Sunday, February 12, 2017

A white guy speaks of rivers

A few months ago I posted Sam Cooke's song A Change is Gonna Come, which is a favorite song of mine.  I've long noticed that it has a lot in common with the Showboat song Old Man River.  The opening violin sequence ends on a snippet of Old Man River's melody before Cooke starts singing, Cooke paraphrases that he's tired of living but scared of dying, and both songs reference the [Mississippi?] river in the first line and as a central motif.  But I've often reflected that, while Old Man River is about static people and a river moving along, Cooke's song is about people forced to run and scramble just like the river.  Neither situation is empowering, but Cooke paints the suffering of black folk in the US as something dynamic and aggressive, not just the staid, stolid oppression described in Old Man River.  Cooke's representation is more poignant and accurate for me, for oppression is dynamic, aggressive, active, not just a motionless block on our shoulders.  And likewise Cooke's reading gives a glimmer of hope, for if oppression is consciously enacted, not just an impersonal contextual condition, then it can be consciously opposed and fought, which is why Cooke affirms that a change will eventually come.

Anyway, I was curious if anyone else felt the same way or thought along the same lines as me, and I stumbled across this cool article from the New Yorker, precisely comparing A Change is Gonna Come and Old Man River.

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