Saturday, November 7, 2015

Ballad of Donald White

I steal and murder
You made me this way. Shoulda
kept me in prison.

Dylan fans will recognize the tune that formed the basis of “I Pity the Poor Immigrant” six years after he performed this song. “The Ballad of Donald White” is a song of societal ills too, but in a different vein. Ol’ Donald sings the sad story of his life just before he hangs for murder. He came from Kansas, ended up in Seattle and everywhere he went he was an anti-social loser who couldn’t fit in. He had no education and stole to support himself. He wound up in jail where, rather like some of Jean Genet’s homosexual criminals, he found his real home. Trouble is, the jails and institutions were too crowded so he was set free. He begged to go back where he felt he belonged, but no one would incarcerate him without reason so he killed a man on Christmas Eve 1959. Naturally, they took him back, but only for a short stay. Then they hanged him. Don’s last question was whether “boys that come down the road like me, Are they enemies or victims of your society?”

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