About Ken Bigger

Ken Bigger is a writer based in the Midwest. He co-founded Murder Ballad Monday in 2012.

Might Have Drowned: “The Swimming Song” – CwD 11

(photo credit: David Travis)

We break at times from our regular fare of murder ballads for songs that confront mortality in other ways. Today’s discussion is the next installment in our “Conversations with Death” series. Special thanks to David Travis for his pictures in the post. Prelude: Agitated waters All kinds of people advise … → read more

The wind will blow it higher: “Biko”

Steve Biko Tribute (1992), by Willie Bester

“The man is dead, the man is dead” This week marks the 40th anniversary of the death of South African anti-apartheid activist Bantu Stephen Biko. Biko, a leader in the Black Consciousness Movement, died in the custody of South African security services. A banning order imposed by the government in … → read more

Still He Keeps Singing: “I Ride an Old Paint”

Carl Sandburg (photo by William A. Smith, from Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site)

“I am here when the cities are gone. I am here before the cities come. I nourished the lonely men on horses. I will keep the laughing men who ride iron. I am dust of men.” — from “Prairie” by Carl Sandburg Hoolihans and poolroom fights When we wrote our … → read more

Time, Truth, and Tempest: A Titanic Playlist, Part 2

Screencap from 'A Night to Remember' (1958)

In our first post on Titanic songs, we listened to songs that emerged in the years soon after the disaster. They reflected on the events of the tragedy itself, and the lessons we might draw from it. Moving closer to the present, the details of the Titanic‘s story become less pertinent than … → read more

“When that great ship went down”: A Titanic Playlist, Part 1

“The way the band kept playing was a noble thing. I heard them first while still we were working wireless, when there was a ragtime tune for us, and the last I saw of the band, when I was floating out in the sea with my lifebelt on, they were … → read more

Life, and Life Only: “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)”

Bob Dylan (source: uncredited Facebook photo from official Bob Dylan page)

“When he was on, no one could auto-desecrate better. ‘He who is not busy being born is busy dying,’ he famously intoned in “It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding),” and way before the aphorism became worthy of inclusion in Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, he knew that inspiration was episodic, that it … → read more

There’s a train a-coming: “People Get Ready” – CwD10

Curtis Mayfield (uncredited image, source: official Mayfield Facebook page)

“I would think that a movement without music would crumble. Music picks up people’s spirits. Anytime you can get something that lifts your spirits and also speaks to the reality of your life, even the reality of oppression, and at the same time is talking about how you can really … → read more

Heaven, Hell, and Everyday Heroes: “Guns of Umpqua”

Drive-By Truckers (Matt Patton, Brad Morgan, Patterson Hood, Mike Cooley, Jay Gonzalez) photo credit: Danny Clinch

“A stunningly beautiful autumn morning” Bob Boilen’s “Tiny Desk Concert” series introduced me to the Drive-By Truckers song “Guns of Umpqua.” The song grabbed me right away with the warm bounce of the acoustic guitar before the “lights came up” on the band. Lead singer Patterson Hood begins painting the scene … → read more

“Blue Wing” and the Legend of Little Willie John

"Blue Wing," original art by Tom Russell (used by permission)

Prelude On the road for work a few months ago, I was driving between Cheyenne and Denver. I had a chance to meet up with an old friend for coffee on the way. Early in our conversation, I noticed she had some new ink on her left forearm, a cluster of … → read more

Far too many of you dying: ‘What’s Going On’

Cover image for 'What's Going On' (Motown Records)

“Local draft board No. 4 in a district surrounding State and 35th streets, containing 30,000 persons, of whom 90 per cent are colored, registered upward of 9,000 and sent 1,850 colored men to cantonments. Of these 1,850 there were only 125 rejections. On Nov. 11, when the armistice was declared, … → read more