September 15, 2008

Music as Memory

I remember down in Galveston,
When storm winds swept the town,
The high tides from the ocean, Lord,
Put water all around.

When I heard that a hurricane was headed for Galveston, I shuddered. Thousands of people in Galveston did not, electing to stay on the island during the storm. Two thousand of those have escaped or been rescued from what are being described as "splintered houses." Five have been found dead.

The trumpets warned the people,
"You'd better leave this place".
But they never meant to leave their homes
Till death was in their face.

What's the difference between them and me? Well, there are probably several, including the fact that the closest I've been to a hurricane was having a chunk of vacation washed out, along with the roads, in Scotland in 2004. At least I wasn't in Cornwall, where a town was swept into its harbor. Of course, they didn't have any warning, unlike people in Galveston.

The trains they all were loaded
With people leavin' town,
The tracks gave way to the ocean, Lord,
And the trains they went on down.

Another difference is that I grew up surrounded by folk music, and the Chad Mitchell Trio's version of "A Mighty Day" still gives me goosebumps. That song captures everything, the relentless rhythm of the surf and the surge, the wailing of the winds, the despair of those (most of the city) who didn't make it out.

The waters like some river
They went a-rushin' to and fro
I saw my father drownin', Lord,
And I watched my mother go

I can only think that the modern residents of Galveston have never heard this song. Playing it at the local festivals can't be good for attracting business to the area. But Hurricane Ike was only a category 2 storm, and still five are known to be dead in Galveston.

Now death your hands are icy.
You've got them on my knee.
You took away my mother now.
You're comin' after me.

Songs like this exist because we can't afford to forget.

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