LiveConnections, LiveConnections Education outreach, Stories from the Mines

Coal mining spoken word and lyrics writing at Science Leadership Academy

By David Bradley, LiveConnections Facilitator

This week, we spent a day with the US History classes and a day with the music classes. With the history classes, having talked earlier about how language can be used rhythmically, we talked about the different ways songwriters use lyrics to express their ideas. We played four songs that used form or point of view differently: Andrew played Springsteen’s “Nebraska,” a haunting ballad told from the point of view of a serial killer (based on 1957 Charles Starkweather murders) and “Blowin in the Wind,” (and we talked about metaphor, and lyrics structured as a list of questions) and recordings of two hip-hop songs: NAS’s “I Gave You Power” (about violence, told from the point of view of a gun) and Common’s “Be,” a personal empowerment anthem.

We broke all that down in discussions with the students and then asked them, as homework, to write their own pieces–either poems, monologues, stories, lyrics, using the idea of point of view or lists or inanimate objects speaking. They could use either the world of coal mining or their National History Day “Rights and Responsibilities”projects as inspiration. Some combined the two.
Yesterday with the music classes we talked about basic song form (verses, chorus, bridges), and then began to take the history classes’ writing and work a couple of pieces into a form. We’ll keep working on that as we go forward.
I’m pasting below some of the writing from the history classes, and then a first start at some lyrics from the music classes, adapted from history class writing. It’s a fun exploration and starting to show us the forms our song cycle can take.
HISTORY CLASS WRITING
Monologue:
The rumbling of the cart carrying dead bodies left an echo in the cavern that couldn’t be ignored. 11 today, who knows how many tomorrow. This isn’t directly his fault, but it might as well be. If he doesn’t take the initiative to care for his workers he’s really just throwing away his money. It’s so good though, the money I mean. That’s why this business has such a cult like following. Even though there’s a chance of death, who could overlook that 40 cents an hour. Not even I could, but that doesn’t mean I can’t still be an advocate for the cause. I can be the voice that leads us to a brighter future..
–Jaime ChristmasThe struggle
By Khadijah Fofana and Katie Walker
I have sons to raised,
On very little money,
and working in this mine,
Is the only way

I can’t seem to figure when it’s day or night,
because I’m here stuck in this dusty hole,
even though my knees is aching and my back is sore,
I still look forward to loading this rusty coal

It’s so dark in here,
The mine is small,
I have to duck and lean,
to get past the wall,
but no matter what I still try to believe,

I can’t seem to figure when it’s day or night,
because I’m here stuck in this dusty hole,
even though my knees is aching and my back is sore,
I still look forward to loading this rusty coal

My sons are crying,
washing daddy’s clothes,
I almost didn’t come home today,
I wonder if they knows,

I can’t seem to figure when it’s day or night,
because I’m here stuck in this dusty hole,
even though my knees is aching and my back is sore,
I still look forward to loading this rusty coal,

Moving huge rocks and working hard,
is what miners do,
For my sons and love ones,
I do it for you,

I can’t seem to figure when it’s day or night,
because I’m here stuck in this dusty hole,
even though my knees is aching and my back is sore,
I still look forward to loading this rusty coal.

“Life from a Breaker Boy’s Perspective” (a rap by Emmanuel Kouadio)
Coal mining is life
coal mining is life
it comes along with a big portion of responsibilities and right
guaranteed work through the day
no sleep promised for the night
whip lashing, voices crying, but no one really hears our side
many unheard sounds because no one hears our cries
no one realizes that the pain we inherit makes us be more united
even though we have our fun times we’re still unsatisfied
being a breaker boy isn’t easy, I was born into this lifestyle
dads been elevated and I’ve been picking coal for a while
tired of working for cheap and being used for the wrong reasons
I want to go to school and play sports for each season
the more responsibilities we have means less rights
its hard to be a young man apart of this
coal
mining
life.

Haiku by Edgar Pacio
Dusty hammers swing
Putrid fumes invade our lungs
Grow old and die young

Chipping anthracite
Another day in the mines
It has to be done

Small hands picking rocks
There’s no rest for the weary
Blackened hands and blood
–Edgar Pacio

From the Coal’s perspective by Melanie Harrington
I lie beneath the mountain in smoky black tunnels where the air is toxic and the work is dangerous. Each day my home is destroyed and each day is a count down to the day I fall. I’ve seen many faces from all over the world. The fingers and bodies of the nameless fall and lie before my eyes. My brethren are taken and put into carts, sent off to their doom, never to reform again. BOOM! I see stars, I can’t breathe. The dust clears and I peer up at the faces surrounding me. The pick me up with their filthy hands and take a part of me with them as I’m passed between people. I’m forced into a hard metal bin. It’s cold and dark. What is left of my kind is piled on top on me, crushing me under their weight. I sleep. I’m one of millions doomed to a life unknown outside the tunnel.

1st draft song lyrics from Music Class (inspired by the piece above)
Chorus:
BOOM
It’s cold and dark
I’m one of many doomed
BOOM
I see stars. I can’t breathe.
My kind is piled on top of me (2x)

Verses:
I lie beneath the mountain
the smoky black tunnels
when the air is toxic
and danger is at play

My brethren, they are taken
And put into carts
Sent off to their doom
Never to return again

1st draft song lyrics from Music Class (inspired by lists of questions from point of view of a miner’s hammer, a miner, and the train tracks. We found that a coal hammer and a miner could have the same feelings–being ill-used, abused, having no power)
Can this job get any harder?
Am I getting enough credit?
Is this really a job?
Can I ever forget it?

How did I end up here?
What happens next?
Got a two-ton train
Of coal in my chest.

I’m innocent man, can’t you see?
I may be a hammer, but you can’t control me!
I’m innocent man, can’t you see?
I may be a hammer, but you can’t control me!

Clang
Crack
What did I do?
Clang
Crack
What did I do?

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