Strange Fruit

13 Oct

 

Strange Fruit

By L. Stewart Marsden

 

Today I went on a search for one thing, and found another, quite unexpectedly. It was a cold splash of reality against my white, Anglo-Saxon heritage. I was searching for that silly beer commercial where the stadium vender, hawking his lager, has been placed in venues like a living room or a bathroom, and at one point, a cemetery during a burial. Funny.

That’s what I want when I go – a beer stadium vender shouting out “Ice cold beer, here! Get your ice-cold beer!”

Oftentimes YouTube puts another video – usually an ad – before the video you want to watch. You can skip it after 3 to 5 seconds if you like. And, just as normal, I click <skip ad>.

The “ad” in front of the beer commercial began with a close-up of a beautiful black woman with a large Afroesque hairdo, dressed in a beautiful slip-like dress, holding a microphone and staring up toward light that lightly bathed her. All else was dark.

She began to sing. I couldn’t place the song in my head. It was like a combination of Billie Holiday’s Summertime with some kind of mourning tune: melancholic and haunting. As she sang, visuals of forests and trees and other less-appealing imagery filled the screen.

On she mourned, and as she continued, I finally realized what the song was about. It was past events I had no touchstone with at all. But she did, and she did not have to reach so very deeply to urge that link to the surface of her voice.

Southern trees bear strange fruit
Blood on the leaves and blood on the root
Black bodies swinging in the Southern breeze
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees

Pastoral scene of the gallant south
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth
Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh

Here is fruit for the crows to pluck
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck
For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop
Here is a strange and bitter crop

Every word, every phrase, every line, every stanza was delivered with that haunting voice. Then I looked up the song. It was first performed by Billie Holiday in 1939 from a poem written by Abel Meeropol published in 1937.

I did not know the poem.

I did not know the song.

I did not know the pain.

What I do know is this: an old white man can learn something new. I learned something new today – not that lynchings took place (I was aware of that), but something, finally, gripped my soul and squeezed. We (white culture) did that. Why?

The following is a link to that video, performed by Andra Day. There is also a version of Holiday’s performance of the song, as well as many more. Not too many are performed by white artists. Kathy Segal (Sons of Anarchy) did one. I don’t recommend it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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One Response to “Strange Fruit”

  1. Linda October 15, 2017 at 3:06 am #

    Nina Simone version chilling and haunting
    Well said

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