This week’s plague song goes out to that long-tongued liar, his regime, and all who have enabled it over these past four years — whether actively or via silent complicity.
The earliest recording of the song is from the Golden Gate Quartet in 1946, but it’s been recorded in many genres, by many artists, and under several different titles.
Here’s a playlist of 22 versions, presented in approximate chronological order.
The song begins in gospel, then migrates into country, folk, jazz, rock ‘n’ roll, and even heavy metal.
The most familiar voices may be those of Bill Landford and the Landfordaires (above): Moby (below) samples their 1949 recording in “Run On” (1999).
Johnny Cash’s posthumous release (2006) is the other widely known recording: The Gaslight Anthem, Marilyn Manson, Sugar + The Hi-Lows, and Youn Sun Nah all use his version of the lyrics.
My version’s arrangement borrows from the versions by The Golden Gate Quartet, Bill Landford and the Landfordaires, the Blind Boys of Alabama, Johnny Cash, and Jessye Norman.
There are many reasons for choosing “Run on for a Long Time” / “God’s Gonna Cut You Down” (to call the song by its two most frequently used titles) for this week’s Plague Song, foremost among which is its message of divine vengeance: “God Almighty’s gonna cut you down” (or “sooner or later, God’s gonna cut you down,” in Cash’s version). When Biden won and the White House’s current occupant refused to concede (abetted by the traitorous Republican Party), I found myself singing this song, and began assembling a playlist of various recordings. We face a pandemic, and the malignant narcissist who denies the science and seriousness of the virus is killing people by actively preventing Biden’s COVID-19 advisory group from accessing the government resources they need. I am angry that King Covid and his toadies are determined to kill as many people as they can.
I am not a religious person, but this song speaks the language of those hypocrites who claim a Christian affiliation and yet support an idol who embodies the seven deadly sins. If the so-called Evangelicals (White pseudo-Christians who in 2020 again supported a manifestly evil candidate) meet the judgment the Bible promises, they’re going to Hell. In the words of the song, They’re gonna reap just what they sew…. God’ll cut ’em down.
Several lyrics also echo my hope of both exposing the criminality of the regime, and having its perpetrators face legal consequences: “You may throw your rock, hide your hand, work in the dark against your fellow man,” but “what’s done in the dark will be brought to the light.”
A fourth reason for my choice is — quite obviously — that the song is about death. And we are surrounded by death. The US has just added one million new cases in a single week: As of yesterday, the US had surpassed the 11 million-case mark. At the rate we’re going, we will surpass 12 million cases in the next few days. Hospitals are overwhelmed. The winter will be dark and deadly.
Unless we change. We can mandate mask-wearing and social-distancing. Or, barring such guidance from the government, we can take responsibility for our fellow human beings and adopt these practices ourselves. We could do unto others as we would have them do unto us.
Will we? I don’t know.
Want to perform a song but need ideas? The playlist below will give you many places to start.
- Plague Songs
- Sing. Sing a Song. #PlagueSongs, no. 1 (17 Mar. 2020). Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive.”
- Do Not Touch Your Face. #PlagueSongs, no. 2 (24 Mar. 2020). The Weeknd’s “I Can’t Feel My Face.”
- The Bright Side. #PlagueSongs, no. 3 (31 Mar. 2020). Monty Python’s “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.” Also the first post where I began my practice of using a lyric as the title.
- It’s later than you think. #PlagueSongs, no. 4 (7 Apr. 2020). Prince Buster’s “Enjoy Yourself.” (Also: the discovery that I cannot play ska.)
- There doesn’t seem to be anyone around. #PlagueSongs, no. 5 (14 Apr. 2020). Tommy James and the Shondells’ “I Think We’re Alone Now.”
- Be an optimist instead. #PlagueSongs, no. 6 (21 Apr. 2020). The Kinks’ “Better Things.”
- Kick at the darkness. #PlagueSongs, no. 7 (28 Apr. 2020). Bruce Cockburn’s “Lovers in a Dangerous Time.”
- So far away, but still so near. #PlagueSongs, no. 8 (5 May 2020). Robyn’s “Dancing on My Own.”
- If you just call me. #PlagueSongs, no. 9 (12 May 2020). Bill Withers’ “Lean on Me.”
- In the end, they’ll be the only ones there. #PlagueSongs, no. 10 (19 May 2020). Hanson’s “MMMBop,” and a few chords from Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”
- No matter how I struggle and strive. #PlagueSongs, no. 11 (25 May 2020). Hank Williams’ “I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive.”
- Love. #PlagueSongs, no. 12 (1 June 2020). Medley of Nick Lowe’s “(What’s so Funny ‘Bout) Peace Love, and Understanding” and the O’Jays’ “Love Train,” with brief snippets of the Staple Singers’ “This Train” and the Beatles’ “All You Need Is Love.”
- This is the time. #PlagueSongs, no. 13 (9 June 2020). Lou Reed’s “There Is No Time.”
- My neighbor and my friend. #PlagueSongs, no. 14 (16 June 2020). Fred Rogers’ “Won’t You Be My Neighbor.”
- If you’re lost, I’m right behind. #PlagueSongs, no. 15 (23 June 2020). Everything But the Girl’s “We Walk the Same Line.”
- Live to see another day. #PlagueSongs, no. 16 (30 June 2020). The Bee Gees’ “Stayin’ Alive.”
- Offer me solutions, offer me alternatives, and I decline. #PlagueSongs, no. 17 (7 July 2020). R.E.M.’s “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (and I Feel Fine).”
- Someday we’ll find it. #PlagueSongs, no. 18 (14 July 2020). Kermit the Frog’s “Rainbow Connection.”
- Can’t control my brain. #PlagueSongs, no. 19 (21 July 2020). Ramones’ “I Wanna Be Sedated.”
- 4’33” #PlagueSongs, no. 20. AND 43 notes on silence, time, and the corona era (28 July 2020). John Cage’s 4’33”, plus an essay inspired by the piece.
- Mann, wer hätte das gedacht, dass es einmal soweit kommt #PlagueSongs, no. 21 (4 Aug. 2020). Nena’s “99 Luftballons.”
- Banish sadness and strife. #PlagueSongs, no. 22 (11 Aug. 2020). “Look for the Silver Lining,” composed by Jerome Kern and Buddy DeSylva. My version is based on the Chet Baker recording.
- Don’t write yourself off yet. #PlagueSongs, no. 23 (27 Oct. 2020). Jimmy Eat World’s “The Middle.”
- What’s that sound? #PlagueSongs, no. 24 (3 Nov. 2020). The Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth.”
- What Is Your COVID-19 Routine?
- Resist the Regime
- “Fight Fascism. Vote Clinton.” (Dedicate Your No-Trump Vote, 30 Sept. 2016)
- Surviving Trumpism. Restoring Democracy. (12 Nov. 2016). I wrote this less than a week after the 2016 election.
- The Public University in an Age of Alt-Facts: Remarks on Receiving a Higuchi Award (13 Dec. 2016)
- “Resolutions for a New Academic Year: A survival guide for higher education in perilous times” (Chronicle of Higher Education, 5 Sept. 2017)
- RESIST! Year #2 begins NOW. (7 Nov. 2017)
- Why Trump Jails Crying Children. How We Resist. (A Twitter Essay) (21 June 2018)
- RESIST! A mix for 2019 (30 Jan. 2019)
- Kansas’ Distinguished Professors call for end to International Student Ban (11 July 2020)
- A Democracy, If We Can Keep It (29 Aug. 2020)
- This Mix Kills Fascists (30 Sept. 2020). My RESIST! mix for 2020.
- Children’s Literature vs. the Regime
- Refugee Stories for Young Readers (Public Books, 23 Mar. 2017). Francesca Sanna’s The Journey and other contemporary refugee tales for children.
- Donald and the Golden Crayon (20 Oct. 2018). The first book to adapt Crockett Johnson’s children’s books for political satire.
- Migration, Refugees, and Diaspora in Children’s Literature (ChLAQ) (11 Dec. 2018). Blog post announcing special issue of the Children’s Literature Association Quarterly on this subject, including excerpts from my introduction.
- Harold vs. Donald, round 2 (9 Sept. 2019)
- “Trump is a liar. Tell children the truth” (Public Books, 15 Oct. 2019). See also the related blog post on the essay.
- “A Manifesto for Radical Children’s Literature (and an Argument Against Radical Aesthetics)” (Barnboken: tidskrift för barnlitteraturforskning/Journal of Children’s Literature Research no. 42, Dec. 2019)