Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Josh White's "Free & Equal Blues"

If you know your history, you've got giants to stand on and then you can stretch yourself to see farther than the smallness of your environment would have ever permitted you to do. Long before there were occultist Afrocentric crackpots compounding the already lethal mental pollution of the ideological atmosphere, there were clear and rational voices singing out for human dignity and equality. One of those voices was a pioneer of socially conscious folk and blues music, the magnificent Josh White.

Here's a brief biographical recap, courtesy of Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Josh_White

As I no longer own a turntable, I can't play my old Josh White LPs I collected in the '70s. I'll have to get some CDs, since I haven't yet reached the stage of iPod. Anyway, many years ago, reflecting on a landmark Josh White song, I attempted to transcribe it from the recording, which was not easy given the quality of my stereo, my album, and maybe even the recording itself. Actually, the song can be found in the Josh White Songbook, which is buried who-knows-where in my library. I was impressed by this song because of White's summoning of science to combat racial prejudice. Nowadays you can find almost anything on the Internet. Here's a magnificent essay on Josh White's work including song lyrics, from White biographer Elijah Wald:

"Josh White and the Protest Blues" by Elijah Wald

The title of the song is "Free and Equal Blues".

See also Wald's main page on White: Elijah Wald – Josh White: Society Blues.

Another blog that features this song is No Notes, and here is the entry:

Josh White’s "Free and Equal Blues"

See also Markin's American Left History blog:

Free And Equal Blues- The Work Of Josh White

And don't forget Josh White, Jr.: http://www.joshwhitejr.com/.

What the hell, while I'm at I might as well reproduce the lyrics. But remember, much of it is a talking blues. A few phrases are sung, but most is talking, some decades before rap and even before Oscar Brown Jr.

Free and Equal Blues

I went down to that St. James Infirmary, and I saw some plasma there,
I ups and asks the doctor man, "Say was the donor dark or fair?"
The doctor laughed a great big laugh, and he puffed it right in my face,
He said, "A molecule is a molecule, son, and the damn thing has no race."
And that was news, yes that was news,
That was very, very, very special news.
'Cause ever since that day we’ve had those free and equal blues.
"You mean you heard that doc declare
That the plasma in that test tube there could be
White man, black man, yellow man, red?"
"That’s just what that doctor said."
The doc put down his doctor book and gave me a very scientific look
And he spoke out plain and clear and rational,
He said, "Metabolism is international."
Then the doc rigged up his microscope with some Berlin blue blood,
And, by gosh, it was the same as Chun King, Quebechef, Chattanooga, Timbuktoo blood
Why, those men who think they’re noble
Don’t even know that the corpuscle is global
Trying to disunite us with their racial supremacy,
And flying in the face of old man chemistry,
Taking all the facts and trying to twist 'em,
But you can’t overthrow the circulatory system.
So I stayed at that St. James Infirmary.
(I couldn’t leave that place, it was too interesting)
But I said to the doctor, "Give me some more of that scientific talk talk," and he did:
He said, "Melt yourself down into a crucible
Pour yourself out into a test tube and what have you got?
Thirty-five hundred cubic feet of gas,
The same for the upper and lower class."
Well, I let that pass . . .
"Carbon, 22 pounds, 10 ounces"
"You mean that goes for princes, dukeses and countses?"
"Whatever you are, that’s what the amounts is:
Carbon, 22 pounds, 10 ounces; iron, 57 grains."
Not enough to keep a man in chains.
"50 ounces of phosophorus, that’s whether you’re poor or prosperous."
"Say buddy, can you spare a match?"
"Sugar, 60 ordinary lumps, free and equal rations for all nations.
Then you take 20 teaspoons of sodium chloride (that’s salt), and you add 38 quarts of H2O (that’s water), mix two ounces of lime, a pinch of chloride of potash, a drop of magnesium, a bit of sulfur, and a soupÁon of hydrochloric acid, and you stir it all up, and what are you?"
"You’re a walking drugstore."
"It’s an international, metabolistic cartel."

And that was news, yes that was news,
So listen, you African and Indian and Mexican, Mongolian, Tyrolean and Tartar,
The doctor’s right behind the Atlantic Charter.
The doc’s behind the new brotherhood of man,
As prescribed at San Francisco and Yalta, Dumbarton Oaks, and at Potsdam:
Every man, everywhere is the same, when he’s got his skin off.
And that’s news, yes that’s news,
That’s the free and equal blues!

1 comment:

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