I really enjoy researching but I know what work it can be. So when I come across a good bit of research it’s like looking at a very intricate painting and just imaging all the time someone put into it. That’s where Chris’ bit of research on the Locust St blog regarding the fourteen one off versions of “Dem Bones, Dem Dry Bones” really blew me away. “Again he said unto me, Prophesy upon these bones, and say unto them, O ye dry bones, hear the word of the Lord.” Ezekiel 37:4
To be able to trace back this kind of obscure music history, “In which a bizarre vision of Jewish cultural resurrection becomes a song to teach children how human bones fit together, thanks to African-American preachers,” makes this post an interesting read. I can’t even remember where I first heard this song but I know I learned it as a child learning basic human anatomy and I had no idea where it came from until now. Here is a longer excerpt from his essay,
Black ministers took the Bible as a starting point for long, improvised sermons, favoring great dramatic passages that could serve as cogent metaphors for a people living under Jim Crow–the parting of the Red Sea, the fall of Jericho and the walk through the valley of dry bones. The ministers would extravagantly riff off of the actual verse, so while Ezekiel only wrote one line about the bones assembling (“there was a noise, and behold a shaking, and the bones came together, bone to his bone“), the ministers broke the image down and drew it out: Listen! On the day of resurrection, the leg bone! will be connected to the thigh bone! The arm bone…will be connected to the elbow bone! The back bone…will be connected to the neck bone!
He even ties one version to The Singing Detective, a very odd BBC miniseries that incorporates musical numbers into the fantasy world of the main character (which is based on the real personal history of its author). I’ve seen parts of this series but admit for me it was very painful to watch because of the “Job-like” suffering of the protagonist who is bedridden with acute skin psoriases contrasted with the oblivious and almost calloused attitudes of most of the caregivers around him. He must escape into his own head to survive the humiliation and pain. I’m sure the kind of nearly unbearable pain recounted in the story happens much more than we would like to admit. (Thanks to WFMU’s Beware of the Blog for the pointer).
And speaking of dry bones, here is another quiet obsession. This volunteer digs up a field containing the bones of forgotten WWII soldiers. “People tell me to just let the bones sleep in the woods,” said Kowalke, a member of the German War Graves Assn. who has been searching for skeletons for 43 years. “But I say to them that no matter what this generation did, without them you wouldn’t be here.” So far he has found the remains of 20,000. And he keeps searching for more.