Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with a Bachelors Anonymous song, “The Bells of La Brea.”
For this song, the Bachelors lifted the tune of “The Streets of Derry,” which had been recorded by everyone from Lead Belly to Led Zeppelin. It first was laid down by Sarah Makem from County Armagh (where St. Patrick was Bishop and from which Bachelor David’s paternal immigrant hails). The song speaks of a man, condemned to death, paraded through the streets of Londonderry, only to be pardoned.
In our time rarely is such mercy bestowed: prisoners are exempt from the 13th Amendment’s abolition of slavery. And so we note that St. Patrick himself was enslaved twice, and imprisoned twice more. He was an immigrant and a missionary, which might have endeared him to no one.
Fifteen centuries hence, “The Bells of La Brea” tells the tale of a man who contravenes convention, fending off the serpents of an imperfect imagination.
I come to recall the black bells of La Brea,
The first time I heard their sullen peal
Of amorous chimes—
A resonation of lead, a tintinnabulation
I would come to dread
It was in ’68. I was fresh from the Rockies
To find myself in a foreign land
Of poppies and sand.
The bells tolled my need for the foreign touch
Of a foreign man.
In a summer of love I gave myself freely;
Old ideals of love were left to chance,
Romancing to romance.
You whispered your name, the bells did ring,
We did the dance.
In a winter of lust we took to the back streets
To lay with lions of leather on beds of down.
The black bells rang to drown.
Ring around the rosy, pockets full of posies,
All fall down!
In a season since past, in an autumn forgotten
They did judge our affection to be a crime;
Now with cruel irony
He stands here before you, your lover, your killer: me!
In a springtime to come, how the black bells will beckon,
But you will not take comfort there
In a scientist’s arms—
In a scientist’s words, in his lies,
In a scientist’s charms.
You can open your eyes now. Just open your eyes.
Open your eyes now. You can open your eyes.
Open your eyes. If you just open your eyes.
You can open your eyes now.
Why won’t you open your eyes?
If you’d only open your eyes.
Just open your eyes.
You can open your eyes now…
Lyrics Reprinted by Permission
See album credits
Header image: Peace Maze at Castlewellan, County Down, Northern Ireland, by Steven Hylands, Belfast