Here’s the second selection from my top ten Titanic songs – Down WIth The Old Canoe, recorded by the Dixon Brothers in 1938. Listen to it by clicking on the image below.
While it’s often said that the Titanic disaster was seen as divine retribution for the arrogance of building an “unsinkable” ship, actual expressions of that belief are surprisingly hard to find. This song, though, a bluegrass duet by two brothers from South Carolina, states it loud and clear.
The Dixon Brothers start by mentioning that “It was 25 years ago”, but they probably adapted the song from a previous version. They then tell their terrible tale, that “Many passengers and her crew went down with that old canoe / They all went down to never rise no more”.
After explaining that “this great ship was built by man, that is why she could not stand”, they move on to use the disaster as an explicit warning to their listeners: “Your Titanic sails today”, and “if you go on in your sin”, you too will “go down with that old canoe”.
You can buy it on the wonderful box set People Take Warning, a compendium of musical mayhem and murder from the early twentieth century. The three separate CDs are categorized as Man vs Machine, which encompasses the Titanic, some tangled and tormented trains, and other transport-related tragedies; Man vs Nature, which is largely weather-related but also covers fires and explosions; and Man vs Man, a catalogue of horrible homicides and heart-breaking homilies.
Author Steven Biel used the title Down With The Old Canoe for his groundbreaking and hugely enjoyable cultural history of the Titanic disaster, a new edition of which is due to appear soon.