Jump to content
IGNORED

Article: The Music In Me: The Song of the Century


Recommended Posts

Have always been amazed by this song since I first heard it. There are also live versions of Billie singing it.

This is one of the songs that makes you realize her genius as a vocalist, and why she remains famous today.

 

Didn't know the backstory. Thanks Gilbert.

Main listening (small home office):

Main setup: Surge protector +_iFi  AC iPurifiers >Isol-8 Mini sub Axis Power Conditioning+Isolation>QuietPC Low Noise Server>Roon (Audiolense DRC)>Stack Audio Link II>Kii Control>Kii Three >GIK Room Treatments.

Secondary Path: Server with Audiolense RC>RPi4 or analog>Cayin iDAC6 MKII (tube mode) (XLR)>Kii Three .

Bedroom: SBTouch to Cambridge Soundworks Desktop Setup.
Living Room/Kitchen: Ropieee (RPi3b+ with touchscreen) + Schiit Modi3E to a pair of Morel Hogtalare. 

All absolute statements about audio are false :)

Link to comment
Thanks Gilbert. Your posts are must reads for me.

 

When's the book coming out? :)

 

I have two books coming out when I get to it. One will be the collection of these essays, and the other will be a series of essays about some of my adventures and experiences that I hope people will find interesting. It's going to be called "God Watches Over Drunks And Fools And I Don't Drink." I'll happily announce it when I had it together. Thanks for asking and I'm so glad you like the essays. I still don't know what to call them- Essays? Articles? Posts? As for these humble submissions, thanks also to Chris for the space.

Link to comment

Great article/essay, great song. Thanks Gilbert for shedding some light on the origins of the song and especially on the composer. It seems to me this was a good man with high moral standards, a man who valued life.

 

You definitely changed the way I will listen to this song from now on.

 

Thanks again Gilbert.

Link to comment

I have two versions of Strange Fruit in my library, by Cassandra Wilson and Annie Lennox, and I have heard the original. After what is the definitive version by Billie Holiday it is interesting to see the different flavors of remakes. I will have to check out more versions.

 

Makes you realize what power a song and performance can have and what a vacuous era we seem to live in now.

Jim

Link to comment
I have two versions of Strange Fruit in my library, by Cassandra Wilson and Annie Lennox, and I have heard the original. After what is the definitive version by Billie Holiday it is interesting to see the different flavors of remakes. I will have to check out more versions.

 

Makes you realize what power a song and performance can have and what a vacuous era we seem to live in now.

There is also a potent and reverent cover version of the song by Siousxie & the Banshees from their great covers album "Through the Looking Glass". This was my introduction to the song as I was too young to fully appreciate Billie until I got older. Thanks for the great article.

Roon Server: Core i7-3770S, WS2012 + AO => HQP Server: Core, i7-9700K, HQPlayer OS => NAA: Celeron NUC, HQP NAA => ISO Regen with UltraCap LPS 1.2 => Mapleshade USB Cable => Lampizator L4 DSD-Only Balanced DAC Preamp => Blue Jeans Belden Balanced Cables => Mivera PurePower SE Amp => Magnepan 3.7i

Link to comment

Thank very much for this story, Gilbert. It's much appreciated.

Music Server(s): Aurender N100H, Digital to Analog Converter(s): Audio Research DAC 8, Digital to Digital Converter: Bryston BUC-1, Preamplifier: Ayre K-5xeMP, Amplifier(s): Ayre V-5xe, Loudspeakers: Revel Ultima Salon 2, Interconnects: Kimber PBJ, Cardas Clear, Bryston AES/EBU, Loudspeaker Cables: Kimber PR8, Miscellaneous: Oppo BDP 95 disk player, CJ Walker turntable Jelco SA-750D tone arm, Ortofon 2M black cartridge, Magnum Dynalab tuner, Dream System: I've got it!, Headphones: Sennheiser HD600, Grado PS500e, Headphone Amplifier(s):Graham Slee Novo

Link to comment

I send these out to some of my friends, and one wrote back:

Reel back to Summer of 1965.

Stole off with a girlfriend to go to the Troubadour in LAto see Josh White. I was very well acquainted with his music (for a whitegirl from the Valley!! I would secretly listen to KPFA (LA) on my transistorradio while learning my Catholic catechism!!)

After playing for awhile. He asked for requests. I asked himto play Strange Fruit.

I'll never forget the look on his face. Mindyou, the audience was predominantly white, beatnik, commie types sprinkled withwanna-be hippies like me.

Eyes narrowed they were as his old, angry eyes fixed me in acold stare.

He must have seen the terror snaking up my spine because hesoftened. And said.

I don't do that one here.

Link to comment

Great essay.

 

Holiday's version of this song is definitive, of course, but I have to say I love the René Marie version. Pairing it with "Dixie" is genius.

 

—David

Listening Room: Mac mini (Roon Core) > iMac (HQP) > exaSound PlayPoint (as NAA) > exaSound e32 > W4S STP-SE > Benchmark AHB2 > Wilson Sophia Series 2 (Details)

Office: Mac Pro >  AudioQuest DragonFly Red > JBL LSR305

Mobile: iPhone 6S > AudioQuest DragonFly Black > JH Audio JH5

Link to comment

A spectacular story in the New Yorker about the same era and what one man and his organization are doing to make sure people remember. Building a huge monument/museum about lynching. Points out that the same states where the death penalty is most entrenched are the states with the highest numbers of lynchings. Hard to imagine that the murders were often announced in the newspaper, took place in the town square with dozens if not hundreds of cheering observers. As powerful as the song is, still, it's nowhere near the horrors that brought it to life. Worth a read, fleshes out the history and why that song still needs to be sung today.

 

The Legacy of Lynching, on Death Row - The New Yorker

Link to comment
  • 2 weeks later...

I am not a fan of art-in-the-service-of-politics and Strange Fruit is about as political as it can be. Not that this song is the only example of this phenomenon. It's not. When I read this article, I immediately thought of Picasso's "Guernica" painting. It has been hailed as the greatest painting of the 20th Century! Why? well, it can't be it's artistic merit, because it's not the kind of work that most people would want hanging over their fireplace because it's depressing. I'm not fond of post impressionism in the visual arts, anyway, and I must say that when it comes to the so-called "modernist" movements in painting, My interest starts with Turner, and pretty much ends with Van Gough, Matisse, and Monet, but that's taste. With Strange Fruit we are dealing with the problems of race that used to exist in this country - mainly lynching, and this is what the song is about. This appeals to left-wing, so-called "progressive" elements of the political spectrum, as does Guernica, because of its anti-Nazi/Fascist message. The message in both cases is fine, and perhaps the message needs to be said, lest we forget. On the other hand, using political/and social messages as criteria for measuring the worth and importance of art is a slippery slope. If Strange Fruit were a love song instead of a song about race and lynching of blacks would it still make the cut? Of course not. When I think about what was the greatest song of the century, I think about lyrics, melody, and impact. Here, the lyrics are heavy handed the melody almost non existent and the impact is of a really depressing nature! Best lyrics go to something like Rogers and Hart's I'll Take Manhattan and melody, to me, would be something like Kurt Wiell's Speak Low. For story telling, I'd go with something like Edit'f Piaf's Mon Capitan or perhaps, on a happier note, Carlos Antonio Jobim's always haunting Girl from Ipanema (these are just examples, and not necessarily my picks for anything). In other words, for my money, while Strange Fruit is certainly an important social statement for it's time, that time is past, and I hear little entertainment value in the song and certainly it wouldn't make any "best" lists in my opinion. Now Billie Holliday was a great artists and I love to hear her sing the torch songs that she did so well, but for me, when I ripped the album with Strange Fruit on it, I skipped that cut altogether. I don't need to be hit over the head to understand the importance of equal treatment under the law and due process for all peoples, everywhere.

George

Link to comment

@gmgraves - Hi George - Very interesting point of view and thanks for sharing. I don't agree, but that's what makes this stuff fun. One point I don't understand is when you said, "This appeals to left-wing, so-called "progressive" elements of the political spectrum." Doesn't lynching and mistreatment of people appeal to everyone, except those doing the mistreating? Not just the left.

 

When I think of the best songs, most of them have a message that gets my brain thinking and encourages me to dive into the emotional story being told, whether it's political or not. Strange Fruit is one of those songs for me.

 

 

P.S. Judging art is a strange thing anyway.

Founder of Audiophile Style | My Audio Systems

Link to comment
@gmgraves - Hi George - Very interesting point of view and thanks for sharing. I don't agree, but that's what makes this stuff fun. One point I don't understand is when you said, "This appeals to left-wing, so-called "progressive" elements of the political spectrum." Doesn't lynching and mistreatment of people appeal to everyone, except those doing the mistreating? Not just the left.

 

When I think of the best songs, most of them have a message that gets my brain thinking and encourages me to dive into the emotional story being told, whether it's political or not. Strange Fruit is one of those songs for me.

 

 

P.S. Judging art is a strange thing anyway.

 

I think you misunderstand me. Of course lynching and the mistreatment of people should matter to everyone, but what we are discussing here is not lynching per se, but rather the criteriaby which this song was given accolade discussed in the article you cited. The best way to view my objections is to look at the analogy of the motion picture academy awards. If you want to win best picture, you don't make films about space ships, dinosaurs, or cartoon characters. You make films about either the holocaust or African-Americans. The resultant film doesen't even have to be very good, it just has to be politically correct and be On the Hollywood Progressive list of subjects, and you are in like Flynn! I say that in music, art or film, topical and popular causes like social engineering is not the way to judge art.

George

Link to comment
I think you misunderstand me. Of course lynching and the mistreatment of people should matter to everyone, but what we are discussing here is not lynching per se, but rather the criteriaby which this song was given accolade discussed in the article you cited. The best way to view my objections is to look at the analogy of the motion picture academy awards. If you want to win best picture, you don't make films about space ships, dinosaurs, or cartoon characters. You make films about either the holocaust or African-Americans. The resultant film doesen't even have to be very good, it just has to be politically correct and be On the Hollywood Progressive list of subjects, and you are in like Flynn! I say that in music, art or film, topical and popular causes like social engineering is not the way to judge art.

Ah. Yes, I misunderstood you. Thanks for the follo up George.

Founder of Audiophile Style | My Audio Systems

Link to comment
I think you misunderstand me. Of course lynching and the mistreatment of people should matter to everyone, but what we are discussing here is not lynching per se, but rather the criteriaby which this song was given accolade discussed in the article you cited. The best way to view my objections is to look at the analogy of the motion picture academy awards. If you want to win best picture, you don't make films about space ships, dinosaurs, or cartoon characters. You make films about either the holocaust or African-Americans. The resultant film doesen't even have to be very good, it just has to be politically correct and be On the Hollywood Progressive list of subjects, and you are in like Flynn! I say that in music, art or film, topical and popular causes like social engineering is not the way to judge art.

 

What an exageration of the "Hollywood Progressive" card. Since when have "films about space ships, dinosaurs" not won academy awards? They win lots. The list isn't even short.

 

As far as your earlier point about "artistic merit": when did the determining factor in artistic merit become whether people want a picture hanging over their fireplace? Based on that criterion, the greatest paintings of the last 100 years are either of dogs playing poker, or of Elvis....

 

When "Strange Fruit" was written and became popular, it wasn't in Hollywood or by Hollywood types. It became popular because it's extremely powerful and appealed to people of all types, or at least all the types that were disturbed by lynchings. The impact on listeners was big and emotional, and not because of "political correctness"; but because of the power of the ART and the moral statement of the message.

 

Do you think just any song about the subject of lynchings would have made such an impact?

 

Clearly not, as the message (especially in a song) is off putting and uncomfortable. So songs (especially back then) weren't written about such taboo topics. Do you know of any other similar popular song from that era that has had such an enduring musical and topical impact?

 

The fact that "Strange Fruit" became so popular and has stayed well known and loved actually disproves your point. It became popular because of it's artistic value (and Billie Holiday's singing) and in spite of it's political message. Just because a piece of art has a MORAL message - not a political one, as you've tried to pigeonhole it - it's value as art is in no way lessened. Were it not for it's artistic value, it would be only a forgotten musical footnote, and note a song that still speaks to people today.

 

You're guilty of transposing present day political blinders and stereotypes from the present broken political discourse back to the 30's and 40's. They don't apply. You want to evaluate art? Then you should take of your "politically tinged" glasses before you look or listen and evaluate.

Main listening (small home office):

Main setup: Surge protector +_iFi  AC iPurifiers >Isol-8 Mini sub Axis Power Conditioning+Isolation>QuietPC Low Noise Server>Roon (Audiolense DRC)>Stack Audio Link II>Kii Control>Kii Three >GIK Room Treatments.

Secondary Path: Server with Audiolense RC>RPi4 or analog>Cayin iDAC6 MKII (tube mode) (XLR)>Kii Three .

Bedroom: SBTouch to Cambridge Soundworks Desktop Setup.
Living Room/Kitchen: Ropieee (RPi3b+ with touchscreen) + Schiit Modi3E to a pair of Morel Hogtalare. 

All absolute statements about audio are false :)

Link to comment
I think you misunderstand me. Of course lynching and the mistreatment of people should matter to everyone, but what we are discussing here is not lynching per se, but rather the criteriaby which this song was given accolade discussed in the article you cited. The best way to view my objections is to look at the analogy of the motion picture academy awards. If you want to win best picture, you don't make films about space ships, dinosaurs, or cartoon characters. You make films about either the holocaust or African-Americans. The resultant film doesen't even have to be very good, it just has to be politically correct and be On the Hollywood Progressive list of subjects, and you are in like Flynn! I say that in music, art or film, topical and popular causes like social engineering is not the way to judge art.

Telling the Truth isn't a 'cause' or social engineering. Art should comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.

 

Anyone who hasn't felt the electric moment a crowd turned murderous hasn't got a CLUE what this is about.

 

Maybe it was better for some when Danny Kaye was the arbiter of American taste, but not for the victims of genocide, here or abroad.

 

Great art gives memory to the forgotten.

 

Sent from my Nexus 6 using Tapatalk

Link to comment
Telling the Truth isn't a 'cause' or social engineering. Art should comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.

 

Thank you H.L. Menken (or more to the point, E.K. Hornbeck). Art should not be subject to political agendas. A Beethoven symphony is not considered great art because it expresses someone's political/moral/social viewpoint. It's great art because it's great music. OTOH, Strange Fruit is not great music, not a great song, and is considered great by some because the political/moral/social viewpoint does match some people's idea of political correctness.

 

Anyone who hasn't felt the electric moment a crowd turned murderous hasn't got a CLUE what this is about.

 

You're right I don't have a clue. OTOH, your moral indignation at such occurrences, as correct a response as that is, has no bearing on the quality of art in my estimation.

 

Maybe it was better for some when Danny Kaye was the arbiter of American taste, but not for the victims of genocide, here or abroad.

 

I simply don't see what one thing has to do with another. Danny Kaye was an entertainer, Genocide has nothing whatsoever to do with entertainment.

 

Great art gives memory to the forgotten.

 

Perhaps, but in my estimation, Strange Fruit is neither great art nor memory to the forgotten. It is just a mediocre song that reminds us of a tragic part of American history that thankfully is behind us, and should not be remembered because it is divisive of people who should be trying hard to come together as one people.

George

Link to comment
What an exageration of the "Hollywood Progressive" card. Since when have "films about space ships, dinosaurs" not won academy awards? They win lots. The list isn't even short.

 

As far as your earlier point about "artistic merit": when did the determining factor in artistic merit become whether people want a picture hanging over their fireplace? Based on that criterion, the greatest paintings of the last 100 years are either of dogs playing poker, or of Elvis....

 

When "Strange Fruit" was written and became popular, it wasn't in Hollywood or by Hollywood types. It became popular because it's extremely powerful and appealed to people of all types, or at least all the types that were disturbed by lynchings. The impact on listeners was big and emotional, and not because of "political correctness"; but because of the power of the ART and the moral statement of the message.

 

Do you think just any song about the subject of lynchings would have made such an impact?

 

Yep.

 

Clearly not, as the message (especially in a song) is off putting and uncomfortable. So songs (especially back then) weren't written about such taboo topics.

 

And unlike your characterization, it was never "popular " in the mainstream sense.

 

Do you know of any other similar popular song from that era that has had such an enduring musical and topical impact?

 

No, and I say that all of Strange Fruit's impact is topical and social, none of it is musical (to me, anyway). The reason why it's still around is that it is politically "fashionable". I say that because it is not a great, nor even a "good" song from a purely musical point of view.

 

I didn't mean to stir up a hornet's nest from the left with my comment about the musical merit of that song (which is my only criteria for judging it). I won't respond any more as I've had my say. Those of you who like and value the song, I say enjoy it. But include me out.

George

Link to comment
Thank you H.L. Menken (or more to the point, E.K. Hornbeck). Art should not be subject to political agendas. A Beethoven symphony is not considered great art because it expresses someone's political/moral/social viewpoint. It's great art because it's great music. OTOH, Strange Fruit is not great music, not a great song, and is considered great by some because the political/moral/social viewpoint does match some people's idea of political correctness.

 

 

 

You're right I don't have a clue. OTOH, your moral indignation at such occurrences, as correct a response as that is, has no bearing on the quality of art in my estimation.

 

 

 

I simply don't see what one thing has to do with another. Danny Kaye was an entertainer, Genocide has nothing whatsoever to do with entertainment.

 

 

 

Perhaps, but in my estimation, Strange Fruit is neither great art nor memory to the forgotten. It is just a mediocre song that reminds us of a tragic part of American history that thankfully is behind us, and should not be remembered because it is divisive of people who should be trying hard to come together as one people.

You started this, in a public forum.

 

Many similarly suffering with this militant form of nostalgia find challenging music distasteful.

 

Popular song has always been vehicle for this.

Bruce Springsteen, an American icon, had his breakthrough hit lamenting Vietnam vets that were cast aside after the shooting stopped.

 

 

http://www.infoplease.com/entertainment/music/politics.html

 

On a personal note, hiding behind snark is the logical equivalent of a snarling Chihuahua.

 

FYI - George Carlin lifted from Finley Peter Dunne.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sent from my Nexus 6 using Tapatalk

Link to comment
Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were tried as spies for the Soviets and despite protests, were executed amid a surge of national anti-soviet paranoia.

 

While there is some evidence that Ethel Rosenberg was a simple hausfrau and had no knowledge of, nor took part in her husband's espionage activities, there is no doubt that Julius Rosenberg in cahoots with his brother-in-law David Greenglass (who worked at Los Alamos) did conspire to pass the secrets of the Atomic bomb on to the Soviet Union. Under the precepts of U.S. espionage laws, war-time espionage IS punishable by death and rightly so, IMHO. War-time loss of life as a result of espionage is just too great to let spies off with a prison sentence.

 

Now, I'm not so naive as to think that without the spying of Greenglass, Klaus Fuchs. Harry Gold, Ted Hall, and the spy-ring leader at Los Alamos (who my personal investigation has led me to believe was Physicist Phillip Morrison who has never been officially recognized as such), Rosenberg, and his contact Walter Able, that the Soviets would never have developed the A-Bomb. After all, the uranium bomb is mechanically very simple - the problem is in separating enough U235 from naturally occurring U238 to make up a fissionable mass (because U235 makes up less than 1% of any mass of U238). And although difficult and time consuming, such a separation procedure is not beyond the scope of any decent physics lab. The Soviets would have developed the A-Bomb certainly by 1952 (instead of 1949). My research into the matter, however, suggests that had the Soviets not had a leg-up from the Manhattan Project spy-ring, that they probably would have skipped the A-bomb altogether and gone directly to the fusion or H-Bomb.

George

Link to comment
  • 4 weeks later...
Thank you H.L. Menken (or more to the point, E.K. Hornbeck). Art should not be subject to political agendas. A Beethoven symphony is not considered great art because it expresses someone's political/moral/social viewpoint. It's great art because it's great music. OTOH, Strange Fruit is not great music, not a great song, and is considered great by some because the political/moral/social viewpoint does match some people's idea of political correctness.

 

 

 

You're right I don't have a clue. OTOH, your moral indignation at such occurrences, as correct a response as that is, has no bearing on the quality of art in my estimation.

 

 

 

I simply don't see what one thing has to do with another. Danny Kaye was an entertainer, Genocide has nothing whatsoever to do with entertainment.

 

 

 

Perhaps, but in my estimation, Strange Fruit is neither great art nor memory to the forgotten. It is just a mediocre song that reminds us of a tragic part of American history that thankfully is behind us, and should not be remembered because it is divisive of people who should be trying hard to come together as one people.

 

I'm not sure why memorializing people being hanged from trees is divisive - it happened. The division was caused by those who engaged in such barbaric practices and not by those who protested it in song and through other forms of activism.

 

The fact that many people draw a straight timeline line from enslavement of humans to lynching and to modern day racial profiling, jailing and execution of members of some groups only makes the song more powerful.

 

Some young people who I know who hear Strange Fruit for the first time are immediately struck by the longevity of discrimination - that historical view can only be helpful in raising consciousness and in being a catalyst to changing behaviours.

Music Server(s): Aurender N100H, Digital to Analog Converter(s): Audio Research DAC 8, Digital to Digital Converter: Bryston BUC-1, Preamplifier: Ayre K-5xeMP, Amplifier(s): Ayre V-5xe, Loudspeakers: Revel Ultima Salon 2, Interconnects: Kimber PBJ, Cardas Clear, Bryston AES/EBU, Loudspeaker Cables: Kimber PR8, Miscellaneous: Oppo BDP 95 disk player, CJ Walker turntable Jelco SA-750D tone arm, Ortofon 2M black cartridge, Magnum Dynalab tuner, Dream System: I've got it!, Headphones: Sennheiser HD600, Grado PS500e, Headphone Amplifier(s):Graham Slee Novo

Link to comment
I'm not sure why memorializing people being hanged from trees is divisive - it happened. The division was caused by those who engaged in such barbaric practices and not by those who protested it in song and through other forms of activism.

 

It's quite simple. It reminds people of the divided nature of race relations in this country. We should be striving to put all the hate behind us, and pull together as one people to solve the very real problems that face our society today. As an example, if political correctness forces people to not display the Confederate battle flag, and has several states having to redesign their state flags to remove the Confederate motif from it, then a song reminding people of the heinous practice of lynching should be likewise frowned upon. Remember, from the South's perspective, the War Between the States was fought for the concept of State's Rights, not slavery. That's what the Confederate battle flag means to them - not a reminder of Jim Crow.

 

The fact that many people draw a straight timeline line from enslavement of humans to lynching and to modern day racial profiling, jailing and execution of members of some groups only makes the song more powerful.

 

But it doesn't make it great (or even particularly good) music, and that's my my only objection to the song being hailed has great art (which is what this thread is about). As a political/social/moral message, to me it's neither here nor there. I think dragging-up old hates is somebody's political agenda, and in this case I'd let sleeping dogs lie. IOW, I'm critiquing the song, not it's moral message or it's use as a political tool for change. By the same token, I consider myself a loyal American, yet I hate our National Anthem. To me it's embarrassingly bad music with clumsy lyrics which are difficult to sing. This especially annoys me when I think of all the much better pieces of music that were considered and rejected: Columbia, Gem of the Ocean, America the Beautiful, Stars and Stripes Forever, and several more...

 

Some young people who I know who hear Strange Fruit for the first time are immediately struck by the longevity of discrimination - that historical view can only be helpful in raising consciousness and in being a catalyst to changing behaviours.

 

Well, that's another discussion, and I'll not get into it, here, but at the risk of mixing my metaphors, That can of worms is a two edged sword. :)

George

Link to comment

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now


×
×
  • Create New...