God Damn You Tom Brown

June 22, 2008 1:58 PM

Part of my old songs series, where I do lo-fi recordings of songs written years and sometimes decades ago. This one is a sort-of Irish folksong about a very mean man.

Unlike most of my songs, which I know I must have written at some point but don't recall precisely when, I know the exact details of the authorship of this song. In 1988, I was living in a small apartment in south Minneapolis, after having dropped out of college. I did not have a job nor money, and was feeding myself with meals from a food shelf. The former tenant of the apartment had died there, rolled off his bed, and quietly decomposed for a few weeks before being discovered -- the hard wood floors were scarred black from the heat of his decomposition. His family had come to collect his belongings, leaving behind everything that was too valueless or too bulky to take. So I slept in his bed, the same bed he had died in. One night I woke to find a figure sitting on the end of the bed, hands pressed to his face, as though he were weeping. The next morning I decided I had dreamed it. There was, however, one detail of the weeping man that stayed with me: His fingertips were black. Later I read that when people die, blood pools in their extremities, leading to blackened fingers.

This was a surprisingly fertile time for me, creatively. I began writing a play, which eventually turned into The Substitute Bride, and also wrote a few songs, including this one. I can't really say why I wrote this particular song, although I think the tale of the dead man, and the sense of being haunted by him, clearly influenced the lyrics.


He woke up one morning with a Los Angeles gal,
He married her money and then he buried it all
In guns and gambling and debt and champagne,
And love for Tom Brown is love spent in vain

He met up one evening with her father's ghost
Who asked Tom which he loved the most:
The touch of his wife or the sting of cocaine.
He said love for you, Tom, is love spent in vain

He was seen the next week with young Polly May;
He told her sweet things and then he bore her away.
Mention him now and she cries out in shame--
Because love for Tom Brown is love spent in vain

Her brother he insisted that Tom Brown would die
And he gathered his pistol and said his goodbyes;
He was beaten to death with a brass walking cane
And love for Tom Brown is love spent in vain.

Damn you, she cried, god damn you, Tom Brown!
She sickened and died and was buried in town;
He grieved and he mourned and made a show of his pain
But love for Tom Brown is love spent in vain

posted by Astro Zombie

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