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

“Still Growing” / “The Trees They Do Grow High”

Introduction – “Still Growing” Today’s featured song fits clearly, if not neatly, into our wheelhouse here at MBM.  It is not precisely a murder ballad.  Neither is it exactly what we call a ‘conversation with death.’ It is, like many of the ballads we cover, old and rather widely dispersed … → 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

“Dearly Departed Friend”

Introduction – “Dearly Departed Friend” For the past five years, we here at MBM have managed to bring you a new post on the last Monday of May. Memorial Day 2017 is no exception. As with those posts, today’s featured song honors the men and women that fall in the service … → read more

“Little Black Train” and facing death through song

“Prepare to take a ride …” I‘m just shy of fifty years old. My father died at ninety-one a month ago, and my older brother, tragically, three months before that. My mother passed less than two years ago, just a year or so after my parents moved in with us. … → read more

Whisperer in Darkness: Der Erlkönig

"Der Erlkönig"

Real things in the darkness seem no realer than dreams. — Murasaki Shikibu Nacht und Wind The first sound is a rhythm, a staccato burst of piano triplets beneath a brief, rising and falling melody evoking hoof-beats. A horse races through a windswept wood at night, bearing a beleaguered boy … → 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

“Victim or the Crime”

Introduction – “Victim or the Crime” It is human to feel like a victim when suffering arrives.  Traditional ballads almost always place such emotion within a dualistic worldview.  There is good and evil – and a clear, if thin, line between.  Today, though, we tend to see such things in … → read more