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