Saturday, December 12, 2009

Ship Out Of Luck

"The Mermaid Song", as recorded by Bascom Lamar Lunsford, was the inspiration for this song. I couldn't get the verses or chorus out of my head so I listened to it on repeat until changed the lyrics in my head and started to sing about pirates and mutiny...

It is a lovely sea shanty in its original form. For The Union Electric, it is yet another song about economic woe. The tune and part of the shipwreck story is borrowed from Lunsford's recording. The traditional folk song was also the basis of a Carter Family song. The Union Electric version takes the sailors and storms and throws in an anti-imperialist theme. This song will eventually be part of a May Day Orchestra folk opera about colonialism, imperialism and piracy.


it was a dark black night when we set sail,
off on this journey of ours
the captain, he spied some golden thing
off on a foreign shore
up spoke the captain of this pirate ship,
what kind of man was he?
he said he'd seen a rich land on the distant shore and
tonight we will plunder that town
oh, the ocean waves may roll and the stormy winds may blow,
while we poor sailors are raiding the town
and haul the loot back to the ship

it was another dark night when we set sail,
then we was plundering again
we the sailors sit up on the mast
and the rest of the world rests below
up spoke the cook of this hungry ship,
said it's been days since we ate
beware the merchants and the tides
but we must find something to eat
oh, the ocean waves may roll and the stormy winds may blow,
while we poor sailors go towing the lines
while the treasure weighs the whole ship down

another black night when we set sail,
saw a port with many ships
it was the trade fleet of the king of the land,
those ships protected by the law
up spoke the mate of this gallant ship,
a well-spoken man was he
he said in these waters, once you launch,
there will be no going back
oh, the ocean waves may roll
and the stormy winds may blow
while we poor sailors are caught on board
while the ship is sinking down
throw the treasure overboard,
the ship is sinking down

Friday, December 4, 2009

You Have Been Served

I found Lincoln Steffens' collection of articles, bound under the title "The Shame Of The Cities", in the Saint Louis Public Library. It's hidden away amidst the 7-story shelves, pneumatic tubes and glass floors of the stacks.
The story reminded me of the more recent scam to get the tax-payers of Saint Louis to fund a baseball stadium but this turn-of-the-last-century setting is more suited to the song. Either way, not much changes in Saint Louis politics.

It was still the era of Stagger Lee when the Suburban Railway scandal broke. Joseph Folk was elected circuit attorney of Saint Louis in 1900. During his campaign, he promised to fight corruption and those in power backed his appointment. In early 1903, he used an article by newspaper reporter Red Galvin to begin an invesitgation of the Suburban Railway Company. The embezzlement scheme involved in this business began to unravel and expose other corrupt operations. Folk prosecuted the very business leaders and law-makers that had encouraged his anti-corruption promises.

Joseph W. Folk (1869–1923) was elected Governor of Missouri for one term after his weeding of corrupt machine politics in the river city. Like John P. Altgeld, the Illinois politician, Folk also ruined his government career by doing the right thing. In Altgeld's case, he pardoned the three surviving Haymarket martyrs and had them released from jail.

You Have Been Served

no one on the farm, they've all gone to town
no one in the factory, the factory closed down
if you want a job, it's the service industry
all kinds of service with looting on the side
just another day in this shameful town,
we stand around and watch the whole rotten deal go down
they meet in south Saint Louis to pool their wealth,
enough to fix all the elections
a new standard of a honest man is one that stays bought once you pay him

corruption to the breaking point
Red Galvin take the lid off, look at this mess inside
the circuit attorney is hired to fight the criminals,
the easiest ones to find float right up to the top
a man named Folk stands alone, stand down they say,
let the status quo continue, let things go their way
selling out the people, that's bribery
the oldest tradition in our democracy

lick up and spit down, lick up and spit down,
now you have been served, you have been served
set the bribe-givers against the bribe-takers
take the whole thing down because bribery is treason

Thursday, December 3, 2009


This song was originally recorded by the May Day Orchestra, with lyrics based on the testimony of Louis Lingg at his trial for his role in the Haymarket incident. His speech in court, delivered in his native German at his sentencing, included the line ending in "I despise you, hang me for it". Though four of the other convicted anarchists were hung in 1887, Lingg blew himself up in his jail cell before he could be executed. Several other lines in the song are adapted from quotes by either Lingg or one of the seven other Haymarket martyrs.


if they didn't surpress us, we wouldn't have to speak up
if they didn't attack us, we wouldn't have to fight back
if our rights weren't violated there'd be no reason to rebel
this land is not free, only for fools
I don't recognize your law
I don't find you honorable
I despise you, hang me for it

The system is brutal and so are its thugs
they only know force, they only know violence
this land is not free, only for fools
why waste words, like carrying water to the sea
learn to use explosives and set yourself free

The First Union Electric Record

The Union Electric's first recording will be available this month. The official release show is Wednesday, December 23 at Off Broadway in scenic Saint Louis, MO.
Just in time for the holiday-shopping season, this handsome 3-song, 7-inch record features a custom painted cover by local artist Dana Smith. His art is viewable at his website or

A limited number of transparent yellow copies will be available at the live shows. Standard black vinyl copies are also available at local record stores and digital downloads of the tracks are available on itunes and through bandcamp.

The record features a re-working of the song "Sentence", originally written for the May Day Orchestra as well as two others. "You Have Been Served" fills out Side A with a tale of economic woe and corruption. Side B features "Ship Out Of Luck", a folk song about pirates and economic woe. Members of Grace Basement, Ben Phillips and Kevin Buckley (who also recorded the tracks), play on this song.
A blog posting about each song will follow this one.

advance copies available
through the mail:
PO BOX 63098

Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Folk Opera Concerning the Congo Situation and the Life of Ota Benga

The following is the text of the program distributed at the first performance of The May Day Orchestra's new piece.

1/ Never A Fair Wind Home

Ota Benga, the narrator of most of the story, was a pygmy from the territory once claimed as the Belgian Congo. He was born around 1881 and suffered the loss of his wife and children at a young age as the colonial enterprise overtook his former home in the forest. European colonialists, along with foreign and domestic mercenaries, terrorized many villages. Ota Benga returned from an elephant hunt to find his people victims of one such massacre.

2/ Dreamed Another Circus

The territory of the Congo was explored and made known to the western world by such men as Henry Morton Stanley. He became a celebrity of his day when he found the more benign David Livingstone, presumed missing in an unknown region of Africa. In this part of the story, Ota Benga, who was captured by a neighboring tribe and later sold to a white man at a slave market, believes he has died and is on a journey to the next world. That he is. Philips Verner, a curator for the anthropology exhibition of the World’s Fair, acquires Ota and several other pygmies and puts them on a ship. Here he dreams.

3-4/ Forced March I (Death Walks Along This Road)

After Stanley’s “discovery” of the Congo, his employer, King Leopold II of Belgium, and other European monarchs had a clearer map of Africa. In Berlin, in 1885, they each stuck a claim, having never seen the land itself. Leopold demanded the Congo territory as his personal colony.

Ota Benga was one of the millions of victims of slavery. Though the Atlantic trade had fallen out of favor in the western world, Leopold devised other methods of forced labor. The rubber and ivory trades enslaved much of the population, pitting whole villages against each other in a struggle to survive. The Europeans also employed and armed ex-criminals and other undesirables, sending them to the colonies to make their living with a hope of finding their fortune.

5/ The Irish Orphan

At this point in the story, Roger Casement is introduced. Casement was an Irishman who became the British Consul in the Congo. On his last trip to the area, he found the population decimated and began to inquire where all the people had gone. He met William Shepherd, a black American missionary who had been warmly welcomed by various tribes. Shepherd, as well as Edmund Morel and Joseph Conrad, informed Casement’s report to the British which condemned the state of Leopold’s colony. Shepherd and Morel found themselves at the center of one of the first international human rights causes.

6-7/ Forced March II (The Horror)

Roger Casement’s report on the Congo begins to cause trouble for Leopold’s colonial reign. Unfortunately, the damage had been done. Leopold had masqueraded as a compassionate ruler trying to help his poor subjects develop their country. This was done with the aid of one of the world’s first international, and overtly false, public relations campaigns. This method was dependent on fixing and censoring whatever news got out to the world from his colony. The death toll of this post-slave-trade era amounted to genocide and the total numbers do not include all the people who continued to live with mutilated limbs. Severed hands and other body parts were used by the mercenaries to prove how many they had killed, but just as often they took a trophy and the victims survived.

8/ The Spectacle

Ota Benga existed as a living anthropology exhibit at the Saint Louis World’s Fair for much of the year 1904. The Apache chief called Geronoimo was also at the Fair. He gave Ota an arrowhead that he had carved. The pygmy was well-liked and he entertained many visitors to the Fair. Some incidents did occur, whether attributed to anger or a sense of mischief (probably both). After 1904, Ota Benga eventually became an attraction at the Bronx Zoo. After some scandal about a man living in a cage, he was moved to an orphanage for colored children.

9/ The Execution Of Sir Roger Casement

Roger Casement joined the independence movement upon his return to Ireland and was accused of treason by the British. Even though they had previously employed him and knighted him for his service, he was condemned for his political stance. Amidst scandal and rumors of homosexuality, Casement was executed by hanging in 1916.

10/ The Suicide Of Ota Benga

Ota Benga lived out his final years in Lynchburg, Virginia where he found friends in an African American community. Many people called him “Otto Bingo”. He had little source of income and with the beginning of World War I, Ota Benga found it increasingly difficult to find a way to go back home. In 1916, he shot himself. The war over natural resources in the Congo continues to the present.

If interested in finding out more details of this story, there are several books as well as sites on the internet. For Ota Benga’s story, there is a biography called “Ota: The Pygmy in the Zoo” by Phillips Verner Bradford and Harvey Blume. There are a few biographies of Roger Casement from various perspectives and time periods. For the Congo history, Adam Hochschild’s book “King Leopold’s Ghost” is a good place to start. Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” is also recommended.

The Ota Benga Family Band:

Dave Anderson – pedal steel, keyboard, banjo, trumpet

Melissa Anderson – electric guitars, electric bass, lap steel

Kevin Buckley – fiddle

Tim Rakel – acoustic guitar, banjo, kalimba

Josh Weinstein – acoustic bass

Mary Williams - drums

The first May Day Orchestra folk opera, “May Day, Or Songs For Lucy Parsons” is available as a 12” vinyl record. The tracks may also be downloaded from several internet music sites.

For more information,

drop an old-fashioned line to:

Folk Opera Records

PO Box 63098

Saint Louis MO 63163

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Twitter My Face

-so the FBI doesn't have to work so hard...

Please connect your-my-space account to your-face-book and your-twitter (whatever a twitter is). This way our federal government will save time and therefore tax money when paying security agencies to monitor this stuff.

Remember, reporting everything you do keeps us all safe

Monday, October 12, 2009

Never A Fair Wind Home

The May Day Orchestra will perform its second "Folk Opera" on Friday, October 30 at the Black Bear Bakery in Saint Louis. This debut performance will take place at the anarchist co-operative cafe where the first May Day project began.
The band is different this time, with Tim Rakel as the only member in common with the first ensemble. The Ota Benga Family Band, as the Orchestra is calling itself this time, consists of Kevin Buckley of the band Grace Basement, Melissa Anderson, Dave Anderson and Mary Williams of the band Tenement Ruth. More musicians may be added for performances after this month's debut.
The sound of this musical piece, titled "Never A Fair Wind Home", is also different than the first folk opera. There are fiddles, trumpets, guitars and banjo as in the previous work, this time with the addition of pedal steel and lap steel guitars, as well as drums.
The subject of this folk opera is also different but comes from a similar time period as the first. The subject is Ota Benga, a pygmy who was bought at a slave market in the Congo and brought to the United States for the 1904 World's Fair in Saint Louis. The songs tell some of the Congo's colonial history and follow Ota Benga on his journey to his strange new home. A coincidental story about Roger Casement, an Irish patriot once in the employ of King Leopold, is also told.
See the previous post from May 2009 labelled "Ota Benga" for more detail.
A biography of Ota Benga by Philips Verner Bradford informs much of the historical detail. Bradford is the grandson of the man, Philips Verner, who bought and brought Ota Benga to the Fair.
The performance on October 30 begins at 8PM. The Black Bear Bakery is located at 2639 Cherokee Street in Saint Louis, MO.

The May Day Orchestra's first recording "May Day, Or Songs For Lucy Parsons" is available in vinyl format from A-Pop Records, Black Bear Bakery and Vintage Vinyl. As of this week, the tracks are also downloadable from iTunes, and other internet stores.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

The Tasmanian Tiger

I just got an email earlier this week that September 6, 1936 was the day the last surviving Thylacine died in captivity in a Tasmanian zoo. The Thylacine was a marsupial predator that lived "down under" until the entire species was hunted to extinction.
There's a band from Columbia, MO called Ptarmigan who wrote a song about the animal as well. I'll have to set up a show with them sometime.
Coincidences always seem to occur in my basement at the end of each summer, so this past weekend, on the anniversary of Thylacine's extinction, The Union Electric was practicing its newest song, an adaptation of the poem "Thylacine" by Stefene Russell, set to some chords I assigned to it and some riffs that the band contributed.


From Stefene Russell's series of "dead species" poems


suitcase jaw, knife stripes
they eat the bones

no bloody feathers blowing
against the salty grass
and the chimera shadow
the flip book
with jowly wolf head and hindquarters
of a tiger and a middle part
that we don't know how to name

the farmer's children slam the closet door
pull the hems of coats and dresses over their eyes
at the thought of croupy barking

but the gait
three animals put together
the book says awkward, though tireless
like the one who can't keep up
far down the path
three rhythms
that trip off a little migraine of the heart


Everything I write now seems to be about people (and now animals) in cages. Apparently my cover songs and adaptations are falling into the same subject catagory.

May Day 8

Some random facts:
Lucy Parsons wrote a biography of her late husband in the 1890s.
On July 7, 1905, she was present at the founding convention of the Industrial Workers of the World.
One of her children, Albert, Jr., was a politically reactionary youth and died in an asylum at a young age.
Lucy Parsons continued her activism among the socialists, communists and anarchists of the early 1900s, continuing to be a figure of controversy wherever she went.
She died in a house fire at an old age.

The Red Flag (another last song for Lucy Parsons)

it's the widows and the orphans who will carry on
they carry on through all of this despair
with a faith as quiet as an altar in your front room
not a street corner preacher, someone so hellbent on your doom
so light a candle for each and every saint
carry on and light one for all eight
you have nothing but the dream that you hold dear
carry on and keep the red flag flying here

all you toilers, take the tools
and all you workers, take what you produce
you have nothing but the ideal which you hold dear
carry on and keep the red flag flying here
they want you passive, they want you disorganized
they want you in factions, fearing for your lives

Thursday, September 3, 2009

May Day 7

Part Seven is somewhat out of place in the Haymarket chain of events. The focus is off Lucy Parsons for a moment after the death of her husband and the other three hanged martyrs. Chronologically this figures in as the period where others were attracted to anarchism by the events in Chicago. Among them were Emma Goldman, Alexander Berkman and Voltairine de Cleyre.

The sub-title is borrowed from a Charles Kerr book, referring to he principle of syndicalism that encourages workers to rebuild society in the wreckage of capitalism.

I discovered the writings of both Jaroslav Hasek and Vachel Lindsay while working at Dunaway Books in 2003. Hasek was a Czech writer who lived 1883-1923, the same dates as Kafka, but in other parts of Prague. The two did meet but lived very different lives. He was arrested at least once for tearing down Austrian flags during the Great War.
Vachel Lindsay was a poet from Springfield, Illinois. He grew up and lived in a house once inhabited by part of the Lincoln family. He spent many of his early years walking through the country, avoiding railroads and begging for meals. He traded printed poems and performances for people's hospitality. Sort of an early spoken word artist and touring singer. One of his poems mentions sewing together a patchwork flag from the of emblems of all the nations torn apart.

Ragged Flag Blues (from the shell of the old)

I'm going to the grave for all of my crimes
I stole some bread and this tune because I needed them
I'm going to the grave for all of my crimes
with the state the world is in you'll not be far behind

I tore down the flag in the town square
I tore that flag to pieces
tear all the flags down, put them back together
so to sew them all together, piece them back together

May Day 6

Albert Parsons fled north to Wisconsin to hide out after the Haymarket events. The Chicago Police were rounding up any and all anarchists and labor leaders for the crimes.
I imagined this as his last letter from prison, one of the few things in the May Day set of songs I didn't lift from actual speeches and writings. Some details are true though, Parsons stopped using black hair dye and lived under another identity.

Death Letter

It's Chicago's death row for me now
but they allowed this last letter
it was the hope of some justice that turned me back
i should have known better

kiss me, i don't know when or if i'll see you again
flee north to another town, let my hair grow white
take on another name and start another life
kiss me, i don't know when or if i'll see you again
this place will make you a tyrant or they'll have you a slave
i'll stand with you here in between as long as i may

Neither god nor chance can save me now
but they allowed this last letter

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

May Day 5

It's been a while since I've posted things here - even longer since I started the May Day series of postings. So, since it's "labor day" weekend...
The May Day vinyl album is out in stores and the tracks will be available soon on the internet as well.

Here's what Chris King thought about the demo version

Side B - I sang the first three lines of this one at a band practice with Glenn Burleigh and knew this song was written for The Union Electric too. There are two versions already released on LP and CD by the May Day Orchestra but I've recorded yet another for a Union Electric release.
The subtitle and repeated lines "this land is not free, only for fools" comes from one of the Haymarket martyrs' writings. Several of the lines are also taken from Louis Lingg, most notably his protest to the judge of his sentence in court which ended with the line "I despise you, hang me for it".

Sentence (this land is not free)

if the police didn't surpress us, we wouldn't have to speak up
if they didn't attack us, we wouldn't have to fight back
if our rights weren't violated there'd be no reason to rebel
this land is not free, only for fools
I don't recognize your law
I don't find you honorable
I despise you, hang me for it

The system is brutal and so are its thugs
they only know force, they only know violence
this land is not free, only for fools
why waste words, like carrying water to the sea
learn to use explosives ... set yourself free

Friday, June 5, 2009

Some relatively new songs

The Union Electric has a web page at

Demo versions have been posted.

The songs up on the internet right now include "Sentence", a rock version of a song I wrote for the May Day Orchestra, based on the trial testimony of Louis Lingg.

"Ship Out Of Luck" is based on Bascom Lamar Lunsford's "Mermaid Song" but our version is about a pirate ship and mutiny.

Finally "Day Of The Dead" is a short number inspired by a sarcastic yet firmly existentialist quote by Samuel Beckett.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Ota Benga

Ota Benga was a pygmy that lived in a zoo for a time. I couldn't make this up. He appeared at the World's Fair in Saint Louis in 1904 after being captured from the Congo. He was put on display in the anthropology exhibit at the Fair, his alternative being a life of dodging the mercenaries of King Leopold and various Belgian traders.
Roger Casement, an Irishman, visited the Congo and wrote a report about the atrocities he saw in Africa. This subsequently led to worldwide indictments of Leopold's colonial exploits. Ota Benga's family was among those killed in the years of genocide. He thought the white men from the US came from the land of the dead to take him back with them, so he went.
These are the major characters, both orphans, of my next Folk Opera, to be performed by The May Day Orchestra and the adjunct Ota Benga Family Band. Some of the other historical figures that enter the story are William Henry Sheppard, Henry Morton Stanley and Joseph Conrad.
Ultimately, in 1916, both protagonists died. Roger Casement, involved in the World War as well as the Irish independence movement, was executed for treason at the hands of the British. Ota Benga committed suicide after living twelve years in his strange new home.

More on this later.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Reviews Are In ...

The Union Electric is made up of well-known St. Louis musician Tim Rakel, Glenn Burleigh, and Eric Stockman. While the Union Electric has only been performing for a short time, their music has generated a strong reaction, but not from music critics. Strangely, while their pairing of pro-worker lyrics and country/folk influenced song writing has yet to gain them musical acclaim, it has ignited a firestorm on America’s political right.

Some excerpts follow:

“After years of warning my collegues, it is my hope that the emergence of yet another left-wing country band, The Union Electric, will finally convince my fellow members of congress that it is necessary to pass my bill, H.R. 9875, more commonly known as the “Screw Jay Farrar and Steve Earle Act of 2009”.”

-Republican House Whip, Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia

“The fact that The Union Electric, made up of documented anti-freedom activists Tim “May Day” Rakel, Glenn “All Power to the Soviets” Burleigh, and Eric “Von Damage” Stockman, are allowed to perform in pubic, is reason enough for Texas to secede from the Union.”

-Texas Governor Rick Perry


-RNC Chair Michael Steel

“The longer The Union Electric is allowed to perform, the more states will legalize gay marriage. It’s that simple. Both are abominations, affronts to God, and both must be stopped.”

-Pat Robertson

“It is well known that members of The Union Electric own copies of both the Communist Manifesto and the Qu’ran. The fact that these “musicians” are allowed to pollute the hearts and minds of American citizens stands as proof that the way of life that our fighting men and women have died for is in danger of extinction.”

-Fox News’ Glenn Beck

“There are two primary threats to western civilization. One is the Employee Free Choice Act, which would allow workers to freely choose to join a union, free of employer intimidation and firings. The other is The Union Electric.”

-US Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Tom Donohue

“When I hear bands like The Union Electric, I have no doubt as to why we are losing the War on Drugs.”

-Former First Lady Nancy Reagan

Monday, April 13, 2009

Record Store Day

originally posted 4/13 and updated 4/23

Hey everyone -
The May Day Orchestra 12" record was made available for Record Store Day this past Saturday, April 18.
Record Store is a fictional holiday created to help save the dying independent record stores throughout the country.
My friend Robert Sarazin Blake and I played at Vintage Vinyl on the sidewalk in front of the store. Sanctioned busking in University City. They even had a PA and a sound man. Thanks to everyone who stopped and listened.
A-Pop and Euclid Records also had live bands that day. I caught part of the A-Pop sets, which were very cool.
Anyway, the May Day record is out at those three record stores as well as Black Bear Bakery. It will also be available at two gigs next week. The May Day Orchestra returns to Black Bear Bakery on May 1 and will play at City Art Supply the following evening as well.
Firecracker Press made some special posters that will be sold with the record while supplies last.

Sarazin Blake says it best, don't buy our record because we need the money, buy our record because it's a good one.

thanks for your support

Monday, April 6, 2009

A Union Electric

A new band called The Union Electric debuts next Saturday, April 18, at Off Broadway in Saint Louis. My friend Eamon Toney from the band Bridgeton Air Defense came up with the name, which we used for one short set when his band backed me up.
The Union Electric features Glenn Burleigh, former bass player of The Adversary Workers, and Eric Von Damage, former drummer of The Adversary Workers and Corbeta Corbata as well as Bunnygrunt's current drummer. Our first bunch of songs include re-arranged material from Bad Folk and The May Day Orchestra as well as some new songs.
We will share the stage with our friend Robert Sarazin Blake, from Bellingham, Washington. Look his records up through his labels Same Room Records and Art Of The Underground.

Monday, February 23, 2009

May Day 4

Part Four of the May Day Folk Opera.
German anarchists are on trial with the verdict already decided. Jay Gould, a rich industrialist of the time, had boasted that he could hire one half of the working
class to kill the other half.

Fighting words.

Only one of the men convicted of the crimes at Haymarket was actually present the night of the events in question.


railroaded to the scaffold, railroaded at express speed
railroaded to the scaffold, railroaded to the scaffold

they hire only half of us to kill the other half
these robber barons of this gilded age
a railroad through Chicago and the judges are appointed
appointed by the ones who own the railway lines

now people lose faith in a system such as this
no wonder one would turn to anarchy
now there are eight men put away in this prison
put on trial for philosophy

some of us are foreigners, all of us are workers
striking for wages and the eight hour day
but some of us want more, more than a written law
some of us want freedom, nothing less than freedom

now we stand convicted, just like we predicted
we are guilty of saying what was true and clear
against that mob of rich men we committed just one sin
we are guilty of saying that their end is near

the voices they strangle will still be heard
oh death is the leveller
and after this which side will you remember?

railroaded to the scaffold, railroaded at express speed
railroaded to the scaffold, railroaded to the scaffold

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

May Day 3

The third part of the May Day folk opera is the Haymarket event itself. This has been documented so many times that I neglected to write words to describe it.
One of the better sources for the whole story surrounding this is Paul Avrich's 'The Haymarket Tragedy'.
Brien Seyle wrote the tune.
I've re-used it as the "hanging theme" in our next work when Roger Casement is put to death by the British government.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

May Day 2

The story begins with the principle characters, Lucy Parsons and her husband Albert. He was a civil war veteran who had become a union printer. He met Lucy Gonzalez in Waco, Texas. She was a seamstress and a thinker in common with Albert's views of social and political structures. Gonzalez was of varied ancestry, not only was she a mixed-blood African-American in the south but her other lineages were Mexican and indigenous. The bi-racial couple stood out already and on top of that they began publishing subversive literature. They moved away from Texas to Chicago in the early 1870s and found an environment no more welcoming, however they were not so isolated in their views and activism in the large city with its population of working class German immigrants. Once again, the text of this song comes, in part, from the writings and speeches of Albert Parsons and other Chicago anarchists.


up from Waco, where we're not welcome
up from Waco to Chicago
to the center of the storm
to the center of the storm
I said I still see slaves with longer chains
they said leave town or you will hang

you can vote for bread clothes and shelter
you can vote but they won't give you these things
leaders make the laws and live real comfortable
live off you workers like foreign kings

what you produce is no guarantee
toil and pray your time is gold
your time is gold and when you have no means
that's what gets sold, that's what gets sold

I said I still see slaves with longer chains
they said leave town or you will hang

Friday, February 13, 2009

May Day 1

This is the official overture of the May Day Orchestra's first folk opera, musically and lyrically. The title refers to The Alarm, a newspaper published by Albert Parsons and Lucy Parsons, the main inspiration behind the whole piece.
I added the first couplet during the last edit of the whole composition, actually after the initial performance. The opening lines are shared by another song of mine but I thought it also fit into this whole set of songs quite well. The first line originally came from a Kenyan folk song lamenting that there were no young people left to take over the planting when Nairobi started to attract them away from their rural homes. The second (or third) folk opera will be set in Kenya. Anyway, I added the second line to bring it back to midwestern America, the rust belt and Chicago. The refrain, "this land has no wealth", was taken from the collected writings and speeches of Micahael Schwab. He was one of the Haymarket Eight and he eventually made it out of prison alive with a pardon from Illinois Governor Altgeld.
Some exposition in the verse where the horns come in gets repeated in the next song. I added the last set of lines because it is the godless anarchists who are the heroes of this story. Their opponents, in part, are the unthinking masses, indirectly controlled by the police and the christians, and convinced by the media that the anarchist cause was unpatriotic and harmful. We pull no punches here in the May Day Orchestra.


no one on the farm
they've all gone to town
no one in the factory
the factory's been shut down

fields will lie fallow
machines will lie broken
this land has no wealth
without the workers
this land has no wealth

toil and pray
when you have no means
when what you produce is no guarantee
when they don't pay enough to buy bread
strikes across the country
the railway runs across the country
the policeman's club is brought down
on six days of the week
the preacher's bible is seven
brought down on the meek

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Dostoevsky broke my left knee

"Arielle Greenberg and Rachel Zucker are posting a series of poems relating in their own ways to Obama's first 100 days in office (one written for each day)and yesterday was my day". So writes my friend BJ Soloy from Des Moines last week.
Check out his poem (day 17) at "Also,if you happen to be in yr local big box book retailer for some reason, look for Court Green 6, which I also snuck in".
I'm curious as to what Obama's reaction to the poem would be if he ever read it. I stole Mr. Soloy's words for this blog, I've borrowed quite a few lines from him over the years and given him a couple co-writing credits when I remembered where I stole them. It would be nice to have him around Saint Louis again for that and the fact that he's a fine guitar picker, a drummer and a clawhammer banjo player. I should have figured he'd end up in poetry journals back when we were in school together. He'd leave haikus and such under the windshield wipers of cars he knew. At least I suspect it was him. He came up with the rhyme "Dostoevsky / broke my left knee" which I've never been able to use, as long as it's been kicking around in my head. He said that one day that we skipped high school to go see Neil Gaiman give a talk at the Washington University art school. Gaiman said when you sit down at a desk, you can either write or continue to sit there doing nothing. I'm not sure where I fall in since I'm standing on the clock at the library counter while I'm typing this.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Folk Opera as form

The May Day Orchestra will soon release a vinyl LP called "May Day - Songs For Lucy Parsons". This is the first in a projected series of "folk operas". You may have heard of "poetry scores" and their combination of various art forms to make a new one. This is sort of the same idea. Ours may be unconsciously related to traditional opera (a word that literally means a "work"). Classical composers took poetry and set it to music. Tchaikovsky's took on Pushkin and
Shostakovich took works from Garcia Lorca, Yevtushenko and many others. In the next few posts, I'll be putting out the lyrics to the May Day record, derived not from poetry but pamphlets, trials and speeches from the historical record.

Also, Bad Folk's record "Part Of The Problem" is now available for download at

Monday, February 2, 2009

groundhog day

Wear corduroy and go bowling - no, really, these are the traditions of Groundhog Day as celebrated in many mid-western American towns and cities. Both corduroy pants and shirts are acceptable. Bowling is also highly encouraged on this day, though the origins of the traditions are obscure, like most holidays celebrated in many mid-western American towns and cities.
Ideally, one will spend the evening if not the entirety of the day of the groundhog in a bowling alley, drinking some kind of beer and wearing corduroy. It is amusing to bowl while wearing corduroy pants and a 10-pin handicap is allowed.
Groundhog Day, featuring Bill Murray, is also a very funny film. My favorite trivial information about this is that it was filmed not in Pennsylvania but in Woodstock, Illinois, fairly close to Chicago. You can see the mansion where the bed and breakfast was located as well as the town square and the church that Bill Murray jumps from to kill himself on one particular day.

Monday, January 12, 2009

"the way of the dodo"

Bad Folk's second full length effort "Part Of The Problem" was recorded in February 2008 and mixed over the following two months. It was eventually mastered late that summer. The record has not seen any proper release as it's makers disbanded in late October of that year.
Yer Bird Records hosted the album for a year on their digital label, The Aviary.
This site has been taken down as of the beginning of 2010.

-updated 2010 from original post

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

mayday mayday

That's May Day, two words, as in the Worker's Holiday, celebrated nearly everywhere in the world except the United States. An international labor day intended to unite the working class and rid the planet of nationalism, capitalism and imperialism.

The May Day Orchestra, named for the holiday, is a collective band formed in April of 2008 to write and play compositions in the "folk opera" style. The first of these pieces is a set of songs which revolve around Lucy Parsons, her husband Albert Parsons, and a host of other anarchists involved in the labor movement in Chicago from the 1870s through the creation of the IWW (Industrial Workers Of The World) in 1905.

The May Day Orchestra is Tim Rakel and Joey Gavin, formerly of the band Bad Folk, Matt Pace and Brien Seyle of the band The Rats & People Motion Picture Ochestra and JJ Hamon of the band Theodore. We recorded these songs in November with Kevin Buckley engineering.

Thanks to Nick Acquisto of KDHX radio's The Space Parlour, we will be playing this set of songs on the air Thursday night, January 8, 2009. 88.1 FM in St Louis, MO. You can stream the show for two weeks after it airs live on the website