I’m about to fuck up your day.
See? You didn’t even have to click on the video. You just read the title and you can already hear it. Your head has been transformed into a nightmarish echo chamber of madness. Later on you’ll be going about your day, tidying up, manning the counter, whatever, and you’ll hear it. The whispers of things from stygian places will drift across the membrane which divides their world from our own and they will find their way to you.
The song is already stuck in your head.
Where did you come from…
“No,” you’ll say, your mouth suddenly dry, your palms sweaty.
Where did you go…
“No, God, please,” you’ll say, hearing the terror in your own voice.
Where did you come from…
“No, no, no, no,” you say, shutting your eyes and shaking your head and putting your hands over your ears.
“FUCK!” you scream, but it’s too late.
It was always too late.
The Rednex have found you.
Cotton Eye Joe is, apparently, an old folk song native to the parts of the United States which we don’t talk about in mixed company. It could be heard, I guess, echoing up out of mine shafts and trailer parks all but subsumed by kudzu and feral children.
There it should have remained, and would have remained, were it not for the fucking Swedes.
In 1994 a couple of Swedish music producers (who were presumably under the influence of some sort of extradimensional malevolence), thought it would be a good idea to take the very worst music that the European Discotheques had on offer and drop it in a blender with American country music. The result was a 5-piece weapon of mass psychological destruction called Rednex, and their diabolical hit reinterpretation of Cotton Eye Joe.
(Incidentally, this is not the only time the Swedes have played a role in firebombing the American pop music scene. The country which gave us Free Love also shat out a grotesque, shambling mutant by the name of Max Martin, to whom we owe such atrocities as …One More Time by Brittney Spears, I Want It That Way by The Backstreet Boys, and I Kissed A Girl by Katy Perry. To paraphrase Willie Nelson, the world is not dying; it is being killed, and those doing the killing have names and addresses.)
Within weeks the infection had spread. The global epidemic response infrastructure found itself woefully outgunned and unprepared, and there was never really any hope of maintaining a quarantine. Cotton Eye Joe skipped across the Atlantic to the States, where it took up residence in the car radios and Walkmans of an unsuspecting public. Like some kind of horrible airborne cancer, the song drifted from person to person, over radiowaves, on airplanes. It was everywhere. Eastern Europe was lost early on, and it was not long before Cotton Eye Joe was raging up and down the Asian coastline, turning whole brains into so much grey jelly and leaving shell-shocked millions in its wake. It was chaos. It was madness.
But that, too, did pass. While Cotton Eye Joe left behind a world scarred and broken, we have soldiered on, and rebuilt.
Things will never be the same – all we can do now is live, and love, and try to forget.
I have a kind of morbid fascination with Cotton Eye Joe, though. My memories of The Crisis are vague and fragmentary, and I lack the visceral hatred of the song so common to my parent’s generation. I wanted to know the story; I wanted to know how, and why, such a thing was allowed to happen. I had to know.
What I have discovered about the song’s origins (summarized above) proved to be relatively pedestrian, but in the course of my Wikipedia-based investigation of the tragedy I discovered something of rather greater interest.
Two somethings, actually.
[Which I will get around to typing out eventually. This turned into a much longer thing than I thought it was going to, and I’m afraid if I hold onto this draft too long I’ll stop caring and never post it.]