August 31, 2006

Two Songs Lyrics, also commentary

Gospel Train

When my corduroy suit's turned to ashes,
And my socks are immersed in the sea,
Then that gospel train's goin' to take me,
To a land where the tailors are free.

When the asphalt is bent and decaying,
And the bridges are sunk in the tide,
Then that gospel train's goin' to take me,
To a land where the bike lanes are wide.

When my last lentil bin is depleted,
And my stomach distends with the gasses,
Then that gospel train's goin' to meet me,
And we'll go where one loaf feeds the masses.

When the soles in my shoes are a memory,
And the sidewalk is shriveled and forgotten,
Then that gospel train's goin' to take me
Where highways are made out of cotton.

When my krummhorn is covered with leaches,
And my hands have been sold to the hounds,
Then that gospel train's goin' to bring me
Where galactic polyphony resounds.

So farewell you unrefined sinners,
I'm never to see you again,
I've packed up my watch and my peace pipe,
And I'm boarding that old gospel train.

I'm goin' to see my Lord

Not this life I'm wasting,
I'm goin' to see my Lord.
Not many men have managed it,
But I'm goin' to see my Lord.
I'm stranded in mortality until the break of doom.

Long time the soil's been barren,
But I'm goin' to see my Lord.
A holy land will breathe again,
I'm goin' to see my Lord.
The temple has been crowded, but I'm goin' to make some room.

I tried to build a library,
Now I'm goin' to see my Lord.
The words were almost meaningless,
So I'm goin' to see my Lord.
I'm creepin', I'm climbin' back to the savior's womb.

I tried to write a symphony,
Now I'm goin' to see my Lord.
The orchestra was busy,
So I'm goin' to see my Lord.
Announce to all the nations that I know the holy word.

Someone's sneakin' round the corner,
I'm goin' to see my Lord.
For the showboat was a failure,
So I'm goin' to see my Lord.
At the ending of their journey the assembly was one bird.

I tried to hit a baseball,
Now I'm goin' to see my Lord.
But the ball grew ever larger,
So I'm goin' to see my Lord.
He knows that I've been drinking but I'll never be deterred.

She was as black as her habit,
I'm goin' to see my Lord.
And she said she was the carpenter,
I'm goin' to see my Lord.
I dried her tears & started sweepin' up that quantity of sand.

Now thru the cave it echoes,
That I'm goin' to see my Lord.
O loose your chains, O turn around,
And go to see your Lord.
I used to be a puppet, but I'm free from that dark hand.

I swam with jealous dolphins,
Now I'm goin' to see my Lord.
I'm dryin' off that milky sea,
And goin' to see my Lord.
The sailors are all ready, kneel & kiss that promised land!

I tried to climb the theater,
Now I'm goin' to see my Lord.
But the pork made her so heavy,
So I'm goin' to see my Lord.
I got weighed down with glory with that mask stuck to my forehead.

O my weary feet have wandered,
But I'm goin' to see my Lord.
Please annoint my soles with oils,
O I want to see my Lord.
Verdant thunders ever rollin', rainin' crowds of fiends abhorrèd.

With the quest & goal united,
I'm goin' to see my Lord.
I've thrown both shoes from that caboose,
And I'm going to see my Lord.
And I'll sit & eat with Jesus at the right hand of the Lord!
And peace will rain like gold once did!



Along with the devastation and continued governmental ineptitude of Hurricane Katrina, it is also the one year anniversary of my popular song "I'm goin' to see my Lord." I was able to record it last September in the CalArts studio, as part of an Angel Band project with Melinda Rice, but it is a simple recording of myself singing drunkenly into my computer which has won the public's heart. Indeed, it can be heard on mix CDs & at parlor gatherings around the country. I have had numerous occasions to perform it, once in a recital at a church with Mrs Bonnie Whiting Smith in New York City last January, & at a sampling of open mics & "talent hours" across Northern California. It is always met with smash adoration; in short, it is my greatest hit.

I have received many e-mails & phone calls demanding, sometimes with serious urgency, to have the meanings of certain elusive passages elucidated. I ask, did Leonard Cohen or Samuel Coleridge ever receive such pesky ingratitude? It were as if my fan's immortal salvation hinged on the clarification of the line "For the showboat was a failure / So I'm goin' to see my Lord." Such is the moral weight of correctly composing a sacred lyric. I recall my then-roommate James Eliot Quill - while playing "Civilization III" & drinking my wine - ridiculing me for the line "But the pork made her so heavy," commenting that juxtaposing utter nonsense with profundity can undermine the latter. I retorted that it can also inspire an informed understanding of the nonsense, but I did not consider that line to be nonsense, so I went and locked up my boxed wine from inspiring any further illuminations.

For the most part, I consider the lyrics to be mostly matter-of-fact, hiding few unattainable allusions. Also, I am too aware of the dangers of explaining one's own poetry in one's lifetime. It runs the risk of being forever chained to the text in a footnote, regardless of how helpful the author's explanation actually is. T.S. Eliot may have written his own useless endnotes. St. John of the Cross wrote sixty-page commentaries on his own six stanza poems. With the exception of what I am doing now, I refuse to engage in such ridiculousness. (I am also not a Christian-existentialist.) If one approaches a line like my 'pork' line without additional explanation, think of the freedom the listener has to generate or to ignore his own imaginative interpretations. One gets very nervous at press conferences, & an artist or politician will say all manner of unfitting things. It's been a year since I first sketched those lyrics, & if I were to say now that the 'pork' line was about the unhealthy Orson-Wellesian gluttony of the entertainment industry, and my subsequent abjuration of that art for more ascetic pursuits, I cannot ever be sure to what extent how I read it now corresponds to what I was or wasn't thinking then. Orson Welles was somewhere in my collective imagination, linked in a vast series of associations with my understanding of what "theater" is. Perhaps I called up his image, but I don't think so. Still, if Terry Gross were asking me about that line, I would probably mention his name. Was Orson Welles Jewish, did he even eat pork? Perhaps his obesity was wholly swineless. If something of that nature was ever attached in a footnote to that line, a graduate student writing his thesis on my lyrics might make a note that that is what the line means, & never question the issue again.

The other song "Gospel Train" is brand new. It was written as a sequel, written at the Webb Block, the site of Part Two of my Weblog, which soon will house the fanciest high speed wireless internets to plug into my slow old computers. The Webb Block is on the corner of a busy intersection, sirens & rush hours & the like. Like the first song, "Gospel Train" has two locals: where I'm leaving & where I'm going. I just noticed that both the dystopia & the paradise in "Gospel Train" are car-free. In the dystopia, cars can no longer drive on decaying asphalt & sunken bridges; in the paradise, the highways are cotton & the bike lanes are wide. And of course the idea of the gospel train itself is both retro and futuristic, but currently out of favor. Sustainable energies & a healthier transportation have been much discussed recently by scientists, journalists & politicians. Culture critics point out the societal desolation caused by sprawl. They even comment that art & business suffer because of the useless hours spent in a car commute, when any other vessel of conveyance leaves the hands & eyes free. But where are the theological-poetical voices? Don't the Christians think the soul & earth is suffering from a civilization built with freeways? Don't the Mormons question the raping of their holy land? Don't musicians miss quieter streets? Mystics & poets have a freedom that politicians & journalists tied to pragmatism do not. Even Bob Dylan sang eloquenty in the dialects of dystopias & utopias, a tradition as old as language. Has the Bush-era left us with such a fear of idealism, that when we need it most to radically alter the way a society moves, all we can do is limit Californian industry emisions 25% by 2010, & sing songs about sex?


James Welsch said...

News: For a limited time, mp3s of both songs can be heard & downloaded at

ß&dragon said...

I'm finally figuring out how to post mp3s on this blog that you can click & play! That recording of I'm Goin' to See My Lord was done almost immediately after it was written, late at night in Sacramento on a five-string electric baritone ukulele, where did that thing go? The low string was detuned to a B, which explains some of the modal harmonies. The second version is more reflective of how I sing it now, from Last Year's Gospel Train EP.