Wednesday, 22 August 2007

don't drink the water!

Three songs about how white colonial people treated indigenous or black people:

Don't Drink the Water (Dave Matthews Band):

Written as the thoughts of a white colonist in frontier America, as he pushes the native Americans off their land, telling them "There's no place here ... not room for both, just room for me." The song ends with these devastating words:

"'Cause you're all dead now I live with my justice I live with my greedy need I live with no mercy I live with my frenzied feeding I live with my hatred I live with my jealousy I live with the notion That I don't need anyone but me

Don't drink the water There's blood in the water"

Blind Willie McTell (Bob Dylan)

Dylan starts by stating his thesis that America's prosperity is compromised: "Seen the arrow on the doorpost saying, 'This land is condemned, all the way from New Orleans to Jerusalem'" then quickly paints a series of scenes from the days of slavery. He ends with this conclusion:

"Well, God is in his heaven And we all want what's his But power and greed and corruptible seed Seem to be all that there is I'm gazing out the window Of the St. James Hotel And I know no one can sing the blues Like Blind Willie McTell"

Solid Rock (Goanna)

The white settlement in Australia from the viewpoint of indigenous Australians, who, understandably, feel betrayed:

"They were standin' on the shore one day, Saw the white sails in the sun Wasn't long before they felt the sting, white man, white law, white gun Don't tell me that it's justified, 'cause somewhere, someone lied Yeah well someone lied, someone lied, genocide Well someone lied."

Whenever I hear that song, I feel the raw sting of those words: "Someone lied".

Some people want to ignore our history, because they feel it wasn't our fault and only opens up negative thoughts. It wasn't our doing, but we can, and should, feel grief for the people our ancestors treated inhumanly, even if in ignorance.

Of course it is still happening today, as Indonesia invades and subjugates the people of Irian Jaya while the rest of the world finds it more convenient to look the other way.

"Someone lied!"


  1. did i miss the context for this?

  2. I'm sorry, I'm not sure what you mean. The context was in the first sentence - song lyrics, on similar themes, that speak to me.

  3. these artists all do a brilliant job of putting the sadness into words.

    the fact alone that this has been a cycle throughout history leaves me with little hope of ever changing the underlying causes. not that i necessarily know what they are. greed, i guess, and fear of the unkown, or different. and then some people are just ignorant, take whatever they are taught and never look back.

  4. Yes, it goes back to my blog on are people getting better? - we seem to be getting better in some ways and worse in others.

    I think it is important to consider these things because (1) we may not be able to change the world, but we can sometimes help make small changes in individuals, especially ourselves, and (2) it can help us look for some bigger purpose in life, which in my case leads me to look to God for help.

  5. No, I mean I'm not familiar with Australian history. Is that the context?

    In other words, I don't find myself thinking about those things often, so I'm surmising that in your culture, they're more relevant and meaningful?

  6. I get you. I think I came to this from two places .....

    1. Those three songs are among my many favourites.

    I am a long term Bob Dylan fan and think Blind Willie McTell is one of his best and most powerful songs.

    Aussie band Goanna, with frontman Shane Howard (an Aussie of Irish ancestry with strong links to indigenous people) made some great music and the song "Solid Rock" on the "Spirit of Place" album is one of their best and a longtime favourite.

    I have only recently come across Dave Matthews, and that song is one of many good ones on the "Before these Crowded Streets" album. I was playing this album in the car when I thought of blogging about all three songs because of their common themes.

    2. In Australian history, the indigenous peoples were here for tens of thousands of years before white settlement only 200 years ago. For "settlement", you could easily read "invasion".

    White treatment of indigenous people has not been pretty, and has included dispossession, genocide, introduction of European diseases and alcohol (which has been devastating), forced removal of children from parents seen as unfit (the "stolen generations"), and general neglect and discrimination. The result has been that many indigenous Australians are poor or marginalised.

    Much money has been spent on trying to redress all this, but to little effect. There have been strong movements in recent years to give some land rights back to the original "owners", and to formally apologise for the stolen generations. The Government has done much but refuses to apologise..

    I of course have less understanding of the US treatment of your indigenous peoples, but I am thinking it wasn't much different. And of course I know a little more about the slave trade and the discrimination against black Americans.

    So I feel a sense of injustice, and feel all this, like other things I blog about, needs to be brought to all of our attention.

    So I guess those are the two contexts.


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