Monday, October 1, 2007
Ted Leo's "Sons of Cain"/For Those We've Left to Fight this War
The Cain and Abel story in the Hebrew Scriptures is a fascinating study in role reversal, as God chooses the younger brother's sacrifice over the (rightful) elder brother, Cain. Cain, like any good sibling, gets so pissed that he kills his brother. God hears Abel's blood crying from the ground--one of my favorite images in the Bible. Is it a projection of Cain's conscience in the mode of Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart"? We never know. When God asks him what happened to Abel, Cain retorts, "Am I my brother's keeper?" Then, Cain is marked by God and exiled from that place.
The descendants of Cain, according to the subsequent stories and interpretations, come to be seen as cursed, sometimes even with black skin (which gave birth to a theological justification for racism). In this song, Ted Leo says that this is a song for those "left behind"--does he mean the U.S. soldiers who have to continue to patrol streets where they are no longer wanted, or the Iraqi civilians doomed to endure a future of civil strife? Given the numbers of African-Americans in the armed forces, the song takes on yet another valence--those whom the government has cursed to fight for us.
"Sons of Cain" by Ted Leo
Old, lonely, and endless light.
Cold morning rises from the night.
No smile smiles back through the glare.
No voice calls back from the stairs.
Oh, those wounds on your blistered feet?
That march you on along that dusted street
Oh, that dust gathers 'round your head
as, clean, I rise from my lonely bed
All the talking - this and that
none taking me to where you're at
Oh, as fine as the day is long
Oh, my fineness, where have you gone?
And I know I'm not to sing of fights I've missed
But, alone, I've got to sing just to exist
And to resist
So you're gone now, and who's to blame?
Left down here among the songs of Cain
Have you gone on to their heavenly fame
Leaving me here among the sons of Cain
So, you're gone now, and who's to blame?
Left down here among the sons of Cain
Oh, you're gone now, and who's left to blame?
All alone among the sons of Cain