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Tuesday, January 26, 2016

"You're Gonna Shoot Me Down, Put My Body in the River": The Body Electric


The Body Electric 

Said you're gonna shoot me down, put my body in the river
Shoot me down, put my body in the river
While the whole world sings, sing it like a song
The whole world sings like there's nothing going wrong

He shot her down, he put her body in the river
He covered her up, but I went to get her
And I said, "My girl, what happened to you now?"
I said, "My girl, we gotta stop it somehow"

Oh, and tell me, what's a man with a rifle in his hand
Gonna do for a world that's so sick and sad?
Tell me, what's a man with a rifle in his hand
Gonna do for a world that's so gone mad?

He's gonna shoot me down, put my body in the river
Cover me up with the leaves of September
Like an old sad song, you heard it all before
Well, Delia's gone, but I'm settling the score

Oh, and tell me, what's a man with a rifle in his hand
Gonna do for a world that's just dying slow?
Tell me, what's a man with a rifle in his hand
Gonna do for his daughter when it's her turn to go?

Alynda Lee Segarra of Hurray for the Riff Raff, an American folk-blues band from New Orleans, wrote the song "The Body Electric" because she was horrified by rapes from India to America's college campuses. She became all too familiar with audiences that would accept songs containing gender-based violence as part of the ballad tradition. With her song, she hoped to help change that.

(Ann Powers. "The Political Folk Song Of The Year."
National Public Radio. December 11, 2014.)

Segarra explains ...

"I wanted to let out some of my rage and speak about my desire for the world to change. I had been reading the news a lot, about young girls in American high schools getting gang-raped by their school mates, about a medical student in New Delhi India who was killed and gang-raped on a public bus. I felt so distraught by the state of our world.

"Then, I go out to a bar and watch a honky tonk band and they're singing a murder ballad song they wrote, about shooting a woman down cause she did wrong. I couldn't laugh anymore; I was too emotionally connected. I wanted to write a song a woman could sing along to and feel empowered by.

"It was a feminist statement, but as time goes on I learn more about the song than I knew. It's become about the culture of violence we live in, that accepts the deaths of people of color, queer people and women as commonplace. We are not disposable — we are living our lives as targets and we are tired of that."

(Dan Reilly. "Hurray for the Riff Raff Follow Trayvon Martin Tribute
With Video to Aid Abused Mother." Rolling Stone. October 17, 2014.)

While the group has performed the song live on national television and at radio stations around the world, Segarra also commissioned notable Nashville filmmaker Joshua Shoemaker to craft a video of "The Body Electric" that is deeply thought-provoking. The video is a meditation on the acceptance of violence and discrimination against people of color, women and the LGBTQ community. In it, classic imagery is used to advance the narrative.

The song has drawn high praise from various music publications. "The Body Electric" drew Best Song kudos on many year-end lists, including the No. 1 spot in American Songwriter magazine.

See the video of "The Body Electric" by clicking here:

Another video featuring the song tells the story of Marissa Alexander, a Florida woman who was convicted of aggravated assault for firing a warning shot to get her abusive husband to stop attacking her, just 10 days after she gave birth to her third child. He was unhurt in the altercation. Despite using the Stand Your Ground defense, the one that exonerated Zimmerman in Martin's death, a jury took 12 minutes to find her guilty, then sentenced her to 20 years under the state's arcane guidelines.

 See the video of "The Body Electric" featuring Marissa Alexander by clicking here:

Segarra says ...

"It will hopefully continue to do its work by encouraging the listener to question the culture of violence we are living in.

"I am mostly familiar with how the song has taught me there is a true connection between gendered violence and racist violence. There is a weaponization of the body happening right now in America. Our bodies are being turned against us. Black and brown bodies are being portrayed as inherently dangerous. A Black person's size and stature are being used as reason for murder against them.

"This is ultimately a deranged fear of the power and capabilities of black people. It is the same evil idea that leads us to blame women for attacks by their abusers. Normalizing rape, domestic abuse and even murder of women of all races is an effort to take the humanity out of our female bodies. To objectify and to ridicule the female body is ultimately a symptom of fear of the power women hold."

(Ann Powers. "The Political Folk Song Of The Year."
National Public Radio. December 11, 2014.)

Through an Indiegogo campaign, Hurray for the Riff Raff also started the Body Electric Fund, which paid for the video premiere while also benefiting community organizations dedicated to working against violence such as Third Wave, a gender-justice activism group for youth, and The Trayvon Martin Foundation, which supports the families of victims of violent crimes while raising awareness about racial and gender profiling.

"The Body Electric" is on Small Town Heroes, the groups sixth album and the first on a major independent label. Alynda Lee Segarra is a Bronx native who immersed herself in the downtown punk scene and started a band. At 17, she ran away from home and spent her late teens hopping trains before settling in New Orleans, where busking became her means of musical self-education.

Of herself, Segarra notes ...

"A Puerto Rican from the Bronx who went to the South, who also feels queer, who also loves classic country and rock 'n' roll. What's interesting about all of those elements together is that it can attract a lot of different people, can relate to it. That's something I've learned over time: learning how to be comfortable with yourself as a complex person, and feeling like you don't need to throw away any part of yourself in order to become an artist, or feel connected to one particular group."

(Ann Powers. "Hurray For The Riff Raff's New Political Folk."
National Public Radio. January 23, 2014.)


Of course, the title of the song alludes to Walt Whitman's free verse poem “I Sing the Body Electric,” which appeared in the 1860 volume of poetry, Leaves of Grass. The poem is a celebration of the beauty of the human body, both male and female, that dwells on its physicality -- in many forms --  its sexuality, and its divinity.

In "Sing the Body Electric," Whitman likens the body to the soul. He makes the point that the body
and the soul are inextricably intertwined and therefore, devaluing or mistreating the body is also a
crime against the soul. He professes that the body does not corrupt the soul, as is a common
Christian belief.

Whitman emphasizes that the human body is sacred because it acts as the linkage between the soul
and the world. He does not pick the body or soul to be more important than one or the other but
suggests that both are "helpers of each other: that enable spirituality and poetry."

I Sing the Body Electric (Excerpt)

By Walt Whitman (1819–1892)
I sing the body electric,
The armies of those I love engirth me and I engirth them,
They will not let me off till I go with them, respond to them,
And discorrupt them, and charge them full with the charge of the soul.

Was it doubted that those who corrupt their own bodies conceal themselves?
And if those who defile the living are as bad as they who defile the dead?
And if the body does not do fully as much as the soul?
And if the body were not the soul, what is the soul?

The love of the body of man or woman balks account, the body itself balks account,
That of the male is perfect, and that of the female is perfect.

The expression of the face balks account,
But the expression of a well-made man appears not only in his face,
It is in his limbs and joints also, it is curiously in the joints of his hips and wrists,
It is in his walk, the carriage of his neck, the flex of his waist and knees, dress does not hide him,
The strong sweet quality he has strikes through the cotton and broadcloth,
To see him pass conveys as much as the best poem, perhaps more,
You linger to see his back, and the back of his neck and shoulder-side.

The sprawl and fulness of babes, the bosoms and heads of women, the folds of their dress, their style as we pass in the street, the contour of their shape downwards,
The swimmer naked in the swimming-bath, seen as he swims through the transparent green-shine, or lies with his face up and rolls silently to and fro in the heave of the water,
The bending forward and backward of rowers in row-boats, the horseman in his saddle,
Girls, mothers, house-keepers, in all their performances,
The group of laborers seated at noon-time with their open dinner-kettles, and their wives waiting,
The female soothing a child, the farmer’s daughter in the garden or cow-yard,
The young fellow hoeing corn, the sleigh-driver driving his six horses through the crowd,
The wrestle of wrestlers, two apprentice-boys, quite grown, lusty, good-natured, native-born, out on the vacant lot at sun-down after work,
The coats and caps thrown down, the embrace of love and resistance,
The upper-hold and under-hold, the hair rumpled over and blinding the eyes;
The march of firemen in their own costumes, the play of masculine muscle through clean-setting trowsers and waist-straps,
The slow return from the fire, the pause when the bell strikes suddenly again, and the listening on the alert,
The natural, perfect, varied attitudes, the bent head, the curv’d neck and the counting;
Such-like I love—I loosen myself, pass freely, am at the mother’s breast with the little child,
Swim with the swimmers, wrestle with wrestlers, march in line with the firemen, and pause, listen, count.
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