Go to content, skip over navigation


More Pages

Go to content, skip over visible header bar
Home News Features Arts & Entertainment Sports OpinionAbout Contact Advertise

Note about Unsupported Devices:

You seem to be browsing on a screen size, browser, or device that this website cannot support. Some things might look and act a little weird.

House of the Rising Sun: The sun sets

November 18, 2022

Sophie Burchell

The Sun has risen. Now it must set. And it’s this circuitry that guides our pop cultural cog that sustains the future-life of “House of the Rising Sun.” All that was old must be new again.

Today, our song’s never-ending iterations and reiterations realize the range of sonic potential. Conceived and stretched to some sparse pulses of metallic embellishment and collapsed together again in a simple strumming pattern, “House of the Rising Sun” seems to know no bounds. Or rather, the musical artisans that have approached the tune seem to embrace inspiration and reject influence. Their task is as follows: take the song that gets to the hard kernel at the center of a down-trodden, oft-times self-loathing human condition and adopt it into a musical lexicon that will provide the most accessible conduit for said introspection.

As we know, covers run the gamut. Metal outfit Five Finger Death Punch paid their dues on their 2013 record, “The Wrong Side of Heaven and the Righteous Side of Hell,” with a particularly rollicking take in which “New Orleans” becomes “Sin City.” On her 2012 jazz record, Bowdoin visiting artist Toshi Reagon alongside Meshell Ndegeocello envision the House in a field of funky synth and in a lilt that owes much to Nina Simone’s rendition. Alt-J’s 2017 record “RELAXER” boasts a subdued, lo-fi version of the tune. That same foreboding tale from one hundred years earlier persists, not feeling a bit anachronistic despite the multitudes and miles the song has traveled. And, just like that, a whole new demographic can bask in the rays of the rising sun.

Again, “House of the Rising Sun” is dealt in infinitudes for as long as popular culture continues to proliferate by the hand of the have-nots. We accept our narrator’s tale as a symptom of what has been and what will always be—a universal state of abject existence without beginning or end. We might point to first recording dates or first chart-topping recordings, but those will always be approximations of a true first moment of existence. And we might scrutinize the similarities between the “House of the Rising Sun” as we know it and a 16th century English folk song “The Unfortunate Rake” which recounts the tragedy of a young man’s lost battle to syphilis. But then we may be missing the point.

Folk music is an embodied artform. The story of the downtrodden narrator begins with the first man in trouble. The impulse to share this story is part of the inheritance of man as a communal creature. How do we see ourselves if not through the eye of the Other? How could we ever know we “are” if not through that counterpoint? “House of the Rising Sun” affirms us in our humanity and anchors us to our experience.

“House of the Rising Sun’’ hasn’t just been covered a ton of times by musicians eager to put their spin on a track that has been kicking around for too long. The song quite literally echoes in every slipstream and sidewalk that contour our cultural geography. May the sound sustain itself in the hands of men that will always know hardship and always know a salve to it. Let us free ourselves from the quest to pin down spatio-temporal moments of conception and, therefore, ownership—instead, I hope we might find comfort in the other that feels the same as we do.

“House of the Rising Sun” (2013), Five Finger Death Punch

There is a house in Sin City
They call the Rising Sun
And it’s been the ruin of many a poor boy
And God, I know I’m one

My mother was a tailor
She sewed my new blue jeans
My father was a gamblin’ man
Down in Sin City

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

Well, I’ve got one foot on the platform
The other’s on the train
I’m goin’ back to Sin City
To wear that ball and chain

Well, mother, tell your children
Never do what I have done
Spend your lives in sin and misery
In the house of the rising sun
In the house of the rising sun

Well, there is a house in Sin City
They call the Rising Sun
And it’s been the ruin of many a poor boy
And God, knows I, I’m one


Before submitting a comment, please review our comment policy. Some key points from the policy:

  • No hate speech, profanity, disrespectful or threatening comments.
  • No personal attacks on reporters.
  • Comments must be under 200 words.
  • You are strongly encouraged to use a real name or identifier ("Class of '92").
  • Any comments made with an email address that does not belong to you will get removed.

Leave a Reply

Any comments that do not follow the policy will not be published.

0/200 words