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I Don't Want Nothin' 'Bout My Life Wrote Out, Because I Had It Too Rough in Life: Dorsey Dixon's Autobiographical Writings

From: Southern Cultures
Volume 6, Number 2, Summer 2000
pp. 94-100 | 10.1353/scu.2000.0020

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Up Beat Down South I Don'tWant Nothin' 'Bout My lifeWrote Out,Because I Had ItToo Rough in Life Dorsey Dixon's Autobiographical Writings BY PATRICK HUBER & KATHLEEN DROWNE Dorsey Dixon, a forty-year-old weaver then employed at the Entwisde Mill in East Rockingham, North Carolina, was tending his looms one rainy morning in the winter of 1938 when he heard die news of a deadly automobile accident on nearby U.S. Highway 1. After his shift, Dixon and anodier worker went to view the crumpled Ford in which two local residents had been instandy killed. "So we put out around diere where they'd pulled die old wreck in," Dixon later recalled. "And diat carwas completely demolished; itwas tore up. And I was lookingin on the floorboard and I seen bottles—broken bottles—and blood all mixed up mere. 'Course, they probably was Co'-Cola botdes. But it was glass, you know, all broken to pieces and mixed up with blood diere on the floorboard of diat old wrecked car. And die thought came across my mind diat many times cars had wrecked and killed people and diat whiskey was mixed up widi the broken glass and blood. And diat's how I was inspired to write Wreck on the Highway.'" Originally titled "I Didn't Hear Nobody Pray," Dixon's composition is more than just anodier country song about a fatal drunk-driving accident. As one music historian has noted, "what is even more horrifying [to Dixon] than die violence itself is the reaction of those who run out from their homes to witness the tragedy—namely, their failure to lift even a single voice in prayer for the souls of the dead and die dying." Thus, in his song, Dixon transforms a grisly scene on a small southern highway into a sweeping indictment ofan increasingly secular and godless society. Dixon warns: Please give up the game and stop drinking, ForJesus is pleading with you. It cost Him a lot in redeeming, Redeeming die promise for you. But it'll be too late if tomorrow In a crash you should fall by die way, Widi whiskey and blood all around you, And you cain't hear nobody pray. 94 The Dixon Brothers (Dorsey on the left andHoward on the right)flank a radio announcer during an early on-airappearance. Courtesy oftheJohn EdwardsMemorial Collection ofthe Southern Folklife Collection, The IJbraty ofthe University ofNorth Carolina at Chapel Hill. For more than thirty-five years, Dorsey Dixon struggled to earn a living in the textile mills ofthe Carolina Piedmont, but by calling he was a guitarist, singer, and songwriter who believed diat his special purpose in life was to spread die gospel dirough music. A devout Free Will Baptist and regular churchgoer, Dixon translated accounts ofsmall-town tragedies and national disasters into universal songs about the wages of sin, the unknown hour of death, and the promise of eternal salvation. "Wreck on the Highway," which Grand Ole Opry star Roy Acuff turned into a national hit in 1942, remains Dixon's most famous composition, but many of his other songs similarly recount tragic events—millpond drownings, train wrecks, schoolhouse fires, ship sinkings, and odier catastrophes. And, as jeremiads intended to generate spiritual renewal, his songs usually conclude with sober warnings to listeners to "get right with Jesus" and to lead righteous Christian lives. "When you think that you are wise, / Then you need not be surprised / If die hand of God should stop you on life's sea," Dixon cautions on "Down widi die Old Canoe," a 1938 recording inspired by the sinking of the Titanic. "If you go on in your sin, / You will find out in die end / That you are just as foolish as can be." Perhaps such dreadful incidents resonated with Dixon in part because, as he makes clear in his autobiographical writings, hardship and suffering deeply Up Beat Down South 9 5 Religion remainedimportantfor Dorsey Dixon throughout his life. Courtesy ofthefohn Edwards Memorial Collection ofthe Southern Folklife Collection, The IJbrary ofthe University ofNorth Carolina at ChapelHill. scarred his own life. But Dixon's music and religious faith sustained him diroughout fragile health, grueling labor, unstable...