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.