Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Quicksilver Messenger Service -- "Pride of Man" (1968)

And behold the mighty city
Broken in the dust again
Oh God, the pride of man
Broken in the dust again

My home town -- Joplin, Missouri -- has never been what you would call a "mighty" city, but it was certainly "broken" by the EF5 multiple-vortex tornado that hammered it on May 22, 2011.

By featuring this song as part of a post about Joplin's ongoing recovery from the devastation caused by that tornado, I'm not implying that the city was "broken" to punish it for excessive pride.

To the contrary, Joplin's residents are generally modest folks, characterized more by humility than pride.  If God were going to send a tornado to punish a city for being too prideful, there are many more deserving targets than Joplin.  (Washington, DC, to name just one . . . )

The Tower of Babel (or Tower of Babylon)
"Pride of Man," the song quoted above, is about Babylon, the exceedingly mighty and equally proud Old Testament-era city.  Babylon was not laid to waste by a tornado or earthquake or another natural disaster, but by man -- centuries of wars and conquests left it "broken in the dust." 

Babylon's destruction was prophesied by Isaiah and Jeremiah.  The lyrics of "Pride of Man" were inspired in part by those Old Testament prophecies.  For exam

You who live by many waters,
And are rich in treasures,
Your end has come

Babylon was built on the Euphrates River, not far from its confluence with the other great river of ancient Mesopotamia, the Tigris.  The "many waters" probably refers as well to the city's extensive system of canals, which were built for both irrigation and defense.  But "many waters" may also be a metaphor for the many nations that were part of the Babylonian empire, and for the floods of foreigners who travelled to and from Babylon during the city's heyday.

A video game's depiction of the famed
Hanging Gardens of Babylon
Revelation 17:1 also makes reference to the "many waters" of Babylon:

One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the punishment of the great prostitute, who sits by many waters." 
The "great prostitute" mentioned in that verse was also referred to as the "Whore of Babylon," an allegorical representation of evil.

Although there has been considerable rebuilding in the 16 months since the Joplin tornado struck, large parts of the city's hardest-hit neighborhoods are still "broken in the dust" -- at least physically.

This is my fourth post-tornado visit to Joplin, and the place I always go to evaluate how things are going -- my personal "canary in the coal mine," if you will -- are the 2000 and 2100 blocks of Alabama.  (That's only two blocks north of my parents' house.)

Of the 22 houses that stood on those blocks, only one survived the tornado.  The other 21 were so severely damaged that they were beyond repair -- they were simply bulldozed and the lots cleared so that brand-new houses could be built.  

Here's the one that survived as it looks today.  I think it did better than its neighbors because of its solid masonry (e.g., "brick and block") construction.

(As you can tell from these dark and rather gloomy pictures, the weather wasn't the greatest when I was in Joplin.)

There are still sixteen vacant lots on those two blocks of Alabama.  A couple of the new houses looked complete, but others were still under construction.

Virtually all of the original houses in the neighborhood where my parents live were three-bedroom, one-level ranch houses built in the 1950s.  You saw split-level houses here and there, but I don't remember a single true two-story house.

The new houses that are being built today are generally larger than the original houses.  Some are only slightly bigger, but some are dramatically larger.  Here's one on the street that's one block west of my parents' street:

If you go west a little further, you'll see a group of almost-finished three-bedroom duplexes with garages.  They are renting for only $475 a month.  (I assume from the "Certain income restrictions apply" statement at the bottom of the sign that those rents are government-subsidized to some degree.)

A few blocks away, the First Community Church -- where I attended a friend's wedding 40 years ago -- still has a big hole where the back wall of the sanctuary used to be:

Here's a short video showing this church shortly after the tornado came through:

A little further west is the large, empty space where Joplin High School once stood. Here's a depiction of what the new high school will look like:

Here's what the site looks like today -- there's a long way to go:

By contrast, the LDS church across the street has been completely rebuilt:

Hamilton Camp, who died in 2005, is remembered today as the composer of "Pride of Man," which he recorded in 1964.  The song was later covered by Gordon Lightfoot (1966) as well as by Quicksilver Messenger Service.

Camp was also an actor.  He guest-starred on many popular television shows, including M*A*S*H*, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Twilight Zone, Cheers, and WKRP in Cincinnati, and also had roles in many movies, including The Graduate, Heaven Can Wait, Eating Raoul, and Joe Dirt.  

Here's Gordon Lightfoot's version of the song:

And here's the Quicksilver Messenger Service cover:

Quicksilver Messenger Service, which formed in 1965, was one of the most popular of the first-generation San Francisco psychedelic bands.  Skip Spence was an original member of the band, which used to rehearse at a club owned by Marty Balin.  Balin convinced Spence to leave Quicksilver and join Balin's new band, Jefferson Airplane.  

Quicksilver appeared at the Monterey International Pop Festival in 1967, and performed regularly at the Avalon Ballroom and Fillmore West in San Francisco.  The group was the last of the really popular San Francisco bands to sign a record contract, and their eponymous debut album was released in 1968.  "Pride of Man" was the first track on that album.

Click here to order the song from Amazon:

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