Sunday, November 29, 2015

North of the Border

Song 279: The name of this week’s playlist track is Coyote by Rank and File, written by Chip and Tony Kinman. After hearing the Rank and File debut album Sundown once or twice at the record store, I quickly decided that I wanted a copy, and it soon became a favorite, as one of those LPs I listened to from beginning to end, sometimes tempted to replay. While I enjoy all of the record’s cuts, The Conductor Wore Black (Song 180) tops the list, with this one coming in a close second, and in light of the recent (and ridiculous) controversy over accepting Syrian refugees, it seemed like an appropriate song to post at this particular moment in time. The track tells the kind of tragic tale that had occurred on the north side of the Mexican border for decades when the Kinman brothers wrote it, and that still continues in shameful variations to this day. My own song End of the Highway (which you can hear here) tells a somewhat different melancholy story, but basically comes out of the same border conflict, with similar tragic consequences. The lyrics of Coyote paint a clear picture of a boy who has ended up alone, separated from his family, in a strange place that’s “too far north” with no place to go and no way back to where he came from. Anyone familiar with this border conflict will recognize the callous attitude in the lines, “What’s all the fuss, they ain’t like us, they don’t matter anyway.” Those words, that come from a rancher’s son’s following his reply to “what happened to the lad” where he says “Oh, I don’t know but we didn’t do nothin’ bad,” tell the listener that they most certainly did do something bad, confirmed by the rest of verse 1 when the listener hears “took their hands and we bound them up with wire and when the sun went down they felt the fire.” The Kinman brothers crafted a very powerful and timeless tale three decades ago that sadly resonates much too strongly in the present day as well, with types like Trump only adding fuel to the fire. In watching an Austin City Limits video of this song, I wondered if any of the dancers actually understood the story painted in the lyrics, although this is the kind of song that you can enjoy without grasping its deeper meaning, and I will confess that at the time of the ACL performance, I myself hadn’t picked up on that thought, and wouldn’t do so for quite a long time. Today, though, I can’t miss seeing the fear in the eyes of those who would say, and believe, “they ain’t like us, they don’t matter anyway.”

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