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Single Serving: 
House of the Risin' Sun: 

A psychoSONGanalysis 
By psychologist, Dr. Bruce L. Thiessen, aka, who offers a cover of the Animal's big hit right here: 

The House of the Risin' Sun 
Dr BLT 
http://www.drblt.net/music/HouseDemo2.mp3 

Hi, I'm Dr. BLT and I'm in the house.   Well, perhaps given the subject matter of this song, that was not the greatest choice of phrases.  

The Animals, who made this song famous in 1964, took about the same amount of time to record it as I recorded my cover—about 20 minutes.

They recorded it while taking a brief break from their UK tour with Chuck Berry.  

When they recorded this song about a brothel in New Orleans that opened for business in 1862, a brothel named after Madame Marianne LeSoleil Levant (which means "Rising Sun" in French, they became overnight superstars.  

Little did they know that this song, and this house would make them household names almost instantly, all over the world.  

Like every good song, you know it's a good song when everybody and their mothers want to record a cover of it.  The song, based on a traditional English ballad, was first recorded in 1920 by Texas Alexander as an African-American Folk song.   Artists besides the Animals that have covered it include Leadbelly, Woody Guthrie, Jost White, Nina Simeone, Bob Dylan, and now, by me, Dr BLT J 

It's about a brothel, but one of the reasons it has stood the test of time is that its also about something more universal—human nature, more specifically, the dark side of human nature.

Freud called it Thanatos.  It's the urge to self-destruct.  Janis Joplin did it.  Jimi Hendrix did it.  Curt Cobain also went insane and crashed his own train.  Rising stars that seem imbued with life choose death.   It's a universal theme that is captured in this quintessential song of failure, remorse, regret and self-destruction.  

There is a house in New Orleans
They call the Rising Sun
And it's been the ruin of many a poor boy
And God I know I'm one 

Like every good story, this one comes with a place,  a person,  and a plot.  

My mother was a tailor
She sewed my new blue jeans
My father was a gamblin' man
Down in New Orleans 

Like every good story, this one develops the character in the context of his roots.   This verse brings up the old nature vs. nurture argument.  It seems that the character in this story has inherited, at least to some extent, his father's predilection for gambling, though the site and the subject of his gambling is different.  

Now the only thing a gambler needs
Is a suitcase and trunk
And the only time he's satisfied
Is when he's on a drunk 

Like every good story, it is a story of vice and virtue.  The vice is conspicuous in the song.  The virtue is not so conspicuous.  That comes from reading between the lines to learn that this is a song offering virtue to the listener in the form of a warning and some "sound" advice.  

Oh mother tell your children
Not to do what I have done
Spend your lives in sin and misery
In the House of the Rising Sun 

Like every good story,  there is a valuable lesson to be learned—in this case, the valuable lesson comes in the form of what not to do.  In the Homer Joy interview, Homer tells us that the best form of advice for musicians comes in this very form, yet too few heed such advice, much to their demise.  

Well, I got one foot on the platform
The other foot on the train
I'm goin' back to New Orleans
To wear that ball and chain 

Like every good story, a way out is offered.  The way out is to pull the foot off the train, and have the New Orleans-bound foot join the platform-secure foot. 

Well, there is a house in New Orleans
They call the Rising Sun
And it's been the ruin of many a poor boy
And God I know I'm one 

Like every good story, the song, and the story it tells, ends on a humble note.   The beginning of the road to recovery is paved with a humble admission, and a willful abandonment of the denial that keeps us wedded to our vices.   The only part the main character in the song/story never reaches is repentance.  Admitting that you're on the wrong road is not enough.  You have to get off the road and get on to the road less traveled.  
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

 
 
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