the unofficial uncle tupelo archives 

References in the songs

This page describes some of the people and places referenced in Jay and Jeff's songs, with a focus on geographic and historical references.

"Three-hour away town" from (UT's "Whiskey Bottle")
From Jay Farrar's notes on the song in the reissue of No Depression: "The song was written during a period when we were playing our first shows away from St. Louis at the Blue Note in Columbia, MO. There was a shop across the street that sold "Liquor, Guns, and Ammo." It seemed to exemplify what we were up against. Columbia was more of a two-hour-away town unless you stopped at the "Elvis is Alive Museum" along the way."

Sauget (from UT's "Sauget Wind")
Sauget, IL (pronounced "saw-zhay", not "saw-get") is a small industrial town just across the Mississippi River from St. Louis, west of Belleville. Part of Sauget has been classified as a Superfund site, meaning that it "has been contaminated by hazardous waste and identified by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as a candidate for cleanup because it poses a risk to human health and/or the environment." Interesting to note that the town was once called Monsanto, that one of the contaminated creeks is named after DuPont, and that the most polluted area is aptly called Dead Creek. According to an EPA site narrative, "About 143,000 people within 4 miles of the Sauget Area 1 site are subject to potential air contamination." So when Jay Farrar wrote "An industrial wind, it blows from the West / It'll burn out your eyes, and suck out your breath", he was not exaggerating.
Thanks to Tom Krueger for help with this section.

Sandusky (from UT's March 16-20, 1992)
Sandusky is a medium-sized town in northern Ohio, about an hour west of Cleveland, right on an inlet of Lake Erie called Sandusky Bay. It's probably best known for the huge amusement park Cedar Point, which juts out between the Lake and the Bay. From an article in the Chicago Sun-Times in 1992: ""Sandusky, Ohio," explains Tweedy, "is a city, we for some reason, seem to end up in whenever we're touring. We like it because they have a really great amusement park. There's just something about a summer evening and the colored lights on the Ferris wheel and an ice cold beer."

New Madrid (from UT's Anodyne)
The New Madrid Fault is a major earthquake fault that runs through southern Illinois and Missouri, centered around the town of New Madrid, MO. Local lore has one of the main faults going through the fountain in downtown Belleville, IL. There were huge earthquakes on the fault in 1811 and 1812, one of which apparently made the Mississippi River flow backwards for a short time. There has not been a major quake along the Fault since then, leading many seismologists to forecast that a major quake is overdue. In 1990, a climatologist named Iben Browning predicted that a huge quake would hit the New Madrid fault in December of that year. It was (falsely) claimed that he had predicted the San Francisco earthquake in 1989, and there was a minor media-fueled panic, with some people leaving the region on the days in question.

Chickamauga (from UT's Anodyne)
The Battle of Chickamauga was a major battle in the Civil War, fought in north Georgia between the Army of Tennessee and the Army of the Cumberland in September of 1863. According to one source, "Chickamauga represented the last opportunity for the Confederacy to win the war....The furious 2-day battle cost 4,000 lives and 35,000 casualties in all."

"Chickamauga," a Native American word, has been translated to mean "river of blood" though there are also less dramatic translations.

From "The Chickamauga Campaign" by Patrick Abbazia and "The Civil War" by Geoffery C. Ward with Ric Burns and Ken Burns
Thanks to Matthew Benz for helping with this

Times Beach, MO (the 'beach there known for cancer' from Son Volt's "10 Second News" on Trace)
Times Beach was a small town in the flood plain of the Meramec River (a tributary of the Mississippi) off of Interstate 44 in extreme western St. Louis County. In the early 1970s, a guy named Russell Bliss was hired to spray oil over the dirt roads in Times Beach to keep the dust down in the summer. In the early 80's the EPA discovered that the oil Russell had used was contaminated by dioxin, a highly carcinogenic by-product from the production of Agent Orange. Suddenly there were hazardous waste signs on the side of I-44 and EPA workers in full-body protective suits all over the area. The contamination was bad enough that the EPA decided it had to relocate all residents of the town. The federal government bought out the entire town (at very low prices), and built a waste incinerator at the site. There is now nothing left of Times Beach - even the exit from I-44 was removed. In fall 2001, Times Beach was deleted from the EPA's National Priority List.

Sainte Genevieve (from Son Volt's "Tear Stained Eye" on Trace)
Sainte Genevieve, MO is a small town about 50 miles south of St. Louis, right on the Mississippi River. It was originally settled around 1735, making it one of the oldest European settlements west of the Mississippi. During the massive flood in the summer of 1993, the town's historic district was threatened, and people came from miles around to help build an enormous stone, earth, and sandbag levee to "hold back the water." It was a close call, but they ended up being successful, at least in the downtown area. The story got quite a bit of national attention at the time, Jay Farrar said he heard about it on CNN.

Pekin (from Wilco's "Kingpin" on Being There)
Pekin is a small town in Central Illinois, near Peoria. The reference in Kingpin is not to the city Peking in China.

Coral Court Motel (subject of Son Volt's "Way Down Watson" from Straightaways)
The Coral Court Motel was a sprawling, Art Deco motel on Watson Road (old Route 66) in St. Louis. It was demolished in 1995, and Jay Farrar's frustration over the demolition was the inspiration for the song.

From an interview Jay did with NPR in October, 1997: "I remember getting back off the road, and some friends had said that the Coral Court Motel which was on Route 66, which is Watson Road as it runs through St. Louis -- they said it had been torn down. It was just kind of frustrating. There just seems to be kind of a pervasive lack of respect for that kind of thing, in St. Louis in particular."

Here's another Coral Court page.

Shackleton (from "Damaged Son" on Jay Farrar's Sebastopol
Sir Henry Ernest Shackleton was an explorer in the early 20th century, whose 1914 expedition to the Antarctic "was one of the greatest tales of survival in expedition history: Sir Ernest Shackleton's 1914 voyage to the Antarctic. Just one day's sail from the continent, the ship Endurance became trapped in sea ice. Frozen fast for ten months, the ship was crushed and destroyed by ice pressure, and the crew was forced to abandon ship. After camping on the ice for five months, Shackleton made two open boat journeys, one of which-a treacherous 800-mile ocean crossing to South Georgia Island-is now considered one of the greatest boat journeys in history. Trekking across the mountains of South Georgia, Shackleton reached the island's remote whaling station, organized a rescue team, and saved all of the men he had left behind."

Outside the Door (from Jay Farrar's Sebastopol)
"Outside the Door" references many old blues musicians and old neighborhoods in St. Louis. You can read descriptions of the various persons and places referenced in the song on the Gumbopages.

Cahokian (from Jay Farrar's Terroir Blues)
Cahokia was a large settlement of the Mississippians, a Native American culture that thrived in the Midwest and Southeast United States from about 900 AD until the mid 16th century. Cahokia was near the current site of Collinsville, IL, which is about 8 miles from St. Louis. The Cahokians were best known for building large ceremonial mounds, which dominate the area around Cahokia, and used to dominate the landscape in St. Louis (hence its nickname, "The Mound City"). Most of the St. Louis area mounds were leveled in the 19th century, and the destruction of the mounds continues. There is currently a state park on the site of Cahokia.

[back to top]

© 2004 factorybelt.net