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Coal Tattoo

Written by Billy Ed Wheeler
Recorded by various artists


Travelin' down that coaltown road,
Listen to those rubber tires whine;
Goodbye to Buckeye (1) and White Sycamore(1),
I'm leavin' you behind.
I've been a coal man all my life
Layin' down track in the hole (2),
Got a back like an ironwood bent by the wind (3)
Blood veins blue as the coal.

Somebody said "That's a strange tattoo
You have on the side of your head."
I said "That's a blue print, left by the coal (4)
Just a little more and I'd be dead" (5)
And I love the rumble and I love the dark
I love the cool of the slate.
But it's on down the new road lookin' for a job
It's the travelin' and lookin' I hate.

I've stood for the union, walkin' the line, (6)
Fought against the company;
Stood for the U. M. W. of A. (7)
Now who's gonna stand for me?
I got no house and I got no pay,
Just got a worried soul;
And this blue tattoo on the side of my head
Left by the number nine coal.

Someday when I'm dead and gone
To Heaven, the land of my dreams,
I won't have to worry on losin' my job
To bad times 'n big machines.
I ain't gonna pay my money away
For pensions and hospital plans. (8)
I'm gonna pick coal where the blue heavens roll
And sing with the angel bands.


(1) Types of trees, names of towns.
(2) Working in the coal mine; laying the small tracks inside the mine on which wheeled cars travel, carrying coal from the mining face to the mouth of the mine.
(3) Years of hard, physical work, stooped over in the low mine, have bent his back permanently but have also made him strong.
(4) Miners are frequently struck by falling or flying coal.  Some of the coal particles might penetrate the skin and be fixed there by the healing. This mark left by the coal looks like a tattoo.
(5) The accident that caused his colored scar was a close call that almost killed him.
(6) Picket line of workers on strike.
(7) United Mine Workers of America, the union of the coal miners.

(8)  These lines -- "I won't have to worry . . . and hospital plans." give voice to the dilemna that many miners find themselves in.  Jobs are rapidly disappearing in the coal fields as the mines are mechanized -- in 1998, VA, KY, and WV mines produced more coal than ever before, yet the number of miners is at its lowest because of mechanization -- still, the union (UMWA) that is supposed to be working for the miners takes deductions from miner paychecks for pensions, medical insurance for retired miners, and other "benefits."  Once again, as Travis Tritt says, "The rich man does the dancing while the poor man pays the band" (Travis Tritt, Lord Have Mercy on the Workin' Man).






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