David sanderso 2010-03-31 02:20:16
Doesn’t sound New England to me, for whatever that’s worth. The story
I’ve read is maybe more plausible (for whatever plausibility is
worth…). Seems a sawyer in the Mississippi is a particular variety of
snag, that is, a piece of a tree lodged on the bottom of the river.
It’s a sawyer because the limbs that stick up out of the water are
alternately caught and released by the current, so that they are dragged
downstream, nearly submerged, then spring up again, the way an old
up-and-down sawmill works. So it’s a sawyer because it goes up and down
like a saw.
This disappointed me because it eliminated the sawmill connection, which
made a nice introduction to playing it. On the other hand, it opens up
a whole new set of connections over to Mark Twain, who of course knew
all about the river and all the technical terms, as a pilot. And so we
know suddenly how Tom Sawyer got to be Tom Sawyer, though I’m not sure
you can parse the novel in those terms, since especially in Huckleberry
Finn Tom’s problem is his tendency to abandon himself to fantasy at the
expense of common sense.
The “sawyer” flavor comes from the melody of the tune, higher notes,
then lower notes, as the saw going up and down.
Disclaimer: It is possible, and perhaps even advisable, to play the tune
without knowing any of this. I have found that it sounds remarkably
similar whether one is proficient in Mississippi River jargon or not,
and even if one chooses to call it The Downfall of Paris and ignore the
East Waterford, Maine