In the very early 1970s, I had passed the FCC test for what was commonly called a “First Phone” radio operators license, which allowed me to work briefly as an engineer for two Upper Peninsula Michigan radio stations. Warner Brothers Music and their Reprise label would supply stations with regular demonstration LP records, which would contain sample tracks from upcoming albums, and I began to collect those, as they often pointed me toward artists whose work I would wind up collecting for years afterward.
One of those demo records contained a very evocative song, just over one minute in length, by Tom Rapp and his group Pearls Before Swine. I still have a digital conversion of that scratchy LP version on my computer today, because it still speaks, and it especially speaks on this day after another tragic school shooting. Tom Rapp never made it big in the music business and he just passed away at age 70. But I loved his music, one of the best finds from those old demos.
This song is called “Footnote,” and it is based on a poem called “Epitaph on a Tyrant” by W. H. Auden. It was appropriate when Auden wrote it around World War II, as well as at the messy end of the Vietnam War, when I was of draft age and Tom Rapp adapted it. Feel free to substitute your “tyrant of the day.” Here are Rapp’s adapted lyrics, and a link to the song.
Perfection of a kind was what he was after
The poetry he invented was easy to understand
He knew human folly like the back of his hand
He had an interest in armies and fleets
When he laughed respectable senators laughed at his feet
But when he cried the little children died in the streets