Remembering The Old Songs:


by Lyle Lofgren
(Originally published: Inside Bluegrass, November 2003)

When I read Bob's excursion into eschatology (theological study of the end of the world) in the last issue, I couldn't resist adding this one. John The Revelator was exiled on Patmos, a Greek island just off the Turkish coast, perhaps circa 100 AD. He dictated to his scribe a series of spectacular visions that came down to us as the New Testament Revelation. Some people think he's the same person as Gospel John, but, as the song goes, "every Tom, Dick and Harry's named John," and I don't see much relationship between the two books. Certainly John The Revelator has inspired a lot more Protestant Christians than the other John. I read somewhere that many of the workers at the Pantex H-bomb factory in Amarillo, Texas were fundamentalist Christians, and enjoyed their work because they were hastening the blessed Second Coming. Now that Pantex is disarming bombs instead of building them, I don't know what they think.

Many commentators have remarked about the failure of the biblical writers to imagine heaven (golden shoes, harps, happiness, but not much happening) compared with their ability to depict the tortures of hell. Gospel songwriters are similar: the glories of heaven tend to be praised with slow-moving, dolorous tunes, while the fate awaiting unsaved sinners calls for bouncy, cheerful melodies. The singer is counting on being one of the chosen, but what if Schadenfreude is a deadly sin?

When The Brandy Snifters were working on our latest recording, Not Out of the Woods -- Yet, we wanted to include this Revelations-based song, both because we liked the tune and because it went well with pump organ low-register chording. Unfortunately, our source, the Taylor-Griggs Louisiana Melody Makers (Victor 40083, recorded 4/22/1929), had only the first verse, and from years of listening to 78 RPM recordings, we naturally gravitate to 3-minute songs with interleaving instrumentals. I thumbed through the King James version of Revelation. It's reported to be an inaccurate translation, but is definitely great poetry, and the last two verses fell into my lap. That was in October, 2000, so only one-third of this is really an old song. If the rest of it could be mistaken for one, I'll have been successful.

In case you didn't know, the beast's number is 666. The numerological significance is not clear to me1.  I'm like the dyslexic sign painter in the Gary Larson cartoon who painted "999" over Satan's doorway. I once bought a ticket for a Minnesota Gopher volleyball game that placed me in Section 6, Row 6, Seat 6. Even then, I was not surprised when the Gophers won.

Ticket of the Beast

Like Bob, I doubt that songs like this ever converted anyone. Gospel composers are singing to the choir.


Complete Lyrics:
1.When the stars from the elements are falling,
and the moon drips away into blood;
When the sea begins to roar and the rocks begin to melt,
Oh sinner, Oh where will you stand?

Oh sinner, Oh where will you stand?
When the sea begins to roar and the rocks begin to melt,
Oh sinner, Oh where will you stand?

2. When Death comes a-riding on his pale horse
And the seals are all opened by the lamb;
When the day of wrath arrives and the kings hide in caves,
Oh sinner, Oh where will you stand?
CHO. (on 2nd line, repeat 3rd line of stanza #2)

3. When the seven-headed beast is a-rising,
And they come to mark his number on your hand,
When the angel makes the call, saying "Babylon must fall,"
Oh sinner, Oh where will you stand?
CHO. (on 2nd line, repeat 3rd line of stanza #3)

Footnote 1 (by Bob Waltz): 666 is thought to be the numeric value of the Hebrew form of Neron Caesar (i.e., the emperor Nero), and the single best manuscript of the Apocalypse has 616, Hebrew for Nero Caesar. This though the emperor at the time was Domitian (reigned 81 - 96 CE).
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