Among the greatest of all lyrics is Strange Fruit, written by Abel Meeropol and sung famously by Billie Holliday, who may be said to have died of the sorrow from singing it. David Margolick (2001) wrote that Holliday’s mother objected to her singing the song, and she said “It could make things better.” Her mother answered: “but you’ll be dead,” and Billie said, “yeah, but I’ll feel it. I’ll know it in my grave.” So she intentionally and courageously faced down the fear of death.
The song was difficult to sing in night clubs, because people came to have a good time, and this would put an end to that! But it would work at the end of the night, to send people home contemplative.
Southern trees bear strange fruit
Blood on the leaves and blood at 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
By their fruit we will know them. These “gallant” scenes of the “pastoral” South are not forgotten, in part because of the courage of Meeropol and Ms. Holliday. For shame, take down that defeated flag and hoist the stars and stripes!
The symbolism of bodies hanging from trees is like the crucifixion, and like that very eerie scene in an Arthurian movie when the knight Galahad comes to Mordred’s lair. The macabre contrast of fruit, flower and scenery with bulging eyes and burning flesh also makes the song give us chills from deeper than we know where. Not even Dylan or Neil Young produced this great a folk song, and this is jazz or blues.
I knew a woman, Elise Emerick, who saw a lynching in Florida back around the twenties, when she was five. Her father, Mr. Du Champs, (I believe he was a Henry) tried to stop it, and told her to go on home and don’t look back.
We have been trying to get Jack White, or some other Hendrix, to pull out the anger implicit in the sorrow of every note of the Billie Holliday version. I know this can be done, and with great commercial success, but the point is that right now in America, we need to wake up, and shout a loud, spirited “NO!” to fascism, tyranny and the destruction of our Constitution by domestic White Supremacists in league with foreign powers.
A final point: The fruit and leaves in the first two line reminds of the fruit and leaves in the book of Revelation. The leaves of the tree of life are to be given for the healing of the nations, which are of course still plural nations, and bring tribute into the city of God that has come down from heaven. There are 12 kinds of fruit on trees on either side of the river of the water of life. The eating of the fruit of the tree of life is a great mystery, and it is said that this is not possible in this life in any sort, because of the body. But it is promised one of the churches (Ephesus) that to him who conquers, it will be given to eat of the fruit of the tree of life, along with the six promises: to not be hurt by the second death, to be given the hidden manna and a white stone with a new name written on the stone, power over the nations to rule them with a rod of iron and the morning star, to be clothed in white garments with his name not blotted from the book of life and confessed to the father and before the angels, to be made a pillar in the temple with the name of the father and son written on him, and to sit with him on his throne.
The following video is simply profound, and identifies the strange fruit with the trees in Eden and the Christ hanging from the tree in the crucifixion:
ELECTIRC HARP and Strange Fruit for Jack White
We just sent Jack White the idea to electrify the classical harp. I hinted at bowing it, too, but their still way too cool to talk to a mere philosopher. We want him to convert the Billie Holliday blues song Strange Fruit into a Rock-blues song, translating what she does with her voice into electric blues guitar, and rage rather than sorrow, or sorrow yielding to our rage at the rising fascism that would again take power in America if it is not opposed, as by American Folk culture. Now there is a theme that could sound like Zeppelin’s Dazed and Confused. We suggest like Uriah Heap in Easy Livin‘ with Hendrix on guitar. Its all in there!