*10.03-BY THE PEOPLE (Van Dyke Parks)

Van Dyke Parks


Strike up the band brother
Hand me another bowl of your soul.
Brother has a long way to go
Maybe baby should know
His cotton mouth is too slow
For the song of the forgotten South
Just don't hang us up here. (2x)


        Step by step by please
        though proletariat am I.
        By chance am you
        gwine get out the way of the darkies
        you'd better hustle up a storm
        to sing this Caucasian lullaby:
        Sleep oh my darling now sleep [lullaby (3x)].


        Draw freehand over Iron Curtain
        stalk up on the trim bamboo.
        To footridge the bullrushes
        certain to know law American express
        no Caucasian flair for flim-flam will do.
        Step by please step by please bye bye bye

                Weigh the small advance.
                There is still a chance.
                Let's assume that:

                We form a company men
                No mention should then pass in review of the show.
                Just understand that I prefer to be dead than red white or blue
                As I write sturdy crew
                As you view these few Russians whose true
                Dawn came to view long ago.

                So I think that you'd better…

Strike up the band brother
Hand me another bowl of your soul.
The song of the forgotten South
Just don't hang us up here.

                        The unknown is at hand
                        and not far from my heel
                        a tarbaby feel for the Czar.
                        For those who are lonely…

Well the Black Sea is callin’
Georgia's Stalin has fallen
So y’all come here.
We now are near to the end
If you stay with the show
Say we all had to go
To hasten to jar the few nations
Too far gone to step by. Step by. Bye bye.


By the People, the second long composition on Song Cycle, was certainly one of the most (if not the most) difficult of the song lyrics in TLA for me to analyze. As I figure it, the song has four different melodies that interpenetrate, with the double refrain (the song of the forgotten South and step by please step by) attaching to verses in a different patterns and, in one instance, to a different melody. And then there’s a fifth static instrumental melody played on violin that appears at the first break, screeching off into an ever-accelerating tape with echo bouncing from speaker to speaker to lead into the second vocal melody, then repeated three times as the coda to the crash of thunder and the sound of rain and tolling bells. Richard Henderson reports in his book, Song Cycle, (p. 91) that ‘the density of Parks’ arrangement tested the capacity of the multi-track formats of that era to contain the sheer number of players [which include a solo violinist, a group of balalaikas, and a group of female singers evocative of the Andrews Sisters and Busby Berkeley] and discrete arrangements.”

The lyrics are a tangle of allusions related to the fact that there is a Georgia in the U.S. and Russia. Both Georgias are in the south of their countries. [In this, By the People shares common ground with Paul McCartney’s Back in the USSR, from the White Album.] It’s a song that reflects (in a fun house mirror way) the preoccupation of the 1960s with the Cold War between communism and the “free world”. VDP seems to be poking fun at the “free world” with reminiscences of Negro slavery in the U.S. The song is full of puns, the first being “cotton mouth”, a term that in context seems to belong to the “forgotten South” (and romantic fantasies of the Confederacy) but also applies perhaps to the effects of smoking marijuana. Since the Caucuses are both an area of Russia where White slaves were once traded and the root of the anthropological term for the White race, there are puns within that as well. I particularly note the “Caucasian flair for flim-flam”.

Like The All Golden, the lyrics of By the People call attention to the song nearing its end, this time marking the end of the world due to the Cold War. The song pleads that the antagonists “step by” conflict carefully or we’ll all be saying “bye bye”. And then the song releases us into the full minute of coda, the series of aforementioned sound effects enveloping the repeated phrase of violin solo. It sounds to me like a lonely man of culture, fearing for civilization amid sounds of impending doom.