Fifty Miles of Elbow Room
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Look Away From The Cross

Sara Carter
Sara Carter (photo by David Gahr, from Dunson and Raim)

 

In early March 2004, I first heard the original Carter Family's 1940 and 1941 recording sessions — their final sessions together as a trio. By coincidence, Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" happened to be Number One at the box office that week. So, the Carter Family's "Look Away From The Cross" sounded to me like a sharp crack of thunder.

I can always count on the original Carter Family to send my mind reeling. They always seem to dissipate some thick fog of nonsense the world has become so accustomed to that we've forgotten it even existed. They seem to get directly into the core of something, though I'm never able to predict just what that something's going to be.

Of course, whether they're "really" getting to the heart of something is separate question, but regardless, their music powerfully projects that effect. No wonder the folk revival of the 1950's and 1960's — always seeking antidotes to American Cold War culture — so lovingly embraced the original Carter Family.

Anyway, I won't rehash the media noise generated by "The Passion of the Christ." I'll only mention that the Gospels themselves spill very little ink on the suffering of Jesus — they even emphasize that he suffered less that most people executed by crucifixion. What really interests the Gospels is the resurrection. As I understand it, the fetish for fluids, whips, and naked men is primarily Medieval.

I guess "Look Away From The Cross" is probably a Negro spiritual of the Holiness Church variety — it ain't German Catholic, I can tell you that from personal experience. Below, I've repeatedly written out the chorus instead of just writing "Chorus" in order to give you a feel for how insistently Sara Carter cries out "look away." In customary Carter Family fashion, Sara sings lead and plays autoharp, Maybelle plays guitar and "seconds" the lyrics with rejoinders (shown in parentheses), and A.P. Carter just kinda sings when he's good and ready. The overall effect is as bright and catchy as any advertising jingle.


LOOK AWAY FROM THE CROSS

Look away from the cross to that glittering crown
From your cares, weary ones, look away
There's a home for the soul where no sorrows can come
And where pleasure will never decay

LOOK AWAY! LOOK AWAY!
(weary ones, look away from the cross to the crown)
From the cross to that glittering crown (glittering crown)
LOOK AWAY! LOOK AWAY!
(look away, weary ones, from the cross to the crown)
From the cross to that glittering crown

Though the burdens of life may be heavy to bear
And your crosses and trials severe
There's a beautiful hand that is beckoning "Come"
And no heartache and sighings are there

LOOK AWAY! LOOK AWAY!
(weary ones, look away from the cross to the crown)
From the cross to that glittering crown (glittering crown)
LOOK AWAY! LOOK AWAY!
(look away, weary ones, from the cross to the crown)
From the cross to that glittering crown

Mid the conflicts of battles, of struggles and strife
Bravely onward your journey pursue
Look away from the cross to that glittering crown
That's a waiting in heaven for you

LOOK AWAY! LOOK AWAY!
(weary ones, look away from the cross to the crown)
From the cross to that glittering crown (glittering crown)
LOOK AWAY! LOOK AWAY!
(look away, weary ones, from the cross to the crown)
From the cross to that glittering crown


Recorded October 4, 1941, New York City

 

 

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