Lonnie

"Lonnie" is the fifth song in Abel’s The Dream Gallery. The Dream Gallery depicts people, places and psyches throughout California, and “Lonnie” is set in the impoverished city of Richmond. It introduces an aging African-American man who outlines Richmond’s history as a wartime destination for laborers who were left behind decades later in decaying and dangerous neighborhoods. The music paints a picture of intense frustration and despair that turns gentle and hopeful in its closing measures.

Date: 2010Composer: Mark AbelText: Mark AbelSong Collection: The Dream Gallery

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LONNIE
(Richmond)

Smell of chemicals hangs in the air
above the Iron Triangle.
Some things never change, and I’ve been here 70 years now.

Up from Shreveport came Mom and Pop.
There were jobs in the shipyards — even for colored folks.
(That’s what they called us then.)
Rough and tumble after the war;
expecting a beautiful future,
we got the Depression all over again.

People packed like sardines into flimsy shacks —
black, white and poor —
just like down South, old times there were not forgotten.
And just like there, crackers ran this town,
ran it down, right into the ground.
And they kept on running it long after
brothers started getting a piece of that City Hall action.
(You know what I’m saying.)

We had a nice little shopping district,
but the anger boiled over in the ‘60s.
Some young fools and Panthers tore up MacDonald,
the flames gutting doorways and dreams.
But no Phoenix arose here; we just sank deeper into the mud.
All the money went to Hilltop,
where they tried to build a New Richmond without us.
When too many black faces showed,
the developers fled to lily-white Pinole.
And those millionaires out in the Point,
well, they’ve never given a damn about us.

Many years ago Dr. King spoke of bootstraps and expectations.
Well, there are still some here who have no boots.
Just drive down Barrett far enough; you’ll see ‘em.
We’re no more than fodder for the Channel 2 News:
Drive-bys, crack dealers, rapes and scandals.
Richmond is the town everyone loves to hate
— from the safety of their living room couch, mind you.
But none of them has ever been here!
Some things never change.

This is my wife, Doris. She’s from Oklahoma,
and we’ve been married 50 years.
We raised two kids, and they did OK
in spite of these bad schools.
They live in Vallejo and Sacramento,
and worry about us staying on.
“Last one leaving Richmond, turn out the lights,”
they laugh. And we do too.

But we’re not leaving.
Our friends are here, those still living.
And the young people, they must learn
that violence and drugs are not the way.
Broken glass, broken lives, we’ve seen it all.
Still, there is beauty here — parks, harbor and history.
And plenty to be proud of — ballplayers, musicians, doctors and workers.

We’re on our way to church.
Starting to rain now.
Well, nice talking to you.

Recordings

Terrain of the Heart

(Mark Abel)

2014

Audio

Track:

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