Fraggle Friday: The Elusive Lyrics to “Dixie Wailin'”

“Dixie Wailin'” is certainly one of my favorite Fraggle Rock songs, if not my very favorite. So it bothers me that almost everyone who covers it seems to get the lyrics wrong.

Now, to be fair, I don’t have access to any authoritative sources on the lyrics, so I can’t say with certainty that people are getting it wrong. But I do have a background in literary analysis, a lot of experience as an amateur singer, and some basic common sense, on which basis I make an educated guess that the lyrics most people are singing when they cover “Dixie Wailin'” are incorrect. 

Each verse of “Dixie Wailin'” (including the chorus) follows a very specific rhyme scheme: AAB, CCB. The lyrics that people get wrong are in the third verse:

“When the earth begins to quake
From the shakin’ at my wake,
I’ll be here and makin’ music like a _____ _____

‘Til our honky-tonkin’ grief
Gives the angels sweet relief
Cuz they’ll know that Dixie Wailin’s still survivin‘”

Whatever words are supposed to fill in those two blanks, they have to rhyme with “survivin'”; the lyrics that most people sing in that spot do not:

As you can see from these helpfully annotated/illustrated samples, most people sing, “I’ll be here and makin’ music like a light wine,” which not only doesn’t rhyme, it makes no sense. How does wine make music, and why would it specifically have to be a “light” wine?

In fairness, Dennis Lee was a poet, and poetry doesn’t always have to make concrete, logical sense, so I might be willing to chalk this up to poetic license but for the fact that every other verse in the song follows a strict rhyme scheme and an internal logic. 

My guess is that once, long ago, someone wanted to cover the song (and who could blame them?) but didn’t have access to sheet music so made their best possible guess at the lyrics. Then other people who wanted to sing the song but couldn’t understand the lyrics looked up the initial cover on the Internet and took that as authoritative. That the “light wine” lyric is now so widespread speaks to the potential of the Internet to spread misinformation. 

However, not everyone sings “light wine”:

This group seems to be singing “live wire,” which doesn’t even come close to rhyming but at least it makes more sense than “light wine”; the term “live wire” can refer to an “energetic, unpredictable person,” and it’s not beyond the realm of feasibility that such a person might make music, perhaps of the honky-tonkin’ variety.

In attempting to resolve this matter, I referred to the most authoritative source I had access to: the closed captions on the DVD. Those captions had the lyrics as: “Here and makin’ music like a live one.” Now, closed captioning is not infallible; I’ve seen captioners make many, many errors (sometimes through no fault of their own; they don’t always have access to the source material so sometimes have to make their best possible guess). However, “live one” makes sense within the larger context of the song, which is all about the deceased coming back from the dead to participate in the funereal obsequies. In other words, the lyric could be paraphrased as: “Though I’ll be dead, I’ll be making music as though I were still alive.”

I believe that “live one” are the words that the original performers were actually singing. However, I’m not entirely convinced that that’s what Dennis Lee wrote, because although it makes absolute, perfect sense, it still doesn’t quite rhyme with “survivin’.” Therefore, although I cannot verify it one way or the other, I suspect that the lyric is supposed to be “live’un.” Thus the entire verse becomes:

“When the earth begins to quake
From the shakin’ at my wake,
I’ll be here and makin’ music like a live’un

‘Til our honky-tonkin’ grief
Gives the angels sweet relief
Cuz they’ll know that Dixie Wailin’s still survivin‘”

This version is perfectly logical and rhymes impeccably. It’s not definitive, but it’s the one that makes the most sense.

One way to definitively resolve the matter would be for whoever owns the rights to the music to publish sheet music with the correct lyrics printed in black and white for all to see. Care to set those wheels in motion, Henson Company? Sticklers for song lyrics like me, as well as scores of Internet musicians, will be eternally grateful.

(By the way, there are a lot more “Dixie Wailin'” covers out there, beyond what I’ve included here, and in spite of the lyrical discrepancies, some of them are really good. Do your ears a favor and check them out on YouTube by searching for “dixie wailin covers.”)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s