September 21, 2014
Ry Cooder Listening Party With Robert Scheer
Posted on Oct 2, 2011
Ry Cooder: Yeah. And then, to the labor, working people had a voice in country music; it was their music in the South. And then sang so many songs, there are so many songs about work, you see; and hard times, and work, and the bosses, and all this. It wasn’t just Woody, you know. He was one of so many. And very articulate in that. And then that all got to be a big problem, you know; you couldn’t—and then of course Johnny Paycheck sang “Take This Job and Shove It,” and all that. But that was different.
Robert Scheer: Well, what about Johnny Cash and, what was it, the black—why I wear black, and the prison stuff—I thought that was very tough, and …
Ry Cooder: Oh, yeah. He’s right there. Oh, yeah.
Robert Scheer: I was very impressed with your dealing with immigration, and the cynicism about immigration. And you have the vigilante going after—which song was …
Square, Site wide
Robert Scheer: “Quicksand.” Can we play “Quicksand”?
Robert Scheer: You know, again, that’s a pretty provocative song. You’re taking on sort of the prejudice of some country-music people. [laughter] You got the vigilante in there, policing the border.
Ry Cooder: Mm-hmm. In 1950, maybe ’51, the great Anthony Mann, the film director, made a film called “Border Incident.” I don’t know if you know this. Fantastic film; he depicted the whole thing, he told the whole story of the exploitation of the workers who come over the border, the evil ranchos they work; then they’re herded into these pools of quicksand and killed rather than sent back. And if the federal police come, United States police, the border police come, their bodies are thrown into these quicksands—I mean, it’s really, it’s really gnarly. And this film was made in the 1950s. So it’s hard to believe. So I remembered this quicksand thing. It’s a good metaphor, you know. The story of how these folks, when they come across in that heat, 120, 130 degrees—if you make a wrong move and go out of your way at night, five minutes, you can’t get back. And you dehydrate so fast that you turn into a mummy in four days. And the ones who live to tell about it, I got this from reading this book called “The Devil’s Highway”—they very often have this vision of the virgin flying, she’s flying overhead and they have all these religious visions. This is what people have heard about. So I put that in the tune. It’s a kind of a rollicking little song; it’s sort of Little Julian Herrera sitting in with The Byrds in 1966, this tune is supposed to sort of sound like in my mind, you know? But it’s very dire; it’s obviously very horrendous kind of a daily situation that we have, you know. All these poor people trying to live and get work, and nobody wants them to do it.
Robert Scheer: Well, everybody wants them to do it; they just don’t want to give them a driver’s license … pay them and give them citizenship. You know, another song which we might mention is the one about your vision of heaven.
Ry Cooder: Oh, sure.
Robert Scheer: Which one is that?
Ry Cooder: [laughs] There are a couple. There’s the one where you have—where heaven is segregated. The Republicans have taken over [laughter], Jim Crow has been re-instituted, and God and Jesus, all of them don’t have adequate proof of citizenship, so they have to leave. That’s a good one.
Robert Scheer: So we could play a little, a few minutes. What number is that?
Ry Cooder: That’s called “If There’s a God He’s Got to Bottle Up and Go.”
Robert Scheer: Is that—that’s based on an old Woody Guthrie song, isn’t it, the Jesse James one?
Robert Scheer: So that was just a folk tune?
Ry Cooder: Ah-hah. From his time.
Robert Scheer: Oh! I shouldn’t say “just” a folk tune, but …
Ry Cooder: Well, it was one of these bad-man ballads of the time, you know. They were popular, I think.
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