Origin of a song: Trouble 'Round the Corner

No lie: Trouble’ Round the Corner was inspired by close to an even balance of a photograph, a rhythm I had on my mind, and learning something new. Here’s how this song came to be.

For whatever reason, I wanted to use a Bo Didley-esque, punchy strum on a new song. (It didn’t turn out to be exactly the Bo Didley rhythm – nice tutorial on YouTube – but that’s OK, it was an inspiration rather than the destination.)

Messing around with chords and lyrics that seemed to fit got me as far as what you’ll hear in the first twelve or so seconds:

There’s trouble ‘round the corner,
There’s trouble down the street—
And you probably ain’t still breathing
If you ain’t feeling the heat

And that was that. I had no idea what ought to come next.

Then I came across this photo.

Title: Strike pickets, New York, New York

Creator(s): Rothstein, Arthur, 1915-1985, photographer

Date Created/Published: 1937 Dec.
Part of: Farm Security Administration – Office of War Information Photograph Collection (Library of Congress)

Now I started to know. I was struck by two things. “Help us” hit me as a human-to-human request. This was hammered home by her direct gaze into the camera.

And the “please.” Please–like it’s for real, it’s serious.

And then I learned something. I suppose I “kinda sorta” knew that what I would describe as a “striker” or “someone with a picket sign” could be described as a “picket.” But “strike pickets” struck as learning something knew. The people could be “pickets.”

“Make yourself a picket” — to “help us win” had to be in the song.

And the song had to be all about a personal appeal to respond to the threats the pickets faced. This led to the motif of using specific names; verse one came first:

There’s trouble ‘round the corner,
There’s trouble down the street—
And you probably ain’t still breathing
If you ain’t feeling the heat
So notify your neighbors
Be they Molly, Moe, or Mike—
They’re busing in the Pinkertons
To break our Local’s strike

Things came together really fast from there. The narrative flow was : there’s trouble coming; it’s based on willful deception; by banding together we can fight back against a stacked deck.

I had the idea of a musical “clarion call” in mind alongside the verbal ask for help. The harmonica starting at 0:37 was exactly the second take of trying to capture “standing at the ramparts, bugling–only with a mouth harp.”

Give it a listen and let me know what you think.

There’s trouble ‘round the corner,
There’s trouble down the street—
And you probably ain’t still breathing
If you ain’t feeling the heat
So notify your neighbors
Be they Molly, Moe, or Mike—
They’re busing in the Pinkertons
To break our Local’s strike
 
They say the Reds are getting violent
And it’s time for it to stop—
But the “Commie with a gun”
Was an undercover cop
So help us get the word
To every Sally, Sam, and Sue—
They say the workers started trouble
But we know it isn’t true
 
We know there’s trouble round the corner
‘Cause the governor’s in the tank
For the foremen at the factory
And the fat cats at the bank
So make yourself a picket
Every Johnny, Jane, and Jack
‘Cause we ain’t got guns or money--
But we’ll have each others’ back

New EP: A Whole Lot of Trouble

How much grief can you fit into 1:25 of music? I swung for the fences in the title track, A Whole Lot of Trouble

A Whole Lot of Trouble

The Hardest Hard Time

Summer ’29

Down to Our Last Dollar

Nothing Good’s Been Done

How’s a Man to Find Hope in these Hard Times?

Image  Bowery men waiting for bread in bread line, [New York City] George Grantham Bain Collection, U.S. Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-63966

Lyrics

When things went bad back in Twenty Nine
I would start my days on the hiring line
‘Till the man said stand for relief instead
I got a cup of cold coffee and a stale loaf of bread
Pride stuck in my gullet, eyes square on the floor
I said “with kids at home sir—could I have a little more?”
You’ll find me broke up, beat down, threadbare and poor
Shuffling along killing time
In the weeks months and years since they shut down that hiring line

Your almighty dollar says “in God we trust”
Tell where was he sir when the banks went bust?
And big backroom bailouts left us in the lurch—
You know that way back when they threw the bankers out of church
But now the fix is in and nobody cares
About their big corner offices and big leather chairs
That they made out like bandits and they’re still sitting there
While we’re scratching for nickels and dimes
In the weeks months and years since they shut down those hiring lines

Fear will hollow you out from the inside my friend
When you’re scared as hell they’ll never come round hiring again
We’re just heart broke and desperate shadows of men
Doing what we can to survive
In the weeks months and years since they shut down the hiring line

‘Cause I did fifteen years on the factory floor
And if I had my way sir I’d a done fifty more
Back when they turned us out I odd-jobbed for a spell
For a while had me Mr. Sicker’s apples to sell
But in nineteen hundred and thirty two
There are too many men chasing not enough to do–
Now I end my nights in a Hooverville
And if he ain’t gonna help us tell me who the hell will?
How’s a man to find hope in this hard time
In the weeks months and years since they shut down the hiring line

Copyright 2013 by Bryan Kirschner

In these Hard Times that We Might See Justice

Image:  Scottsboro (vicinity), Alabama. Children of a resettlement farmer at Cumberland Mountain Farms, a U.S. Resettlement project,  Farm Security Administration – Office of War Information Photograph Collection (Library of Congress), LC-USF33- 002089-M2

Lyrics:

In these hard times, that we might see justice
A little girl kneels by her bed to pray:
“We’re grateful Lord for how you love us—
But daddy didn’t find any work today
So as you’re looking down from up above us
Maybe there’s a bit of luck
That you can send his way
Maybe there’s a little luck
That you can send his way”

In these hard times, that we might see justice
A man holds a sign on a Bowery Street:
Can you spare a dime, for an idled worker?
So I can pay the mortgage
And my kids can eat
So I can pay the mortgage
And my kids can eat

In these hard times, does this look like justice?
A mother gives her hungry child a goodnight kiss
She sits along in the dark holding
A foreclosure notice
Wondering how did honest people
Ever come to this?
How is it honest people
Could ever come to this?

In these hard times, that we might see justice
For families struggling to get by each day
For the fat cats and bosses, lining their own pockets
And all the politicians in the bankers’ pay
In these hard times, that we might see justice
I’ll raise my voice in one more song–
In these hard times, that we might see justice
What you can’t set right you can at least call wrong
What you can’ set right sir, you can at least call wrong

Copyright 2013 by Bryan Kirschner

A Little Love, A Little Mercy

Image  Works Progress Administration located at feri.org

Lyrics

A little love, a little mercy
Would go far when times are tough
When we’ve lost hope for what we had once—
And we’re just praying for just enough:
Enough to do right by the children
And dress then warm against the chill
While they stare up at the lights on
In those big warm mansions on the hill

Enough to put a floor beneath us
And stop us sliding further down
Enough to put a roof above us
And stop this wandering town to town
Enough to set a simple table
And serve a humble evening meal
Name a fair day’s wage for a hard day’s work sir—
Just say the word, and I’ll take that deal

‘Cause a little love, a little mercy
Seem awful scarce in this hard land
I’ve seen a hundred stone cold shoulders
For each friendly helping hand

Big signs that say “Keep walking strangers—
We can’t care for those we call our own”
Betray a poverty of spirit
As deep as that of flesh and bone

See we had a home,  I had a job sir
Till trouble blew ‘em all away
I never dreamed we’d live in danger
Of empty bellies, no place to stay
So you might find some love and mercy
For us folks struggling to get by
In these hard times if  you remember
“There but for the grace of God go I”

Copyright 2013 by Bryan Kirschner