Rene Marie and Thomas Pynchon: Dixie/Strange Fruit, Mason & Dixon

August 15, 2012

Thanks to Ron Fritts, I learn this week that Rene Marie also has a version of “Strange Fruit” – a mashup, joint with the Confederate anthem, “Dixie.”

Is it meant to be ironic?  Marie doesn’t think so.  According to her, “Dixie” was an old African-American folk tune, sung by generations of nameless slaves in their yearning for a place they could call home.  A remix of “Dixie” and “Strange Fruit” is a way of resurrecting these silenced ghosts.

And sure enough, on Wikipedia there is a detailed account of the black Snowden family in Knox County, Ohio, who most likely passed on the song to their neighbor, Daniel Decatur Emmett, the official composer.

Also on Wikipedia, there’s a speculation that the word “Dixie” might have come from the Mason-Dixon line, separating free and slave states.

So I’ve reading Thomas Pynchon as well.   Pynchon begins his gargantuan novel, Mason & Dixon, with the two surveyors in Cape Town to observe the transit of Venus.  While in South Africa, they also had this revelation: “But here is a Collective Ghost of more than household Scale – the Wrongs committed Daily against the Slaves, petty and grave ones alike, going unrecorded, charm’d invisible to history; invisible yet possessing Mass, and Velocity, able not only to rattle Chains but to break them as well.”

The revelation didn’t stop them from going to America and creating the Mason-Dixon line.   But that line was haunted from the first, it seems, as the song “Dixie” still is.

About wcd2

Professor of English and American Studies
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