Black Days

I first listened to Gordon Lightfoot when I was about 17 and I liked what I heard.  It was the song, “Sundown“.  It had been released some 5 years earlier but in them pre-internet, pre-YouTube and pre-iTunes days, the latest music took some time to filter its way to Malaysia.  When I was growing up, for many years, there was only one music store in my home city of Kuala Lumpur.

But I liked the laid back folksy, ballad-y, hippie vibe of Gordon Lightfoot.  From young I had always had an affinity to the groovy people of the Flower Power movement.  I was a bit late to the party but if I had been born earlier, I would most likely have lived in a hippie commune.

I also like songs that have a story to tell and have social or historical relevance and there were plenty of those during the Vietnam War era.  Songs like “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?“, “Blowing in the Wind” and “Give Peace a Chance“.  Gordon Lightfoot has been called Canada’s greatest songwriter and probably for songs of this ilk.

I recently discovered another Gordon Lightfoot song and it was an eye-opener.  It is entitled, “Black Day in July”.  I had not previously known about the riots in Detroit in July 1967 that led to 43 dead, 1,189 injured, over 7,200 arrests, and more than 2,000 buildings destroyed.  About that time, I remember being taught in my school in Malaysia about how Detroit was the world capitol of the automobile industry and a model for the wonders of industrialisation and modernisation – that everything was chrome plated and shiny.  Obviously it wasn’t.

However, things were not better in Malaysia.  Two tears later, on May 13th 1969, racial riots broke out in Malaysia resulting in  several hundred deaths.  The underlying reason for the riot was probably political and economical but the fighting and killing was along racial lines with the Chinese community suffering the brunt of the attacks.

But in this case, there is no song written or video done to lament the tragedy.  Much too often, it is deemed too sensitive to even mention in public.  However, without truthful and open discourse, it is like a wound that has not healed but is hidden under a bandage and festering.  Without open and truthful discourse, lies and rumors favor the extremists who would even seek to blame the victims.

I wish for no more black days for both Detroit and Malaysia.  For that to happen, the festering disease of hatred and inequity must be exposed to the cleansing light of truth so that real healing can begin.



6 thoughts on “Black Days”

  1. I was 14 and lived about 7 miles to the north and west of the main rebellion area. I remember the half tracks rolling down my street to enforce marshal law, having weapons lowered at us as we were, a bunch of kids were ordered into the house until curfew ended. 2 days after the killing and fires ended we rode our bicycles through that area and saw what destruction looked like.

    So much of Detroit’s now history can be traced back to the fear born of 7 days of rebellion. Whites which had been leaving the city accelerated the pace, the police department who’s policies started the riot in an area already beaten and broke, but thriving in arts and its own culture, changed forever from proactive to reactive.

    I personally always wondered who was being taught the lessons of rebellion when it took 20 years before they even dozed the burn out buildings down, every day a new generation radicalized by the deeds of their parents.

    OH the start–The police believed they were breaking up an after hours drinking club, the two cops who went in were not amused when they found over a hundred people inside so they called for back up. It turns out that it was no after hours club at all but two young men had just returned safely from their draft year in Nam, their families were having a party for them. When the back up arrived and people were coming out of the private party in handcuffs the neighborhood exploded.

    1943, now that was a race riot born of lies and hatred among them who actually were busy building bombs, planes, tanks, jeeps and what else. 1943 was a riot that also left 43 dead, the hatred here was not for the common enemy in Europe or Asia but for them working alongside one another.

    Personally I have been tracking Lightfoot since before 1967, along with other Canadians of his time, Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen and the like,
    i personally prefer this over BDiJ

  2. Mark,
    Thanks for sharing. It must have been a terrible thing to have lived through and to feel its continued impact on your community. The same is true in Malaysia. I was too young (7 years old) to really understand what was going on then but the Malaysia I loved where races lived in mutual respect and harmony with one another began to fade from that incident and has become unrecognisable today.

    I was saving the Edmund Fitzgerald for another future post.

  3. I have always loved Gordon Lightfoot but have never heard Black Day in July.

    My ex-husband grew up in Detroit and he’s talked about the riots. He would have been 16 when that happened. I’ll have to ask him today if he knows that song.

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