Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Harlem River Blues

I like music, tune, lyrics, melody and harmony, a capella and orchestral. I am really comfortable with folk music, the kind that is sometimes called 'americana'. Several times [and] i have remarked on such lines that echo to me. A couple of years ago, Justin Townes Earle recorded his song Harlem River Blues. It is a readily singable song, it has the flavor of folk. He plays an adept guitar, and whether by solo or accompanied performance, it is a pleasing number.

In literature, dreary thought is not uncommon. Hamlet is suicidal, and considers it in depth in the famous soliloquy. Poe's Raven is a flight towards death. In lyrical music, there are very few songs (Ode to Billie Joe) that touch on suicide, but none advocate for it (falsely claimed for Don't Fear the Reaper). Earle here does something i think singular, he has an upbeat song planning suicide. Perhaps, it is to note that both, he and his musician father, have had drug and alcohol problems. 
Lord, I'm goin' uptown to the Harlem River to drown
Dirty water's gonna cover me over and I'm not gonna make a sound
Suicide by drowning is rather rare, historically, outside of Japan. There is a reflex to expel breathed in water. Panic sets in. It is not an easy, tranquil way to go. When supposed 'controlled drowning' is inflicted as a torture (a 'third degree' interrogation method), the victim has to be held down. The body will not allow stillness. What the bush-cheney r├ęgime called 'water boarding' is what the world calls 'water torture'. 

So I'm taking no chances, carrying over while I'm still good in His grace

If 'His' refers to God, then this is theologically interesting, and troublesome. Killing oneself  is considered a sin, although now many people recognise it as a symptom of madness, therefore the will is not free; and because of that, one's soul does not bear guilt (but it took a long time for our culture to see this). The singer consciously prepares throughout to off himself, yet believes himself to be in good graces. Now, on a further point, baptism by immersion is close to drowning; it is drowning when one can not hold his breath. Fatalities have occurred. Yet, in this one dies in Christ, and their old life, and is born again in a new life. If water makes it to the lungs, to survive the shock is like having life come back.

So, we have a great song that is an absurdity.

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