Monday, April 23, 2007

Goodbye Juan, goodbye Rosalita

When I used the word "aeroplane" in my previous post, it was not without reason. For the last 2 days I've had Woody Guthrie's poem Plane Wreck At Los Gatos in my head. There is a Wikipedia article about the incident that caused him to write it.

The article lists a number of cover versions, but not the one by Odetta, which is hauntingly beautiful and marked my first encounter with the song some time in the late 1970s. Her version starts with "Goodbye to my Juan, goodbye, Rosalita," and she distinctly sings "aeroplane" instead of "airplane."

I was at an Odetta concert much later, perhaps in 2003. She had difficulty walking and had to support herself while singing, but she was as stunning as ever.

Plane Wreck At Los Gatos (Deportee)

The crops are all in and the peaches are rotting,
The oranges piled in their creosote dumps;
They're flying 'em back to the Mexican border
To pay all their money to wade back again

Goodbye to my Juan, goodbye, Rosalita,
Adios mis amigos, Jesus y Maria;
You won't have your names when you ride the big airplane,
All they will call you will be "deportees"

My father's own father, he waded that river,
They took all the money he made in his life;
My brothers and sisters come working the fruit trees,
And they rode the truck till they took down and died.

Some of us are illegal, and some are not wanted,
Our work contract's out and we have to move on;
Six hundred miles to that Mexican border,
They chase us like outlaws, like rustlers, like thieves.

We died in your hills, we died in your deserts,
We died in your valleys and died on your plains.
We died 'neath your trees and we died in your bushes,
Both sides of the river, we died just the same.

The sky plane caught fire over Los Gatos Canyon,
A fireball of lightning, and shook all our hills,
Who are all these friends, all scattered like dry leaves?
The radio says, "They are just deportees"

Is this the best way we can grow our big orchards?
Is this the best way we can grow our good fruit?
To fall like dry leaves to rot on my topsoil
And be called by no name except "deportees"?

– Woody Guthrie

3 comments:

the teach said...

The song is so beautiful, Leon! It means so much today, too, when Mexican immigrants, illegal or legal, work so hard to stay in America. And so many people want them out. It's sad, so very sad.

Leonard Blumfeld said...

Yes, it's a wonderful song. And as applicable now as it was back then. Be sure to listen to it sung some time.

Junebug said...

Thank you. I grew up with this song as sung by the Brothers Four; it was always one of my favorites. I was reminded of it when I saw the first page in "Our Walls, Ourselves" in the May 07 Nat'l Geographic.