Silas House visits Wendell Berry
Wendell Berry and Zoom

Wendell Berry's Burley Coulter and "Burley Coulter at the Bank"

A friend recently reminded me of a song that is somehow related to Wendell Berry’s fictional character Burley Coulter.

Back in early 2018, folk songwriter John McCutcheon released his 39th album, Ghost Light, which contains "Burley Coulter at the Bank". A review at the time describes the song as a "story of progress serving the few while draining the many of their meager fortunes. It's a story made all the more poignant because the young go-getter is a local who realizes too late that his duty to his job betrays his own neighbors." (Ed Whitelock, Pop Matters)

At his website (where the song is identified as "Burley Coulter in the Bank"), Mr. McCutcheon thanks Mr. Berry "for loaning me the name of one of his most memorable characters." And since there is no such bank incident in the Port William fiction, it's clear that the songwriter is paying homage to the novelist who has thought so intensely about the destruction of small farms and rural communities. It's also clear that the song's Burley is a sad homage to an older generation who have been ruined by brutal 20th century financial practices. 

 

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