Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Chinese Tunnels

The lyrics to the newest song by The Union Electric were inspired by a chapter in William Vollmann's 1300-page book "Imperial" which was published last year. The thing that first struck me was a passage about masses of people coming up from the ground when there was a widespread fire. "Like ants" one observer said. Worker ants. The song has yet to make it into our live set but it's coming soon. It's about Mexican immigration issues even if the characters are Chinese people from a hundred years ago. This is how I often work, take something a century old, hold up a mirror, and you don't even have to change the names. I have to believe Tijuana and Nogales have similar tunnel worlds going right now.

The 45 single will be available in Spring 2011 from Rankoutsider Records.


In the shadow of the mountain of gold,
there are stories of tunnels of which no one speaks
In the days of the great fires raging,
when people came up, up from the ground

Under the street, like some late-night dream,
there's a tunnel under the Hotel Imperial
Building a railroad, a gold rush underground
Inventors of paper, inventors of gun powder

They came for work but they were not wanted,
condemned with the rats and the trash
They were not wanted here, so they go somewhere else
and now there are tunnels from here to there

Believe in something that you've never seen,
believe because it has to be there
That secret dragon haunts that desert,
in the heat with the whirlwinds and the quicksand

The ghost of that dragon haunts the desert
in the secret world along the borderlands
The hopeful and the hopeless all run together
and all night the people sing, please, send money home