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The First Rap Record: THE CONGO by Vachel Lindsay as read/performed by Lindsay

With a comment from a grandchild…

Nancy Henry — “Is it time to say now after generations? I am one of Vachel Lindsay’s grandchildren. I have heard his poems recited nightly by my father (his son) as he was preparing to recite in public to honor his father’s work. The resonating rhythms and the soul penetrating vowels was a hole to eternity that brought the shamans work to my heart. I am now listening to his poems online to feel the presence of my family generation to generation and to fall into a hole created by my grandfather’s voice of a break in time that joins us all. Because there were ten grandchildren, this could have been said by any of the ten. My father memorized pages and pages of the poems, perhaps the whole collected works and practiced the sounds the pauses the shouts and the whispers trailing stars. We are with our grandfather in his idiotic joy and the pleasure of sound hissing and roaring in our voices. He is our grandfather. He is with us. Hi to any of my family who see this. I speak as one of the little girls running in the woods.”

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • EX-Californian Pete June 27, 2021, 8:29 AM

    It’s a fact that white people invented “rap.”

    But back then it was called “square dancing.”

  • Walter Sobchak June 27, 2021, 11:17 AM

    We had to recite this poem when I was in middle school. I think that jsut having heard it would get you cancelled now.

  • gwbnyc June 27, 2021, 6:20 PM

    get your ass in the water and swim like me

    There hadn’t been no shift for quite a bit
    so the Monkey thought he’d start some of his signifying shit.
    It was one bright summer day
    the Monkey told the Lion, “There’s a big bad
    burly motherfucker liviri down your way.”
    He said, “You know your mother that you love so dear?
    Said anybody can have her for a ten-cent glass a beer.”
    He say, “You know your sister that’s old and gray?”
    Say, “He’s the turd that caused her to be that way.”


  • jwm June 27, 2021, 8:09 PM

    Er- well…
    There’s this one, too:

    There’s a fuckin’ baboon in the Congo land,
    Walkin’ around with her tit in her hand.
    She climbed up a tree, and she said, “I see,
    A goddamn monkey ’bout to piss on me.
    So she took a rock, and she threw it at his cock,
    And the goddamn monkey ran a city block.


  • PA Cat June 27, 2021, 10:35 PM

    I first encountered Vachel Lindsay as the author of “General William Booth Enters into Heaven,” which he published in 1916. William Booth (d.1912) was the founder of the Salvation Army, so he was a natural subject for a poem that attempted to echo the rhythm of a well-known Gospel hymn (Lindsay even included instrumental cues). The composer Charles Ives then set Lindsay’s poem to music sometime around 1922 (Ives’ compositions are difficult to date in any precise way); here is an award-winning recording of “General William Booth Enters into Heaven”:

    Ives used only part of Lindsay’s poem; here is the truncated text:
    Booth led boldly with his big bass drum
    (Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?)
    The Saints smiled gravely and they said, “He’s come.”
    (Washed in the blood of the Lamb, the blood of the Lamb.)

    Walking lepers followed rank on rank
    Lurching bravos from the ditches dank
    Drabs from the alleyways, drug fiends pale
    Minds still passion ridden, soul flowers frail:
    Vermin eaten saints with moldy breath
    Unwashed legions with the ways of Death
    (Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?)

    Ev’ry slum had sent its half a score
    The round world over (Booth had groaned for more)
    Ev’ry banner that the wide world flies
    Bloomed with glory and transcendent dyes
    Big voiced lasses made their banjoes bang
    Tranced, fanatical they shrieked and sang;
    “Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?”

    Hallelujah, Lord! It was queer to see
    Bull necked convicts with that land make free
    Loons with trumpets blown a blare, blare, blare
    On, on, upward thro’ the golden air!
    (Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?)

    Jesus came from out the court house door
    Stretched his hands above the passing poor
    Booth saw not, but led his queer ones
    Round and round…
    Yet! in an instant all that blear review
    Marched on spotless, clad in raiment new

    The lame were straightened, withered limbs uncurled
    And blind eyes opened on a new, sweet world
    (Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?)

    The full text of Lindsay’s poem can be found here:

    Lindsay’s end was a sad one: depressed by financial worries, he committed suicide in December 1931 by drinking a bottle of lye.

  • jwm June 28, 2021, 3:40 PM

    OK, here’s me not playing class clown.
    I got the rhythm, and the urgent tone from the recording, but my hearing isn’t good enough to make out much else. So I went over to a poetry site and read it. It’s a scary piece. Given the period it was written, what came to my mind was the oft-played scene from Birth of A Nation, where negroes in top hats are smoking cigars, and partying away, having a good old time in the legislature.
    But the Boomlay-Boom hasn’t changed. It rumbles like an obscene earthquake out of cars, and from huge stereos at the beach. And, unfortunately, sometimes from small trailers towed by bike riders. Same message, too.
    A few years back, my wife and I were on a big “outlaw bicycle” cruise in the South bay. We ended up rolling in to the parking lot at Dockweiler way too long after sundown on a weekend in the summer. The beach was crowded. Just like the poem, just like the poem, the Boomlay was loud, the voices were loud, the tone angry, and every other word was “fuck”. You could small sweat, dope, and alcohol.
    Didn’t matter that I had the really rare, expensive chopper bike for the ride. I told Mary, “Get in the truck.” I pretty much just tossed the bikes into the truck bed and got the hell out out of there. I pulled off the freeway later, and secured the bikes.


  • jwm June 28, 2021, 3:55 PM

    Sorry. Hit post too soon.
    Lindsay’s poem suggests, at the end, that Christ will ultimately drive out the Boomlay. It’s a hopeful stance, in the sense of the cardinal virtues, Faith Hope, Charity. Better to Hope, than despair. Miracles happen, but they tend to happen on an individual level. Not every individual is willing to jump on the band wagon with Jesus. And will not has the same end as can not.
    Finally, odd that a man with such a deep religious impulse would choose suicide at all. Stranger still that he would choose such a gruesome way of doing it. Like punishing yourself for being such a rotten guy that you committed suicide in the first place.