Song of the Day: January 29

Written by David T. Little


In category: Song of the Day

Published January 29, 2016

unnamedThis week our SoTD curator is composer David T. Little who will host and curate the opening evening of NYFOS Next 2016 on February 4th. Little’s operas Soldier Songs and Dog Days have received wide critical acclaim, the latter having received performances this season at Fort Worth Opera and Los Angeles Opera and hailed by The Wall Street Journal as “one of the most exciting new operas of recent years.” Little’s “sharp, elegantly bristling” music (New York Magazine) is potent and dramatic, drawing as much upon his experience as a punk/metal drummer as his classical pedigree. Thank you and welcome, David!

Hazel Dickens (1936-2011) was a true treasure, and her soulful performance of this song is one of my absolute favorites. Written as a memorial to her brother Thurman, a coal miner who died of the eponymous disease, she sings of Black Lung as a manifestation of Death personified. Here, Black Lung/Death is the only one there for the dying miner after all others–the boss, the doctors–have turned him away.  “Well it seems you’re not wanted when you’re sick and you’re poor.”  He’s left to face Death alone, saying: “Black lung, black lung, your hand’s icy cold. / As you reach for my life, you torture my soul. / Cold as that waterhole down in the dark cave / where I spent my life’s blood, digging my grave.”  A 2001Washington Post article said of Dickens, she “writes songs about two kinds of pain: the kind you can fix, like economic injustice, and the kind you can’t, like heartbreak and death.”  This devastating song has some of each.

Hazel Dickens – Black Lung (1969)


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