What's in a Song?
1:19 pm
Sat April 28, 2012

Life 'Up On The Divide' Lures A Songwriter Out West

Originally published on Mon April 30, 2012 9:31 am

For singer Martha Scanlan, the inspiration for the first song she ever wrote came on a trip to eastern Montana about 10 years ago.

"I had come out to this ranch for the first time to play at my friend's wedding," Scanlan says. "But I was so struck by the place, and I think I was just painting pictures of what I was seeing."

Even after she left, the place pulled at her for years — until she finally decided to make it her home.

"I was writing about things I didn't understand yet, I guess is the strange thing," she says. "Like how much the work ties you to the land, and all the stories that the work tells. There's one verse that says, 'Oh Charlie, he sold out and he lost everything / A '52 Chevy and a Navajo ring / Busted flat broken and split open wide / And the springtime's a comin' up on the divide.' "

Scanlan has now lived in Montana for 2 1/2 years. She says she spends a lot of time with her friend Irv, an octogenarian who lives on the same ranch where his grandfather homesteaded.

"I feel so genuinely blessed to have someone who's a friend and a teacher, and a very patient teacher," Scanlan says. "And that's the other thing about it — the importance of preserving agricultural lands like this, and that kind of heritage is that there's knowledge that people only gain by doing the work."

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

For singer Martha Scanlan, the inspiration for the first song she ever wrote came 10 years ago during a trip to eastern Montana.

(SOUNDBITE OF GUITAR)

MARTHA SCANLAN: I'd come out to this ranch for the first time to play at my friend's wedding. But I was so struck by the place and I think I was just painting pictures of what I was seeing.

GREENE: And even after she left, the place pulled at her for years until she finally decided to make her home, as we learn in this week's What's In A Song.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "UP ON THE DIVIDE")

SCANLAN: (Singing) Go cinch up the saddle, old Dunny and me gonna drive up the cattle where the snow used to be...

I was writing about things that I didn't understand yet, I guess is the strange thing, like how much the work ties you to the land, and all the stories that the work tells. There's one verse that says...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "UP ON THE DIVIDE")

SCANLAN: (Singing) Oh, Charlie. He sold out and he lost everything...

Oh, Charlie. He sold out and he lost everything, a '52 Chevy and a Navajo ring.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "UP ON THE DIVIDE")

SCANLAN: (Singing) A '52 Chevy and a Navajo ring. Busted flat broken...

Busted flat broken and split open wide, and the springtime's a comin' up on the divide. And thinking about people that do lose their ranches, and the first thing that's auctioned off is their livestock. And just thinking about, you know, all the work that's gone into them. And that just breaks my heart thinking about somebody standing there watching their livestock get auctioned off, in a way that I couldn't have comprehended before.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "UP ON THE DIVIDE")

SCANLAN: (Singing) My granddad, he died here in 19-and-3, and he gave up this gun that my daddy gave me...

I've been living here for the last two and a half years, and spending a good deal of time with my friend, Irv, who's - he turned 80 this year, and his grandfather homesteaded here on this ranch. I feel so genuinely blessed to have someone who's a friend and a teacher, and a very patient teacher.

And that's the other thing about, I think, the importance of preserving agricultural lands like this and that kind of heritage is that there's knowledge that people only gain by doing the work.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "UP ON THE DIVIDE")

SCANLAN: (Singing) Springtime's a comin' up on the divide. Springtime is comin' up on the divide.

GREENE: What's in a Song is produced by Hal Cannon and Taki Telonidis of the Western Folklife Center. And you can watch a video of Martha Scanlan performing her song, "Up On The Divide," at NPRMusic.org.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GREENE: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Rachel Martin is back in her chair next week. I'm David Greene. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.