Thursday, May 26, 2011

These Are Days

These Are Days (from the 10,000 Maniacs album Our Time In Eden)

These are days you'll remember

Never before and never since, I promise
will the whole world be warm as this
and as you feel it, you'll know it's true
that you are blessed and lucky
it's true, that you are touched by something
that will grow and bloom in you

These are days you'll remember

When May is rushing over you with desire
to be part of the miracles you see in every hour
you'll know it's true, that you are blessed and lucky
it's true, that you are touched by something
that will grow and bloom in you

These are the days
that you might fill with laughter
until you break

These days you might feel a shaft of light
make its way across your face
and when you do
you'll know how it was meant to be
see the signs and know their meaning

You'll know how it was meant to be
hear the signs and
know they're speaking to you
to you

There are few pleasures in life that equal the manic exhilaration of falling in love. The euphoria of reciprocated romantic attraction can have almost addictive powers over us. Being in the throes of infatuation makes you feel invincible, impervious to any logical objections our weakened mind might try to make. We ignore any nagging doubt that the person we've bestowed our affections on is not a good match for us, is not worthy of us. We toss aside the fear that things might end very, very badly.

However, when it becomes evident that we have met our match, that we've found a person worth committing ourselves to, that objective voice of reason doesn't quiet down entirely. It keeps reminding us that the euphoria of romantic love will fade, even in the happiest of couplings. Eventually and reluctantly, and with mounting proof, we begin to accept this reality. But we commit anyways. We give up the frenzied free fall of romantic obsession and settle for the simple comfort of simply being with another person. Why? Because of love. The form of love that is more profound than infatuation, that is deeper, more mature and invariably, less thrilling.

But no matter how happy we might turn out to be in our relationships, we still crave that feeling of euphoria that we had when we were in the midst of the fall. We just find different ways to feel it. For me, music has been the thing that consistently brings me back to that state of euphoria. Discovering a new musical artist or a new album by a familiar favorite makes me feel delightfully obsessed, infatuated even. Just like the music in a movie explains and embellishes the silent emotions of the characters, the music in my head begins to serve as the soundtrack to my life, making everything around me and inside me feel more vivid and meaningful. Music makes me fall in love over and over again.

When you read this post, it will the last week in May. Although a few weeks ago I said my piece about the sadness of letting go of winter, it is time to give spring her due. I can't think of a finer way to do that than to talk about one of the most deservedly beloved springtime songs ever written, These Are Days.

Even though Natalie Merchant has never been an artist someone would call to mind when thinking of love songs, the fact is she has written many songs about romantic love. However, with hardly any exception I can think of, these songs are not about simple declarations of affection. She tells lyrical stories of unrequited romance, of post-breakup romance, of romances shattered by divorce, illness and death. But there are no straightforward "I love you and you love me" type of songs from Natalie Merchant. I don't know what a song like that would sound like, as written by Natalie, and I have a feeling I am not likely to ever find out.

And yet, These Are Days is, in my mind, a love song in its purest form. It's a song, by Natalie's own admission, about the euphoria of falling in love with being alive. While a phrase like "falling in love with being alive" might seem needlessly corny when you are just living another mundane day of life, when you are experiencing that feeling, it sounds just right.

Before Our Time In Eden was released, Natalie's lyric writing had rarely strayed from the path of dark, sober subject matter. While it is something she did brilliantly, one can't help but wonder if a song like These Are Days felt like a revelation to her fans when they first heard it. Natalie used the same powerful zeal she had for writing songs about injustice and sorrow to write a song of unabashed celebration.

Here are some quotes from Natalie about These Are Days:

"I was trying to put into words what it felt like to spend a long, cold winter in New England and have spring come and lilacs bloom and be riding my bicycle through the countryside. I have that same feeling every spring 'I've survived another winter!'"*

"On this album I let the songs tell me what they were about. If I was listening to a song and it made me feel extreme joy, I would think, 'What in my life has brought me extreme joy?' And then I would think, 'Spring. Walking in the forest.' Then I would write a song like These Are Days, about springtime and being young and strong and falling in love with being alive."**

"I've talked to many women about this, it's definitely the time of year for being aware of a lot of our maternal urges. Every spring, all the women I know suddenly want to be pregnant. We think of the possibilities of continuing life and having children. Usually that goes away by June, thank God. But April and May are definitely my 'I want a child, I want to be pregnant' months."***

After I read the above words, These Are Days took on a lot more meaning to me. The lyric "It's true, that you are touched by something that will grow and bloom in you" was already bursting with meaning, but thinking of those words in a very literal way added another layer to the beauty of this song. While I can't speak from experience, it's not hard to imagine feeling like "part of the miracles you see in every hour" when you are quite genuinely pregnant with possibility.

Today, as you are reading this blog post, it is probably just an average day for you as, sadly, that is how most days are prone to be. But in the near future, it is likely that you will have some reason, profound or simple, to feel May, in its many forms, rush over you with desire. When you are ready to celebrate, you'll be thankful to know that someone has written you the perfect soundtrack to that feeling. And hearing it playing might just feel a little bit like falling in love.

Click here to watch a video of Natalie performing (and rocking out to in a most endearing way) These Are Days

Download These Are Days (Live) from Itunes - These Are Days (Live) - MTV Unplugged: 10,000 Maniacs

*Buffalo News - July 1993
**Kansas City Star - November 1992
***Dallas Morning News - June 1993

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Bury Me Under the Weeping Willow / Down on Penny's Farm / Calico Pie

Bury Me Under the Weeping Willow (from the album The House Carpenter's Daughter; words by A.P. Carter)

Well, my heart is sad
and I am lonesome
for the only one I love
when shall we meet?
oh no never
till we meet in heaven above

So bury me underneath the willow
under the weeping willow tree
so that he may know
where I am sleeping
and perhaps he’ll weep for me

Well, he told me that
he dearly loved me
oh how could it be untrue?
until the angels softly whispered,
“he will prove untrue to you”

So bury me underneath the willow
under the weeping willow tree
so that he may know
where I am sleeping
and perhaps he’ll weep for me

Well, tomorrow was to be
our wedding day
but oh my god
where can he be?
he’s out a courting with another
and no longer cares for me

So bury me underneath the willow
under the weeping willow tree
so that he may know
where I am sleeping
and perhaps he’ll weep for me


Down on Penny's Farm (from the album The House Carpenter's Daughter; Traditional)

Come here ladies and gentleman
listen to my song
play it to you right
but you may think it wrong
may make you mad
but I mean no harm
it’s just about the renters
on Penny’s farm
it’s a hard time in the country
down on Penny’s farm

Go into the fields
and you work all day
deep into the night
but you get no pay
promise you some meat
or a little bucket of lard
it’s hard to make a living
on Penny’s farm
it’s a hard time in the country
down on Penny’s farm

Hear George Penny
he’ll be coming into town
with a wagon load of peaches
not a one of them sound
gotta get his money
gotta get a check
pay you for a bushel
but you never get a peck
it’s a hard time in the country
down on Penny’s farm

George Penny’s renters
they be coming into town
with their hands in their pockets
and their heads hanging down
go to the merchant
and the merchant he’ll say,
“your mortgage it is due
and I’m looking for my pay”
it’s a hard time in the country
down on Penny’s farm

Deep into his pocket
with a trembling hand,
“can’t pay you what I owe
but I’ll pay you what I can”
down to the merchant
and the merchant make a call
put you on the chain gang
don’t pay at all
it’s a hard time in the country
down on Penny’s farm


Calico Pie (from the album Leave Your Sleep; words by Edward Lear)

Calico Pie,
The little Birds fly
Down to the calico tree,
Their wings were blue
And they sang 'Tilly-loo!'
Till away they flew,—
And they never came back to me!
They never came back!
They never came back!
They never came back to me!

Calico Jam,
The little Fish swam,
Over the syllabub sea,
He took off his hat,
To the Sole and the Sprat,
And the Willeby-Wat,—
But he never came back to me!
He never came back!
He never came back!
He never came back to me!

Calico Ban,
The little Mice ran,
To be ready in time for tea,
Flippity flup,
They drank it all up,
And danced in the cup,—
But they never came back to me!
They never came back!
They never came back!
They never came back to me!

Calico Drum,
The Grasshoppers come,
The Butterfly, Beetle, and Bee,
Over the ground,
Around and around,
With a hop and a bound,—
But they never came back to me!
They never came back!
They never came back!
They never came back to me!

A couple of weeks ago on this blog, I wrote about my abiding love of old records. I mentioned several of the artists whose records served as a soundtrack for my youth, but there was one I left out. There was one record, one song specifically, that I think I listened to more than just about any song when I was kid - Pops Hoedown as performed by Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops Orchestra. The record cover for the album this song came from was a picture of a cowboy lassoing up some horses, as seen through a hole in a wooden fence.

So what was the appeal of this song to my childish heart? For one thing, it is the first song I ever thought of as being an "epic." It had a theatrical flourish to it and it clocked in at nearly seven minutes, which at that age felt like half an hour. Listening to that song felt like an event. Also, there were sound effects. A lot of them. And they somehow told a story all by themselves that made the song seem simultaneously grand and also very funny.

Given that an entire orchestra participated in the recording of this song, there are a lot of instruments featured. But the instrument that I most associate this song with is the fiddle. I believe that it was at this early age that I developed, unbeknownst to me at the time, a great love for the fiddle. A love that has endured to this day.

When I first listened to The House Carpenter's Daughter, I realized that the only thing that could possibly make the fiddle sound more glorious is the banjo. The two instruments come together in a perfect marriage, as if one instrument were simply made to accompany the other.

But now it's time to face some hard facts. While a few of you may be sitting at home nodding your heads in agreement at the previous sentences, many of you are feeling a bit wary, aren't you? You don't want to admit that you love the fiddle and the banjo. Perhaps you are telling yourself that you really don't love them; those instruments are for country folk. For people who do hoedowns. Well, I'm here to tell you that as a nearly lifelong resident of California, one of the un-countriest states in the world, that it is okay for you to embrace your love of the fiddle and banjo. It's okay to admit you love a good hoedown, even while refraining from participating in one yourself (which, if you too are from California, is really the wise course, trust me.) Don't be too cool to love the hoedown. Accept that your love of the hoedown may just be what defines your coolness. I know...I've rocked your world.

Or maybe not. Turns out, a variety of folk music styles have had a powerful surge in popularity in recent years. Well, I was fiddling it up when I was in diapers, so is it too late for me to act like I was ahead of the trend? It is? Oh. Alright then. I suppose now would be a good time to transition into our discussion of this week's songs.

Truthfully, I don't know if there are certain criteria that a song has to meet to be considered hoedown-worthy, but if Bury Me Under the Weeping Willow and Down on Penny's Farm don't qualify, I can't imagine why not. I find it difficult to sit still while listening to these two songs. Even if I'm sitting in a chair, my limbs seem to free themselves and form a very disorganized dance party whenever these songs come on. This can be a little disconcerting when one takes a moment to really pay attention to the dreadfully depressing lyrics of these two songs.

Bury Me Under the Weeping Willow features words that fall into that classic lyrical genre I like to call, "You-don't-love-me-so-I'm-gonna-kill-myself-music." The words are written from the female perspective, making this song a glorious feminist manifesto! "My intended loves me no longer, so what value does my own life have anymore? None, I say! To the noose with me!" I can't help but wonder if all of this young woman's misery is for naught. She finds out the bad news about her cheating partner via the whisper of angels? Sounds a little sketchy. Perhaps a little pre-wedding Xanax might have prevented this entire tragedy from taking place. (Why am I all of a sudden experiencing a sinking feeling that I am going to receive some unhappy reader e-mail this week?)

The lyrics to Down on Penny's Farm are a lot harder to make a joke about. (Harder, not impossible.) So many of the lyrics from folk music of the past told about the woes of poverty and oppression. But the musical style chosen to match these words is so varied. If you listen to a song like Owensboro, also from The House Carpenter's Daughter, you get an entirely different feeling than from a song like Down on Penny's Farm. While they are both about the abuse of the poor, Owensboro has music that matches the sorrowful tone of the words and because of that it is a deeply moving song. On the other hand, when you listen to Down on Penny's Farm, with its talk of corrupt merchants, chain gangs and working the fields slavishly all day and night, you dance around your house joyfully. It makes me feel a little guilty to enjoy this song so much, but then again, whoever wrote this song must've made the musical choice for a reason. I guess there are just different ways to express misery and perhaps try to forget it all at the same time.

As I said before, I'm not entirely sure whether or not there are stringent qualifications for what constitutes hoedown music, and so I can't say with certainty that Calico Pie should make the cut. But I know that it's uptempo and that there's fiddle and banjo on this song and that's all the qualification I need to rock out. Regarding the words to Calico Pie, written by Edward Lear, the first image I had in my mind when I heard the title of this song was something along these lines:

...although technically I think that might be closer to Tabby Pie. Anyhoo, turns out Calico Pie does not involve the destruction of multi-colored kittens, but refers to pie that has a mix of ingredients, or at least multi-colored ingredients, or...Okay, I'm still not entirely sure what Calico Pie is, but I sure do love the song. The words are delightfully silly and sung with sweetness by Natalie. I love the way she sings the line, "Butterfly, beetle and bee." The time Natalie spent researching, performing and recording the songs from The House Carpenter's Daughter, all of which were cover songs, must have helped her to write music in that style quite effectively, as evidenced on Calico Pie. I know I've said it before, but it's worth mentioning again how skillful she is, not just as a writer of lyrics, which she rightly gets the most attention for, but as a writer of music. Leave Your Sleep is all the evidence anyone could need of that.

Here is a quote from Natalie about The House Carpenter's Daughter (and freedom from a major record label) that I wanted to include in this week's post:

"It feels great to be able to just put my heart on my sleeve, say this is the music I like, hope you do, too, and not have to apologize for it or argue about where the single is. It just feels so great."

So now that you've finished reading this incredibly lengthy blog post (you are still here, aren't you?), why not take a moment to put on a little hoedown of your own? You need no fellow participants or dancing skills, just any music-playing device and a few good songs, perhaps starting with the ones we've just covered. Let your hair down. Embrace the inner fiddle-and-banjo lover in you. Natalie Merchant would approve.

Thanks for reading, see you next week!

Click here to watch a live performance of Calico Pie

Download Bury Me Under the Weeping Willow from Itunes - Bury Me Under The Weeping Willow - The House Carpenter's Daughter

Download Down on Penny's Farm from Itunes - Down On Penny's Farm - The House Carpenter's Daughter

Download Calico Pie from Itunes - Calico Pie - Leave Your Sleep

And if you are really curious, download one of the greatest songs ever, Pops Hoedown - Pops Hoe-Down - Pops Roundup

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Arbor Day / The Colonial Wing / Everyone a Puzzle Lover

Arbor Day (from the 10,000 Maniacs album The Wishing Chair)

Wide open falsehood
the clandestine truths
rival till the end
in a series of duels
pardon the drapery language I choose

"Waltz in Vienna" has taught me to use
every tall room a fiction
leather bound treasure books
up to the ceiling
gold spine upon spine

The guile and the treason
the faith and allegiance

Wide open falsehood
the clandestine truths
rival till the end
in a series of duels
pardon the drapery language I choose

The author grew fat to imagine
his lead pen careening
gave voice to the scheming
an Aryan cabal to dethrone

The guile and the treason
the faith and allegiance
to the empire unknown

The baron and his mistress
dine in fine banquet hall
as rebel insurgents plot in
the attic space crawl

Wide open falsehood
the clandestine truths
rival till the end
in a series of duels
pardon the drapery language I choose

His small hand did strive
to explain all the
rants and raves of
a people enslaved
by the cant of the shrewdest
capable men

The guile and the treason
the faith and allegiance
now lie in my hand

The guile and the treason
the faith and allegiance
now lie in my hand

The Colonial Wing (from the 10,000 Maniacs album The Wishing Chair)

Here is the storehouse of Her Majesty
well guarded by sentry
but looks are free

Call this the rayless and benighted age
witches by tallow candles
shifted their shapes

Here is the pestle and mortar
that ground the poison seed
a lute, a suit for jousting
and the poems of a balladeer
when all the Latin books were copied off
in golden script
hoarded away in
a monastery crypt

Superstition beyond belief

Over mountain, over dune and over sea
crude map and compass lead the caravan
and lead the fleet
here is the loot and plunder
they bore home
ivory tusk inlaid with precious stone
raw silk and spices by the barrel load
a soft skin drum with mallets
of human bone

A world wide rampage
rampage of greed

So here the tour concludes
the colonial wing
the rooms of the most refined
museum property

An early pair of spectacles
a claw footed divan
ornate clocks with birds that strut
on the half hours and quarter hours

Hear them chime

Everyone a Puzzle Lover (from the 10,000 Maniacs album The Wishing Chair)

Why are some men born
with minds that earn degrees?
the loving cups
gilded plaques
grace their study walls
hide the cracks
while their genius is turned
to works of tyranny then
off to market to market
go selling these

With words so fiery and persuasive
they steal cunningly
riches no one can exceed

Why are some men born
with a fate of poverty?
one firm bed
for a swollen back
year by year
the bodies wracked while
their obedience is had
with gradual defeat
by the pace by the pace
and the urgency

Through a muddled thought
they phrase it
"God knows we're deceived"
barter for
what they need

And where they go
disdain and jeering
for fools to call
the noble peasantry

O how it puzzles me

I pressed flat the accordion pleats
that had gathered in his cotton sleeves
while he thumbed
yes thumbed I wouldn't say caressed
the final piece
a mountain's crest
soon to reply assuredly

For a man aged ninety years
no words to waste on sermons
he'd be pleased to answer
short and sincere

"Girl there's a nonsense
in all these heaven measures
it's a heathen creed
so your grandma says
but better to live by...
drink it all in before it's dry"

He ended there with a rattle
cough, cough
I took away the long gone cold coffee cup
as a trail of Camel ashes fell
on the floor

I had a lot of musical influences in my home as a child. Each person in my family had wildly different tastes and I was prone to enjoying them all. But the person whose music stole my the heart the most was my father. I was a late-in-life child, to put it mildly, so the music he played in the house was stuff from bygone eras. In one house we lived in, he had a room dedicated to music-listening. He built speakers so huge that I could literally crawl inside the housing when the screens were off. He sound proofed the room. And he built his own record rack.

I was obsessed with those records. First of all, I loved the music itself, which was dominated by artists like Nat King Cole, George Shearing, and Count Basie, and lots of soundtracks to old Hollywood musicals like Singin' In the Rain, The Music Man, Oklahoma, etc. But in addition to the music itself, I loved the records, the physical objects. I used to go through them one at a time. I knew every cover by heart. I had stories in my head that went with every cover.

One of the records I remember the most vividly was a George Shearing album called Latin Lace. It featured a very risque (for the 1950s) picture of a woman on the cover, her completely exposed back to the camera, looking into a mirror with bedroom eyes and ample cleavage. I remember being both offended and endlessly intrigued by that picture, like I was looking at something secret. I wish that kind of album cover was all it took to be considered provocative nowadays. I miss that innocence.

I also remember the day my father brought home a CD player. He was thrilled, and in turn, I was too. He would talk endlessly about how clean the sound was, what a huge improvement the CD was over the record. He started replacing all those records with CDs and eventually, one-by-one, those records disappeared forever.

I do not consider myself to be an extremely nostalgic person, but in the last few years my longing for those records has grown considerably. Like most people, I listen to most of my music on an ipod or on CDs. I appreciate that clean sound my father told me so much about. But the older I've gotten, the more I've started to miss the imperfections of those old records. I miss the musty cardboard smell, the dust on the grooves. I miss the pop and hiss.

Several months ago I found myself in the wonderful Rasputin Records in Berkeley, here in California. I wandered my way down to the basement, the only suitable place for records to be kept. I could take the temptation no longer. I started buying records...and I haven't stopped since. I started with records from the era of music I loved as a child, from artists like Errol Garner, Henry Mancini, Ella Fitzgerald, and all the artists that I mentioned earlier. But I also started gathering up records from the other era of music that affected me the most, especially as I started growing to adulthood – the 80s. I bought records by artists like Elvis Costello, XTC, The Pretenders and, of course...10,000 Maniacs.

While all of the old music sounded perfect to me, I found that listening to these more “modern” artists was a bit of a mixed bag. Sometimes they just didn't sound right coming out of a record player. But listening to other albums, even ones I already knew well, on a record player was an absolute revelation. There is something about a record that brings a warmth that you don't find on the shiny, cold plastic of a compact disc. The Wishing Chair was one such album for me.

Although The Wishing Chair was the first full-length Maniacs album, it was the last album I purchased in completing my Natalie Merchant library. There are a lot of people who still firmly believe that The Wishing Chair is the Maniacs best album (I'm sure John Lombardo* appreciates that very much.) I understand this viewpoint. Musical nostalgia causes many people to favor an artist's first album over anything that comes after it, no matter how much progress they may have made in their craft. There is also something very precious about the enthusiasm and innocence of people making their first record. That enthusiasm and innocence comes across very clearly on The Wishing Chair and even though I've only been introduced to the album in recent years, I can appreciate those qualities when listening to the album...especially on record.

Let's talk about the music and vocals for these songs before we move on to the lyrics themselves. One of the reasons I find The Wishing Chair to be so charming is the lilting melodies on so many of the songs. Arbor Day is a great example of this. When listening to this song, it's very difficult to keep yourself from waltzing around the room in an overly dramatic fashion (something I struggle with even without having music on.) It almost sounds a bit like circus music. Everyone a Puzzle Lover, too, has a very agreeable melody. I'm impressed with how pretty these songs sound, considering how young and inexperienced the band were as writers and musicians.

On the other hand, The Colonial Wing is a great example of a typical first-album song. How many bands have fully identified their sound on their first record? Not many and certainly not 10,000 Maniacs. Even with the variety of styles on the album,The Colonial Wing still just doesn't fit on The Wishing Chair. It sounds like a bad R.E.M. song. (Am I the first to make a connection between R.E.M. and 10,000 Maniacs? How clever of me. What's that you say? Oh. Well then, nevermind.) The dissonance between the music and the vocals gets more and more jarring as the song gets closer to the ending. I find it painful, frankly. (How snobby do I sound?)

Lyrically, I don't think it can be denied that these songs are interesting. Natalie was only beginning to develop as a writer and I enjoy looking for patterns in these songs that would emerge in her music in a clearer fashion as time went by. Here are a few quotes from a very young Natalie about her approach to lyric-writing at the time:

"I love the pure sound of vowels and consonants and sometimes I've written lyrics that maybe didn't make as much clear sense as they could've, just because I preferred different words in that order."**

"At first, I was playing private games with words, and I wasn't even playing with other people. I think my desire to communicate more vividly, more directly, more clearly, happened with In My Tribe."***

That first quote in particular explains a lot about the style of the lyrics on The Wishing Chair. They are quite audacious. I think this lyric from Arbor Day sums up Natalie's early lyrical style perfectly: “Pardon the drapery language I choose...” I think she's done plenty to pardon herself in the many years since. Really, I don't think these are bad lyrics; they are occasionally lovely. They're just not...great. How did Natalie come to view those lyrics as time passed?

"Embarrassing. I was just so young. I feel like someone is peeling all my clothing off and I'm standing in Times Square and everyone is pointing at me.”****

"I started very young, and I don't think there's anybody - any professional of any sort, whether they're a carpenter or writer - who wants to be judged by the work they did at 16 when they're almost 50.”*****

Well, I really don't know what she's so worried about. It's not like someone is out there writing a blog about every single song she's...ever...

Um. Let's move on.

I'm going to keep collecting records, as many as I can fit in my tiny apartment. I love the chain that connects me to the past when I listen to them, even when I just look at them. The Wishing Chair is now over 25 years old. Listen to it on CD if you want. Download it from the links below if you prefer. But I think you should consider buying it on record. Even the cover of the album looks like it's made for a square piece of cardboard.

Nostalgia has its place.

See you next week!

*John Lombardo was a guitarist and songwriter for 10,000 Maniacs until he decided to leave the band shortly before they recorded In My Tribe. Oops.

Click here to see a video on Natalie's official site that features Arbor Day played in reverse, and also some other things...that...Well, maybe you should just watch it for yourself.

Download Arbor Day from Itunes - Arbor Day - The Wishing Chair

Download The Colonial Wing from Itunes - The Colonial Wing - The Wishing Chair

Download Everyone a Puzzle Lover from Itunes - Everyone a Puzzle Lover - The Wishing Chair

**Sounds, July 13, 1985
***Musician, August 1989
****People Magazine, July 1995
*****Los Angeles Daily News, August 2010

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Saint Judas / Jubilee

Saint Judas (from the album Motherland)

Saddle up the horses and wear your Sunday best
sing your Sacred Harp, you be holier than the rest
fill up the room with a grand and a thunderous song
let it rattle out the windows, let it spill out on the lawn
shout, shout your praises to the man who kissed the Lord
to the back stabbing brother that betrayed all of this world
your Judas!

Yea, though you may walk in the valley in the dark
there's no greater evil than the darkness in your heart
your stun guns, bloodhounds, needle and your razor wire
your nylon shackle whipping post and your high tech burning tire
your Judas!

Whiplash crack across the back, across the arms
although you bound his feet, he running fast he running hard
through them crickets in the corn and them horses in the field
hear the "caw, caw" of the crows
see the devil at the wheel y'all, Judas!

Go on down to Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas,
Oklahoma, Texas, Kentucky, Florida, Louisiana and Tennessee,
Georgia, Carolina, Carolina.


Jubilee (from the 10,000 Maniacs album Blind Man's Zoo)

He fills the flower vases
trims the candle bases
takes small change from the poor box
Tyler has the key

He takes nail and hammer
to tack up the banner
of felt scraps glued together reading
"Jesus Lives In Me"

Alone in the night he mocks
the words of the preacher
"God is feeling your every pain"

Repair the Christmas stable
restore the plaster angel
her lips begin to crumble
and her robes begin to peel

For Bible study
in the church basement
hear children Gospel citing
Matthew 17:15

Alone in the night he mocks
the arms of the preacher
raised to the ceiling
"tell God your pain."

To him the world's defiled
in Lot, he sees a likeness there
he swears
this Sodom will burn down

Near Sacred Blood there's a dance hall
where Tyler Glen saw
a black girl and a white boy
kissing shamelessly

Black hands on white shoulders white hands on black shoulders dancing...and you know what's more

He's God's mad disciple
a righteous title
for the Word he heard
he so misunderstood

Though simple minded
a crippled man
to know this man is to fear this man
to shake when he comes

Wasn't it God that let Puritans in Salem
do what they did to the unfaithful?

Boys at the Jubilee slowly sink into
brown bag whiskey drinking
and reeling on their feet
girls at the Jubilee
in low-cut dresses
yield to the caresses
and the man-handling

Black hands on white shoulders
white hands on black shoulders
dancing...and you know what's more

Through the tall blades of grass
he heads for the Jubilee
with a bucket in his right hand
full of rags soaked in gasoline

He lifts the shingles in the dark
and slips the rags there underneath
he strikes a matchstick on the box side
and watches the rags ignite

He climbs the bell tower of the Sacred Blood
to watch the flames rising higher toward the trees
sirens wailing now toward the scene

I find any kind of social science to be endlessly intriguing. Human beings are just so fascinating. So many human behaviors and thought patterns are extremely complicated, even when they don't seem to be on the surface. The connection between our brain functions and our behavioral patterns is frequently more subtle than we think.

What makes people behave in a prejudiced way? The answer is not always as obvious as you might think. Have you heard of the Implicit Association Test? It's a computer-based test that is designed to show how your subconscious thoughts affect your attitude towards different races, age groups and genders. For instance, one test shows that the vast majority of people when asked to express their thoughts on the subject, will say that they feel that women are just as capable as men are of achieving professional success. However, when a respondent, male or female, is shown a picture of a woman at the same time they are supposed to click on a word like “career” they have a significantly slower response time than when asked to do the same task while looking at a picture of a man. Interesting, no?

For obvious reasons, the IAT is controversial. Whether or not you buy into the science behind it, there is no denying the connection between the messages we pick up in our subconscious minds and our subsequent view of others. If implicit associations, things we may not even be fully aware are happening, are able to have a potentially powerful effect on our decision making, then what can be said of those who actively nurture, in themselves or others, an intense hatred for another group of people?

Although Natalie Merchant has gotten attention from the very beginning of her career for writing songs on weighty topics, she did not invent the wheel. People have been singing about injustice since the beginning of music/time. But this is not a blog about everybody else's music, it's about Natalie's. So today we will take a look at some of her musical contributions on the subject of hatred and the inevitable violence it produces.

Natalie explains the inspiration for Saint Judas this way:

“I wrote Saint Judas in response to an exhibition at the New York Historical Society that contained the most difficult images I had ever seen. It was the history of lynching in photography.”*

Saint Judas has always been one of my favorite songs on Motherland and I think it's one of Natalie's most powerful songs period. The music alone, with it's fierce rhythm section and banjo-pickin' badness, would be enough for me to enjoy the song thoroughly. When it comes to the lyrics, it's not just the words themselves but the way they are sung that makes this song so good.

“Getting people like Mavis Staples to sing on songs like Saint Judas made it even more authentic to me because she lived it. She grew up in Alabama, and she told me a story of her whole family being pulled over at gunpoint in Mississippi in '64. She asked me, 'What voice do you want for this song?' And I said, 'Just imagine you could talk to that man who was holding a gun to your sister's head, that cop down in Mississippi.' And she said, 'Okay, give me the microphone.' That's what you're listening to. That's the power of experience that comes through music.”**

That quote perfectly illustrates the reason why I always try to include interview excerpts from Natalie when I write these blog posts. Those little details add so much to my appreciation of the music and hopefully you feel the same way.

As a short aside, I must confess that I had a brief falling out with this song. Saint Judas was the song that was playing on my stereo when I got in the one and only serious car accident I've ever been in. My car was destroyed; fluids pouring out everywhere, tires knocked off wheels, a total mess. But my Motherland CD survived. Before my car was towed away to its final resting place, I grabbed my personal items, including the CD and distinctly remember the irony, relief and irritation I felt about the fact that my car was completely destroyed, but my CD didn't even have a scratch. I didn't listen to it for a while after that. Eventually I got over it, but then someone broke into my new car and stole that CD. Go figure. (By the way, if you are reading this post, Motherland thief, please contact me at and I will give you an address where you can return my CD along with a heartfelt apology note. Thanks.)

Jubilee, like Verdi Cries on In My Tribe, served as a great indicator of the musical direction Natalie was heading in. While she left her stamp on every Maniacs song, songs like Jubilee are particularly her own. (Quite literally, in fact. Jubilee was recorded with just Natalie and an orchestra. No other Maniacs were harmed in the making of the song.)

Jubilee is a story-song. It doesn't make its point directly. Instead, it allows you to draw your own conclusions. To me, the lyrics of Jubilee highlight our natural human tendency to want to join ourselves to people with similar interests, ideas and hopes as we have. Hateful people are no exception to this. One of the most powerful tools we have as human beings is our ability to persuade others. Religious leaders in particular have an extremely powerful role in influencing people's thoughts and actions. Sadly, in many cases they have used that influence to foster hate and fear in their followers, instead of love and hope.

Here is what Natalie has said about the lyrics to this song:

"It all happens on a symbolic level. Tyler is the innocent lamb - he has a mental handicap. The preacher seems to me to be a very disturbed man. His powerful sermons, concentrating on vengeance and righteousness, are manipulating Tyler to the point where he believes that the only way that he can serve God is by destroying what's evil, what's carnal. And to him, that's a dance hall where there are interracial couples, because he's been taught that there should be no mixing of the races, and no mixing of the sexes except in marriage. So he burns it down."***

Don't you find it interesting that Natalie says the preacher “seems to me” to be a disturbed man? It is as if the characters in this song wrote themselves and exist separately from her authorship. I wonder what it would be like to be so talented as a writer that I could write characters who seemed so real, even to me, that I could look at them as their own people, not just as my creations.

In closing today's post, it must be said that I am simply not a good enough writer to do justice to these topics. I'm not even a good enough writer to do justice to the songs. And yet, week after week, you keep reading. Maybe your subconscious is tricking you into faithfully following this blog? Well, one way or another, thank you. I struggled to write this post more than usual and then after I finally finished, everything but the first two paragraphs disappeared permanently. (Thanks,!) The prospect of re-writing this post filled me with such despair that I briefly entertained the notion of just giving up on this blog forever. (I'm dramatic.) But I can't help myself. I'm still having a good time. Thanks for reading and see you next week.

Click here to watch a live performance of Saint Judas

Download Saint Judas from Itunes - Saint Judas - Motherland

Download Jubilee from Itunes - Jubilee - Blind Man's Zoo

*Elektra Press Release, 2002
**Borders Magazine, 2002
***Melody Maker, May 1989