|A Chain of Thought Leads to Hearts and Minds in Chains
||[Jan. 27th, 2008|01:24 am]
Kelly J. Cooper
I have been getting emailed newsletters from Paste since the mid-1990s, I think. Some local Boston band was using them for CD distribution and I ended up on their mailing list. A couple of years ago, they created a printed offering, Paste Magazine. Its big attraction was the promise of a CD sampler in every issue. I subscribed. They have faithfully sent them and I have faithfully listened, often discovering nifty songs I probably would never have heard otherwise.
Issue 39 is the most recent (and marks the 39th sampler CD in my collection). Track 17 is "The Story of Benjamin Darling Part I" by local band State Radio (website: http://www.stateradio.com/) and it has absolutely captured my imagination. It's about a ship's Captain and his slave, Ben. In the song, they are shipwrecked and Ben saves the Captain. In return, the Captain says that Ben deserves his freedom for what he has done (a fallacy of course, he deserves his freedom no matter what, but let's leave that be for now given that the song is set around 1773) and that he, the Captain, should be forsaken. The end of the song implies that one of the men lives out his life on the island, always remembering that day (Probably Ben, but we don't know). Complete lyrics here.
Why am I telling you this?
First off, the lead singer of State Radio puts such sorrow into the line "And I should be forsaken/for what I have done" that it just lingers, LINGERS I TELL YOU, in my mind, like the memory of a howl of pain.
Second, there's just something compelling about the story, something that made me think it might be based on reality. So I turned to my trusty friend Google and, in fact, the song appears to have been inspired by the remnants of a true story. I found an article on the web from Portland Magazine that relates not only the fragmented bits of history people have managed to assemble but also the wretched treatment of Ben's descendants, who continued to live on the island and intermarried with Maine's local white population and various wanderers who made their living on the island.
Apparently, the area of Maine across from the island became very prosperous while the island struggled and suffered. Eventually, the mainland couldn't take it anymore, served an illegal eviction notice on the residents, and then, in the middle of the night, kidnapped the remaining islanders and had them committed to Pineland, then known as the Maine School for the Feeble-Minded.
Damn. Maybe that's what's coming up in Part II.
Can you tell I'm gearing up for Black History Month?