The Waters Of Caney 
(Jody Stecher) 

The language and landscape of traditional song have appeared in my dreams since childhood. And no wonder, as that language is already the same as the language of dreams, where homonyms are not puns-for-fun, but serve as labels for our true and complex feelings, and where an image, an action, a word, a phrase, a smell, a taste, hot, cold, wet, dry are equivalent tale tellers. 

“The Waters of Caney” is made of equal parts remembered dream and the outer and inner landscape evoked by American traditional song and sounds. 

Sometimes my luminous dream places have appeared years later in waking reality. Long ago I had a vivid recurring dream of being in a high mountain forest. Spring has just come and the melting snow has caused a river to overflow its banks. There is wild river all around me and I’m in the middle of it all. There is danger and an electrical atmosphere, and I could not be happier. I belong there and although my safety is not guaranteed, it is both calming and thrilling to be there. The snow has only begun to melt and there are still snow covered areas away from the river banks where trillium (also known as birth root and as wake-robin), the first flower of spring, has bloomed, its stalks lifting the flowers above the snow. 

And then one summer in the 1970s I had a weekend job as a fiddler on a horse-packing trip that crossed the Cascade Mountains in Washington State, starting in Stehekin, at the northern end of Lake Chelan. Down at the lake it was high summer but on the mountain top it was early spring and the snow was just starting to melt. And there I was, awake on horseback, at once calm and electrified, traversing high country that was identical to my dream landscape right down to the trilliums. The river had not (yet?) overflowed its banks but it was fast and wild, and my horse didn’t want to cross. I gave him a nudge, and horse, rider, and fiddle made it across in four or five flying leaps. It’s the only time I’ve been simultaneously on horseback and airborne. I hadn’t dreamt that part. 

Another river dream that found its way into this song I had only dreamt once (in my late twenties) but never forgot. A gentle river opened into a small placid pond before its waters tumbled down a steep cascade. There was a “water train” one could ride and it went right over the waterfall. The cars were a bit like a cup and saucer and a bit like roller coaster cars. But when you arrived at the bottom you found that you were on the same pond again. It was like being in a moving Escher etching and it was evaporation/condensation, and the cycle of birth, life and death all set to the old song “I’m Riding On That New River Train” which formed the “soundtrack” of the dream.  The mood of the dream was pretty much “wheee!” and I woke up smiling. 

“Blue Mountain” is the name of a cowboy anthem from eastern Utah that I’ve sung for years.  I borrowed the name for my song. I don’t know the name of the mountain river my horse flew over so I borrowed the name “Caney” from a number of Kentucky fiddle tunes and stories. It seemed to fit. 

The lines of verse about the school, cell (of a monastery), orphanage, and old folks home were inspired by a man who lived in the thirteenth century,  “The Sun Of Tabriz” ,   who was a misfit, the mentor of Rumi,  and said to be “not a madman to be put in a madhouse, and not a monk to be put in a  monastery.” Yup. 

The Waters of Caney 
© Jody Stecher, Vegetiboy Music (BMI) 

Way up on Blue Mountain a wild blue river left its bed 
Way up on the mountain Old Caney river left its bed 
Rushin’ thru the brush and timber and steadily it sped 

The forest floor’s a river rushin’ thru the brush and glade 
I stood there on the mountain, at peace and unafraid 

The ice on Old Caney is breaking steady slow 
Birth root and wake-robin are blooming in the snow 

I remember, I remember, back in my younger days 
I remember, I remember, back in my younger days 
Disappointed, disaffected and so often disarrayed 

Too unworldly to be married 
Too wild for the school or cell to hold 
And the waters of Old Caney are running clear and cold 

Too old for the Orphan’s, too young for the Old Folk’s Home 
But I always remembered 
That mountain where the river banks were swollen 

Railroad looks so pretty when the cars are on the track 
Railroad looks so pretty when the cars are on the track 
Same old train that brung me sure gonna spring me back 

I’m leaving, yes I’m leaving on that wild & New River Train 
It’s always a new river, always the same old train again 

It’s like the wild wake-robin, honey, it’s just like the rain 
Same old song that sung me gonna sing me back again 

When I go, when I go, honey, hang a crepe on your door 
When I go back to Blue Mountain hang a crepe upon your door 
Now I won’t be dead, just won’t be here no more 

‘Cause I been cold and hungry, yes, and I been ragged too 
But the waters of Old Caney are wild, rising, breaking through 

It’s so hard to be contrary just by being true 
I’m going back to Blue Mountain where it’s easy to be blue. 

Jody Stecher: vocal and guitar