Published on February 10th, 2016 | by Brittain Thompson1
The Great Magnolia Vagabond No. 9 / 1993: Schooled by “Rule” in Holly Springs
Some two decades after first hiding in a bedroom closet in the middle of the day when some Betty’s husband came home unexpectedly (pure Ang Lee “Ice Storm,” the great American suburbs of the Nixon Administration, medicine cabinets full of ”Mother’s Little Helper,”) I learned what “jumper on the line” means in the reckless world of hanky-panky.
I was a guest at Burnside‘s North Mississippi home in the hill country a dozen years before his death, passing the Great Magnolia State en route to Antelope Valley, California, to see where Frank Zappa went to high school. It was February and near the wood-burning stove in the Burnsides’ living room I asked about the title of a song he performs in the 1992 documentary Deep Blues.
“Mister Rule, what does ‘I got a jumper on the line’ mean?”
All I could think of was trying to land a great fish, à la Hemingway‘s Santiago.
The truth swims closer to a mermaid.
Burnside picked up his guitar and sang: “See my jumper, Lord, oh hangin’ on the line. . . yes, I see my jumper, oh lord, a hangin’ on the line. . . when I see my jumper, you know there’s somethin’ on my mind. . .”
And then explained that in blues lore (and the old black South it preserves) if a married or otherwise predisposed woman hangs her housecoat or “jumper” on the clothesline, it’s a sign to her lover that the coast is clear.