John Brown, by Driftwood Soldier
I picked up John Brown east of Elko
In the shade of a low overpass
He said 'I lost my body in old West Virginia
but I can still throw in for gas'
This world's full of trouble and strangeness
It'll wear you down and leave you numb
But I won't pretend that I wasn't surprised
To meet a dead man traveling by thumb
There's a wind in the north, in the east, in the west
It's the sound of the breath being torn from your chest
There's a wind from the south, whips the flag on its pole
It's the sound of John Brown's uneasy soul
He was good as his word when we filled up the tank
Bought me a two dollar scratch off and coffee as well
And as I worked my nickel for nothing
I wondered what stories a dead man can tell
I said 'John, what unfinished business
Keeps you so long from the grave
'He said 'I swore I'd never rest easy
while another soul lived as a slave'
I said 'John, slavery's over
And Jim Crow's been dead fifty years
'He said, 'You can believe what you wanna believe
But the fact remains that I'm still here.'
The amber waves lapped on the shores of the mountains
The purple peaks hidden in snow
I left John Brown by Mount Sunflower, Kansas
And went where I needed to go.
He called me that winter from Memphis,
And again the next fall from Big Bend
Then some bills went unpaid and my phone number changed
And I guess that's the way that things end
But John wasn't wrong, it's been true all along
We built this whole country on labor we stole
And we just keep stealing, so I've got a feeling
I'll die like John Brown with an uneasy soul
About the Song:
'John Brown' is an original song by West Philly mandolin-bass gutter-folk duo Driftwood Soldier. It was written in the summer of 2020 as part of the Cultural Creation for Collective Liberation project hosted by the national body of Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) .
Reflecting on songs like 'John Brown's Body' and 'Joe Hill', we thought about the way radical voices for justice killed by the state have been celebrated as still leading from beyond the grave. We're (relatively) young, and already we're tired. Wherever the spirit of John Brown is walking we imagine he's beyond exhausted. We owe him the chance to finally rest easy.
To find out more about Driftwood Soldier, and hear our recent album, Stay Ahead of the Wolf, go to: https://www.driftwoodsoldier.com/ or follow on instagram at @driftwoodsoldier.
We are white cultural workers who believe our own freedom is intertwined with the struggle against white supremacy.