Hard Times Come Again No More
Stephen Foster, "Hard Times Come Again No More"
Stephen Foster was born today, July 4th, 1826. He died in 1864 under troubling circumstances (he was found naked in a pool of blood in a hotel room). Some believe he took his own life; others, that he was murdered because he was gay. He was only 39 years old. But during his life, Foster wrote over 200 songs, and he is considered America's first great songwriter. His songs are well-known and beloved still today, including "Beautiful Dreamer," "America the Beautiful," and "I Dream of Jeannie with the Light Brown Hair." After Foster's death, his brother destroyed most of his papers, including unpublished songs, believing that they embarrassed the family; those lost papers are, of course, a great loss to music, history, and scholarship.
"Hard Times Come Again No More" was published in 1854. It was popular across America and in Europe. It is an anthem to the poor, and a prayer for help. The song begins: "Let us pause in life's pleasures and count its many tears, while we all share in sorrow with the poor."
There are many notable recordings of this song. Today, I listened to Emmylou Harris sing it. Harris has one of the most beautiful voices I know. Here is a link to Harris singing this song in live concert:
And here is a link to this song on Amazon.com, from Harris's album Portraits:
I love my country, but she is in a hard place: hence my choice of song for Independence Day. Here are several current facts about America:
- One in four children in America is hungry.
- One in five adults in America is hungry.
- Homelessness is increasing—500,000 in 2015, on quarter of them children.
- Over 50 million Americans live in poverty.
- America accounts for 5 percent of the world's population—but 24 percent of people imprisoned worldwide are incarcerated in America.
- America imprisons more people than any other country on Earth.
- America currently imprisons more people than Stalin did under his dictatorship.
- The people in prisons tend to be minorities.
- Voting rights are taken away from prisoners, even after release. Since this impacts minorities disproportionately, it is a new form of disenfranchisement.
- Healthcare and medicine are prohibitively expensive for many people.
- Average lifespans are falling, for the first time in generations.
- Wealth and the productive capacity of the nation are concentrated in the hands of a few: 24 families currently have more money than the bottom 146 million Americans combined.
- Clean drinking water is no longer available in many parts of the country.
- In my lifetime, America has cut down 70 percent of her forests.
We will enjoy barbecues and fireworks in the face of all this. But it would be disrespectful, I think, if we did not "pause in life's pleasures" at least to mention the day's troubles. Every problem on the above list could be solved. Future readers will know how we solved each one, or if we failed. I would like to live long enough to know the answers for myself.
I created "When the Morning Stars Sang Together," the image above, in 2006. It is based on Mandelbrot fractals. I think it looks something like fireworks. The title is from Job 38:4, 7: "Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? declare, if thou hast understanding. . . . When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?"