about killing bears...