Friday, September 09, 2005

Randy Newman's "Louisiana"

Wow, what a beautiful song (I was watching the "Shelter From the Storm" telethon this evening on TV). Like the Robert Frost poem I quoted a few days ago, it's apparently about the 1927 flood.

The full lyrics are here, but perhaps the lines that seem most poignant today are these:

What has happened down here is the wind have changed
Clouds roll in from the north and it started to rain
Rained real hard and rained for a real long time
Six feet of water in the streets of Evangeline

President Coolidge came down in a railroad train
With a little fat man with a note-pad in his hand

The President say, "Little fat man isn't it a shame what the river has
To this poor cracker's land."

Now, I don't know about that last line, but the bit about the President and his man with the note-pad seem dead-on.


Michael Higgins said...

Hi Amardeep
Well, the fat man must have been Herbert Hoover. He was the one who directed the flood relief. And unlike Brown, he was generally considered competent in that role, and this helped him become president.

I think that many people looking back on the flood of 1927 blame Hoover for the racism unleashed by the flood. I don't know how much personal blame Hoover should accept although it might not be surprising if he were racist. I remember seeing a documentary on the flood and the primary racist was the son of the wealthist landowner of the area. I believe his last name was Percy. He virtually re-enslaved the blacks to rebuild the levees. This is obviously an issue of quite bitterness to the black community even today and it may help explain the deep distrust blacks feel towards the Republicans.

I saw an book interview with an author recently and he told of some amazing stories coming out of the 1927 flood. He said that there was a city just north of New Orleans that had it's levee purposefully destroyed to save New Orleans. New Orleans promised in writing to give just compensation, but reneged. The State Supreme Court sided with New Orleans. All dirty politics - just unbelievable. Or really just too believable I suppose.

This might be the book.

10:33 AM  
Amardeep said...


Thanks for the comment. I didn't make the Hoover connection in the song, though I did know about the role he played in the federal government's response to 1927.

Last week I linked to a PBS timeline of some of the events in that flood. They suggest that in fact the event modified politics (and demographics) in the south forever. Many blacks left the Republican Party after Hoover's shabby treatment of their demands, and quite a number left the south entirely shortly after the flood.

12:44 PM  
Owen said...

I'd have thought that as a literary gent you'd have been a little less uncritical about the implications of Newman's use of the adjectives "little" and "fat" in an apparently pejorative context.

3:14 AM  

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