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Iris DeMent and the Missing Verses

Iris DeMent confronts a troubled world on her thought-provoking new album

One of the most politically-charged songs released so far this century – certainly in the Americana catalogue – has been made even more intriguing by the apparent removal of two verses from the original single to the version recently released on an album.

Singer-songwriter Iris DeMent’s “Going Down To Sing In Texas” is an in-your-face socio-political litany of contempt for racism, capitalism, police brutality, political dogmatism, the right to bear arms – name your cause. And she gets personal, openly condemning George W. Bush and Jeff Bezos, while expressing outright admiration for G.W.’s adversaries The (Dixie) Chicks.

And while “Goin' Down To Sing In Texas” is certainly the most politically strident on her new album Workin’ On A World, most of the other 12 tracks also serve as timely anthems on a world wracked by climate change, pandemics and a tragic conflict in Europe.

But the real fascination with the release – her first original material since 2012 – is what has been erased from “Goin' Down To Sing In Texas” since it was first released as a single in 2020.

Things started to get interesting about eight months ago when social media became abuzz when DeMent fans started expressing dismay that the song had actually “disappeared” from the internet. (It actually had not but the original is indeed difficult to find). Speculation eased when word got out that a new album was on the way and it was assumed that “Goin' Down To Sing In Texas” would obviously be included.

Indeed, it was. But DeMent purists soon sensed something was up when they realised the latest version of eight minutes five seconds is more than one minute shorter than the single.

So what is missing? Two fascinating verses, to be precise.

The first, number eight out of the original 12:

We ought not be condoning, bulldozing Palestinian homes It's an open-air prison there, A U.S. sanctioned, dead zone I have a wealth of compassion for Jewish people and their plight But I've not forgotten two wrongs don't make a right And we ought not be condoning, bulldozing Palestinian homes

The second was the tenth verse in the first version:

I'm so proud of all these young people for taking it to the streets You gotta have conviction if you are going to give your conscience feet That thug up in the White House will turn up his snotty nose But these kids are smart, they know the emperor got no clothes I'm so proud of these young people for taking it to the streets

So was track duration a factor in deleting two verses? And if so, why were these two dropped?

The obvious assumption is that DeMent and her producers succumbed to lobby groups upset at lines like We ought not be condoning, bulldozing Palestinian homes. And this is somewhat exacerbated by a verse which does survive the album:

I know a couple of Muslims and they seem like pretty decent folks to me I'd take anyone of them over that evangelist I'm watchin' on T.V. You wanna ban something? I got a plan Let's ban hate from every corner of our land Well I know a couple of Muslims and they seem like decent folks to me

The exclusion of the 10th verse may be more straight forward. The contentious line That thug up in the White House will turn up his snotty nose is clearly a reference to the previous occupant at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue as it is assumed DeMent wrote much of the song while Donald Trump was still in the White House.

But to get the facts of the situation, Crossroads contacted All Eyes Media, which handles DeMent’s publicity, along with a handful of Americana artists. We specifically asked for confirmation that these two verses had been omitted from the latest version of “Goin' Down To Sing In Texas” and were there social and/or political reasons for the changes?

In response, all we received from the publicist was a one-line reference to the current lyrics via The original lyrics, with the original additional verses can still be accessed on AZLyrics.

While Workin’ On A World is the most political strident of the 62-year-old’s seven albums, DeMent has always nudged social boundaries. Her first, the much acclaimed Infamous Angel, some 30 years ago, was a more gentle mixture of roots, folk, gospel and country. But she certainly opened up her heart for all to see on the beautiful “Mama’s Opry,” an ode to her mother’s lost dreams. Her eyes, oh how they sparkled when she sang those songs/While she was hanging the clothes on the line

Her human rights advocacy was more apparent on her third album, The Way I Should, released in 1996 when she first annoyed the political establishment with the inclusion of the provocative “Wasteland of the Free.” We got politicians running races on corporate cash/Now don’t tell me they don’t turn around and kiss them peoples’ ass

In fact the song so incensed one politician, a Republican state senator, that he launched a successful campaign to stop state funding for a community radio station which had played the song. The funding was later restored but not before DeMent played a benefit concert for the station.

And 20 years ago, when the first bombs were falling during the Iraq War, DeMent cancelled a concert telling the audience that performing that night would “trivialize the fact that my tax dollars are causing great suffering, and sending a message that might makes right.”

Like her distinctive, child-like voice, her message still remains the same.

While “Goin' Down To Sing In Texas” may be downright blatant, the opening title track “Workin’ On A World” – shades of the gospel classic “Working on a Building” - has a beautiful subtlety while still thought-provoking.

For DeMent is trying to define the after-life – that is life on earth after she, and all of us, have departed:

I don’t have all the answers to the troubles of the day

But neither did all of our ancestors and they persevered anyway

When I see a little baby reaching its arms to me

I remember why I’m workin’ on a world I may never see

Who needs lines about bulldozing Palestinian homes and that thug up in the White House when there are heart-felt gems like that?

Paul Cutler

Editor Crossroads – Americana Music Appreciation


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