Tag Archives: Lyrics

Kimya Dawson knows from where protest must burst: At the Seams.

Kimya Dawson not only nailed the essence of protests for #BlackLivesMatter. She knew in which direction the protest marches needed to push. Toward our system’s seams. If you are having trouble finding the lyrics of her song about HANDS UP DON’T SHOOT I CAN’T BREATH, it’s because it’s called At the Seams.

I’ve taken the liberty to reformat Dawson’s brilliant lyrics to unpack her references and simulate her cadence.

AT THE SEAMS by Kimya Dawson

1.
Left hands hold the leashes
and the right hands hold the torches,
And Grandpas holding shotguns
swing on porch swings hung on porches,
And the Grandmas in their gardens
plant more seeds to cut their losses,
And the poachers,
with the pooches
and the nooses,
preheat crosses.

And the pooches see the Grandpas
and they bare their teeth and growl,
While their owners turn their noses up
like they smell something foul,
And they fumble with their crosses
and they start to mumble curses,
And they plot ways
to get Grandpas
off of porches
into hearses.

But the Grandpas on the porches
are just scarecrows holding toys,
And the Grandmas in the gardens
are papier-mâché decoys,
While the real Grandmas and Grandpas
are with all the girls and boys
Marching downtown to the City Hall
to make a lot of noise,
Saying:

  Hands up. Don’t shoot. I can’t breathe.
  BLACK LIVES MATTER. No justice No Peace.
  I know that we can overcome because I had a dream-
  A dream we tore this racist broken system apart at the seams.

2.
Sometimes it seems like
we’ve reached the end of the road
We’ve seen cops and judges sleep together
wearing long white robes.
And they put their white hoods up,
Try to take the black hoods down,
And they don’t plan on stopping
til we’re all in the ground.

Til we’re dead in the ground
or we’re incarcerated
‘Cause prison’s
a big business form
of enslavement
Plantations that profit
on black folks in cages
They’ll break our backs
and keep the wages.

It’s outrageous that there’s no place
we can feel safe in this nation
Not in our cars, Not at the park,
Not in subway stations,
Not at church, The pool, The store,
Not asking for help,
Not walking down the street,
So we’ve gotta scream and yell:

  Hands up. Don’t shoot. I can’t breathe.
  BLACK LIVES MATTER. No justice No Peace.
  I know that we can overcome because I had a dream-
  A dream we tore this racist broken system apart at the seams.

3.
You tweet me my own lyrics,
Tell me to stop
Letting a few bad apples
ruin the bunch.
Don’t minimize the fight
comparing apples to cops
This is about the orchard’s poisoned roots,
not loose fruits in a box.

Once the soil’s been spoiled,
the whole crop’s corrupt.
That’s why we need the grassroots
working from the ground up.
And we look to Black Twitter,
to stay woke and get some truth,
‘Stead of smiling cops
and black mugshots
from biased corporate news.

‘Cause if you steal cigarillos,
or you sell loose cigarettes,
Or you forget your turn signal,
will they see your skin as a threat?
Will they KILL you, And then SMEAR you,
And COVER IT UP and LIE?
Will they call it “self defense”?
Will they call it “suicide”?

  Hands up. Don’t shoot. I can’t breathe.
  BLACK LIVES MATTER. No justice No Peace.
  I know that we can overcome because I had a dream-
  A dream we tore this racist broken system apart at the seams.

4.
Decades of cultivation start
from tiny seeds that were once planted.
And we mustn’t take the gardens that
our elders grew for granted,
Though it is up to our youth
how new rows sown are organized,
Because movements can’t keep moving
if old and unsharpened eyes
Can’t see the need to hear
what those on the ground hafta say,
In Ferguson and Cleveland,
Staten Island, The East Bay,
Charleston, Phoenix,
Detroit, Sanford Waller,
Seattle, Los Angeles,
Chicago, Baltimore.

Climbing flagpoles, Taking bridges,
Locked together to the BART,
Speaking up about injustice
in our music and our art,
Storming stages to ask candidates
when they’re gonna start
Really DIRECTLY addressing issues
BREAKING OUR HEARTS.

  Hands up. Don’t shoot. I can’t breathe.
  BLACK LIVES MATTER. No justice No Peace.
  I know that we can overcome because I had a dream-
  A dream we tore this racist broken system apart at the seams.

    Hands up. Don’t shoot. I can’t breathe.
    BLACK LIVES MATTER. No justice No Peace.
    I know that we can overcome because I had a dream-
    A dream we tore this racist broken system apart at the seams.

5.
And if the altars are torn down,
we’ll just keep on placing flowers
For the boy whose body was in the road
FOR MORE THAN FOUR HOURS.
We will honor the dead
of every age and every gender
‘Cause we can’t just have it be
the brothers’ names that we remember.

Oh black boys with skateboards,
and black boys with hoodies,
And little black girls who
are on the couch sleeping,
And all of the black trans
women massacred,
Too many black folks killed and brutalized,
And there’s no justice served.

After the lynchings of our people
by the murderous police,
Who stand like hunters ’round their prey
gasping helpless in the street,
Feet from the TEEN SISTER they tackled
and locked handcuffed in the car,
Feet from her TWELVE YEAR OLD BROTHER DYING —

WHILE NO ONE DID CPR…

6.
And we’ll keep on planting flowers,
and we’ll fight until the day
That we don’t have to pick them all
to put them all on graves.
Yeah we’ll keep planting flowers
and we’ll fight until the day
That we don’t have to pick them all
to put them all on graves.

  Hands up. Don’t shoot. I can’t breathe.
  BLACK LIVES MATTER. No justice No Peace.
  I know that we can overcome because I had a dream-
  A dream we tore this racist broken system apart at the seams.

A song about building the American Dream, railroads, towers, war, then being tossed aside to beg for change

Most Americans know the lyrics of this depression-era song. Now they know what it was about.
 
They used to tell me I was building a dream,
and so I followed the mob,
When there was earth to plow, or guns to bear,
I was always there right on the job.
They used to tell me I was building a dream,
with peace and glory ahead,
Why should I be standing in line,
just waiting for bread?

Once I built a railroad, I made it run, made it race against time.
Once I built a railroad; now it’s done. Brother, can you spare a dime?

Once I built a tower, up to the sun, brick, and rivet, and lime;
Once I built a tower, now it’s done. Brother, can you spare a dime?

Once in khaki suits, gee we looked swell,
full of that Yankee Doodly Dum,
Half a million boots went slogging through Hell,
I was the kid with the drum!

Say, don’t you remember, they called me Al. It was Al all the time.
Say don’t you remember? I’m your pal. Buddy, can you spare a dime?

Love is the Reason, with grammatical advice, from A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

Hamlet Cigar advertI once saw a British TV spot for Hamlet Cigars which featured an oddball posing in a photo booth, but so endearingly. For years on, when asked to smile, I affected his toothy grimace, thinking my rendition channeled but transcended his comically unbecoming turn. I channeled nothing of it, each time, I can confirm.
 
Now I’ve traced my abuse of adverbs, not to this song, but to the spirit in which Broadway lyricist Dorothy Fields used THREE to frame the verses of Love is the Reason from the musical version of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. In this song showstopping comic Shirley Booth advises her younger sister on love, ornamenting her insight with the authority-robbing qualifiers, meant to be irrelevant. Aspire as I might to stop, HANDILY I am my parody.

Love is the Reason
Each line is echoed by the chorus
(Parentheses indicate where reply varies)

Spoken: Suppose your mother never stood in a dark vestibule with your father, they might never have had to get married. Why do you suppose they did it? It was love.

  Love is the reason you was born,
  Love was the gleam in Papa’s eye.
  People suddenly meet, People suddenly fit,
  People suddenly hit, And brother, that’s it!

PERSONALLY Love is a kick right in the pants,
Love is the aspirin you buy.
If you’re flappin’ your fins, If you’re climbin’ a wall,
There must be a reason for it all. (What is the reason for it?)
Love is the reason for it all!

  Love is a night you can’t recall,
  Love is that extra drink you drank.
  Love’s a shot in the arm, Love’s a poke in the ribs,
  Buyin’ bottles and bibs, And fillin’ up cribs.

OBVIOUSLY Love is an old established trap,
Ten million suckers walk the plank.
If you land on your tail, Ev’ry time that you fall,
There must be a reason for it all. (Who needs a reason for it?)
Love is the reason for it all!

  Love is a toothache in your heart,
  Love is a gentlemanly pinch.
  Love is stubbin’ your toe, Mashed potatoes with lumps,
  Wearin’ very tight pumps, Or catchin’ the mumps.

GENERALLY Love is a blow below the belt,
Love is a holdin’ in a clinch.
If you shut your big mouth When his relatives call,
There must be a reason for it all. (Who needs a reason for it?)
Always the teasin’ in the hall; (Hallways are lovely for a call;)
Call it the season, I say, love is the reason for it all.

John B. Spencer’s lost Christmas lyric for Will Your House Be Blessed?

Gathering songs for a Christmas compilation, I went looking through different versions of “Will This House be Blessed?” by John B. Spencer. While the forgiveness spirit is in keeping with the season, everyone else’s cover lacked whatever it was I remembered tied the song literally to Christmas. I finally found Spencer’s original recording and there it was, an Easter reference actually, but too much irreligious specificity apparently for subsequent renditions.

Everybody since Spencer omits his last verse, instead repeating the first, which they also alter to “Let it go, let it go” and not “Let him go.”

For the record, versions by Harry Manx, Richard Thompson, and Martin Simpson et al. go by the more assuring title, absent the question mark, ONLY THEN WILL YOUR HOUSE BE BLESSED.

But here’s how John B sang it:

Let him go, let him go, let him go, go, go
Let your sword of vengeance rest.
?Do the blind lead the blind??
Don’t be cruel to be kind.?
Only then will your house be blessed.

Turn your cheek, turn your cheek?
Turn your other cheek,?
Make your mercy manifest.?
When the hawk and the dove?
Fly in circles ’round your love,?
Only then will your house be blessed.

Offer prayer, offer prayer,?
Offer one small prayer?
To your uninvited guest.?
Don’t deny him his right,?
Make him welcome through the night.

?Only then will your house be blessed.

Pull the nails from the cross.
Pull the cross from the hill.
Lay the body and soul to rest.
May the blood that’s been spilt
–Drown your guilt.
Only then will your house be blessed.