lifeblood: songs: backgrounds: jonas and ezekial


1992-05: rites of passage, epic records press release:

song called 'jonas and ezekiel' begins with a few seconds of eerie ambient sound. "that's cooper seay of the ellen james society, playing a backwards guitar track," explains the indigos' amy ray, "and me, taking off my watch and putting it on the music stand before i started singing. they're almost accidental sounds, and that's the kind of thing that makes this album something different for us. i've always wanted to do stuff like that on a records, but we never had time to experiment in the studio that way before."

"we played dartmouth college and met some real free thinkers up there. i took a long bike ride on highway 5, on the border of new hampshire and vermont, and this song uses references from that and from earlier road trips - things i heard in conversation, things from the news. i went back to the hotel and wrote down the whole thing in one shot. it's a political song about people who put their faith in prophesy, who're walking toward disaster instead of doing anything about it. sure, i believe in fate, but you can take a lot of different paths in this life and your actions do have consequences."

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1992-06-07: indigo girls bring literature to songwriting, the st. louis post-dispatch:

q: some of the ideas i've encountered on earlier indigo girls albums - ideas about religion, for instance - seem to emerge more forcefully on "rites of passage." one song, "jonas & ezekiel," deals with native american land rights and questions the way some people hide behind apocalyptic old testament prophecies as an excuse for not acting to correct today's injustices. was there something different in your approach to lyric writing for this album?

a: it was a special time. we were reading a lot and experiencing a lot on the road. i think that the channels were more open, probably, to whatever puts lyrics into my head, because i think these lyrics are actually more mature.

i've always wanted to write songs that were more topical, but i never want to force anything. things come as they come. i just had some really good inspirations for this record.

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1992-07-10: songbirds, the charlotte observer:

added to that was saliers' anxiety over her songwriting for the new record. "it's important for our fans to like our record. i felt real insecure about my songs at first because i wrote them so fast. i can't really write on the road like amy can. we finished touring in july, so i had july to november to write.

"i feel more pressure than amy does to write. amy's songs are much more stream-of-consciousness - and i love that. i'm more self-critical. i write a line and then say, that doesn't sound good.' "

"jonas and ezekial," for example, is a song ray wrote after a performance at dartmouth college. she took a long bike ride on a new hampshire-vermont border highway, then went back to her hotel and wrote the song in one shot.

the song opens, "i left my anger in a river running highway 5, new hampshire, vermont border by college farms, hubcaps, and falling rock, voices in the woods and the mountaintops."

and "chickenman" is ray's song about a man she met in his junkyard, off the texas highway between houston and austin.

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1994-03: the indigo girls: the musical ties that bind, performing songwriter:

"the mystical power she gets in some of her songs like 'jonas and ezekial,' where you almost know what she's talking about but you're not sure. those songs stay with you a long time because you can't figure them out. that's the great power of amy's songwriting, that mystery. i take so much pleasure in her songs."

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1995-10-26: indigo girls, the portsmouth herald:

the liner notes are a special treat for fans, as saliers and ray have hand-written thoughtful, quirky comments next to each track listing. some comment on the audience or concert circumstances; others try to illuminate the thoughts behind the lyrics. about her song "jonas and ezekial," for example, ray writes: "i'm never sure what this song is about, but somehow biblical names in a slave cemetery and a bike ride in new hampshire conjured up a song about oppression, activism, and indians."

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200x-xx-xx: the meaning of some indigo girls lyrics:

jonas and ezekial are names that amy saw on tombstones in a slave cemetery. they are possibly also references to the biblical characters of the same name, although the names are spelt differently in different translations of the bible.

the "activist with a very short life" is a reference to bob sheldon, the owner of internationalist books in chapel hill, north carolina. sheldon was an active anti-war activist at the time of desert shield and desert storm. he was shot while alone in his store on february 21, 1991.

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2011-02-xx: bob sheldon day, the independent weekly:

twenty years ago today, the first iraq war was a few weeks old and triangle activists were in full swing. one of the most prominent leftists was bob sheldon, who founded internationalist books. but a shocking crime took place at the franklin rosemary street store on feb. 21, 1991: sheldon was found bleeding from a gunshot wound to the head and died the following day. the crime was never solved (it's unclear if it was politically motivated or simply a botched stickup), but it received national attention and was the subject of at least two songs. one was the indigo girls' "jonas and ezekial," while sonic youth's went with the more succinct title of "chapel hill."

thirty years after its founding by sheldon, the internationalist books & community center seems as strong as ever, a sturdy redoubt of leftist thought and activism in an ever-bourgeois, increasingly apolitical community. on monday from 7 to 9 p.m., old and new friends of the internationalist will gather at the store, and the evening will include a "rousing" march to the site of the old store (and crime scene). "c'est la lutte finale/ groupons-nous, et demain/ l'internationale/ sera le genre humain!" or, in billy bragg's translation of "the internationale": "so comrades, come rally/for this is the time and place!/the international ideal/unites the human race."-david fellerath


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