The Top 20 Jeff Tweedy Songs: #6 “New Madrid”

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

Key lyric: “All my daydreams are disasters/ She’s the one I think I love /Rivers burn and then run backwards/ For her, that’s enough.”

album-anodyne

“New Madrid”
Band: Uncle Tupelo
Album: Anodyne (1993)
Co-writer: Jay Farrar

Key lyric: “All my daydreams are disasters/ She’s the one I think I love /Rivers burn and then run backwards/ For her, that’s enough.”

“New Madrid” may take the prize for Jeff Tweedy’s most memorable melody. It’s also among Uncle Tupelo’s sunniest- sounding numbers (outside of “Acuff-Rose.”)

The chorus is easy to misunderstand to the uninitiated  (“Steph won’t even be still, Karen’s over the landfill” goes one common misinterpretation), but you don’t have to know exactly what Tweedy means when he sings “death won’t even be still, it caroms over the landfill” to get the message.

The title references New Madrid, Missouri (Tweedy hails from Belleville, Illinois, one state away), home of the New Madrid Seismic Zone, the source of numerous Midwestern earthquakes.

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  1. It has always been my understanding that this song was generally written in the context of climatologist Iben Browning’s infamous and very specific prediction that a major earthquake would take place along the New Madrid Fault on December 2 or 3, 1990. Supposedly, one of the New Madrid fault lines runs through downtown Belleville, Illinois and past / under the fountain that sits there. While Anodyne wasn’t released until 1993, I would image ‘New Madrid’ was written two or three years prior, during the presumably strange time of worry and paranoia that surrounded an earthquake prediction like Browning’s.

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