Awesome Tune: “Jack Orion”

Today’s Awesome Tune is the amazingly dark title song from Bert Jansch’s 1966 masterpiece “Jack Orion”.This song is awesome for three reasons:

1) It’s a virtuoso acoustic guitar duet: Jansch and his close associate John Renbourn explore the very limits of the Baroque-Folk style, firing off riffs, countermelodies, and mournful, grainy textures that make the guitars sound truly haunted. This song works around a droning repeated melody that sounds almost like a Delta Blues motif at times, drawing that common line between the various streams of folk music from around the world.

2) The story of this song is incredible. Essentially, it relates the tale of a master fiddler, Jack Orion, who impresses a beautiful maiden with his musical skill. She is so smitten that she immediately declares her intent to take Jack to bed. So, they make a date to meet at her home later. Jack goes home and decides to take a nap first, and tells his faithful servant Tom to wake him at the appointed time. Tom lulls his master to sleep with some fiddling of his own, and then goes to meet the maiden himself, impersonating Jack by playing the fiddle at her door. Convinced she is hearing Jack play, she beckons the servant in. Tom then rapes this woman and leaves. He returns home and wakes his master, telling Jack that he tried to wake him and was unsuccessful. Jack shows up at the maiden’s house several hours late, and they realize what has happened. The maiden goes mad from the trauma and kills herself. Enraged, Jack races home and kills Tom by hanging him from the roof. And then, depending on how you interpret the story, Jack either goes mad himself, or commits suicide. Pretty dark stuff. And its all related in much more graphic detail than what I just wrote. It’s explicit, particularly about the rape.

3) That fucked-up narrative I just related? Its based on an old English CHILDREN’S STORY. Those Brits sure know how the scare the kids!

Behold the cautionary tale “Jack Orion”. The moral of this story is simple: don’t ever teach your roadies to play- you never know when they might try to steal your groupies.


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