Literary Meditations

A Mind's Journey

“Sand Creek River” – Fabrizio De Andre’

I will dedicate some pages of my blog to one of the greatest Italian songwriters of all times, Fabrizio De Andre’ [Faber] (1940-1999). He sympathized with anarchism and pacifist theories; his texts often tells of emarginated people (prostitutes, alcoholics, rebels, etc) without judgement or commiseration. He actually denunciated their conditions through a pitiless but true outlook on the surrounding society, condemning the “organized man” over the “solitary” one.

The song reported here is called Sand Creek River, written by Faber in 1981, the third song of the album Fabrizio De Andre’ or The Indian. The text’s content is based on real events happened in 1864: the massacre of an Arapaho and Cheyenne village closed to the Big Sandy Creek River by Colorado’s troops commanded by the Colonel John Chivington. This episode stands out in Native American history for its cruelty and inhumanity towards innocent people, especially defenceless children and women. The story is told through a child’s voice who witnesses the bloodshed: he survives and believes that it has been just a dream.

For writing this song, Faber was inspired by the book Cheyenne Memories, this a collection of Stands in Timber’s memories, a Cheyenne warrior. In contrast with the original episode, De Andre’ changed the Colonel Chivington’s age, crossing his figure with the General G. A. Custer, leader of a similar massacre, that of the Washita River against a Southern Cheyenne camp (1868). Musically speaking, Sand Creek River is a ballad with an American style of folk-rock.

This song is one of my favourites among Faber’s pieces. In common with the poet, I love Native American culture and I feel rage and bitterness at thinking of the injustices committed against them for centuries. Moreover, Sand Creek River is the only Italian song dedicated to a Native American story, thus it is a unique piece per se’. The text speaks through a Cheyenne voice, thus presents those images and words typical of the Native American language and its cultural imagination.

I have translated this song for you in the version you will find immediately below. Unfortunately, the beauty of the original text is partly lost by translating, in terms of rhyme, rhythm and musicality. However, it is still a beautiful text and it is worth reading it. Enjoy!

 

“Under a dark cover they have taken our souls

Under a dead young Moon we were sleeping without fear

He was a general of twenty years old

with blue eyes and a blue coat

He was a general of twenty years old

son of a thunderstorm…

There is a silver dollar on the bottom of Sand Creek.

 

Our warriors went too far looking for bisons

and that distant music grew always louder

For three times I closed my eyes

but I was always standing there

I asked him: ‘Is it just a dream?’

and my grandpa told me ‘yes’.

Sometimes fishes sing on the bottom of Sand Creek.

 

I was so intensely dreaming that my nose started bleeding,

the lighting in one ear, Heaven in the other,

Smaller tears,

Bigger tears,

When the snow tree

bloomed with reddish stars…

Now children are sleeping on the bottom of Sand Creek.

 

When the Sun rose his head above the Night’s shoulders

There were just dogs, smoke and overturned tepees,

I threw an arrow at the sky

for it to breathe

I threw an arrow at the wind

for it to bleed…

Look for the third arrow on the bottom of Sand Creek.

 

Under a dark cover they have taken our souls

Under a dead young Moon we were sleeping without fear

He was a general of twenty years old

with blue eyes and a blue coat

He was a general of twenty years old

son of a thunderstorm…

Now children are sleeping on the bottom of Sand Creek.

 

– Fabrizio De Andre’ –

 

As you could read, the text is truly tragic and describes the event with a vivid and effective imagery and symbolism. In accord with De Andre’s style, this song tells about a human tragedy caused by a carelessness and cruel society that ignore the pain inflicted on the other, for human incapacity or/and convenience. Most important, Faber confers the main voice to a Native American child, giving him the chance to narrate his story and his village’s destiny, against the mainstream institution of a “great and just” America. Moreover, this song could be a way of saying that Native American history, although hidden, it has never been forgotten. Indeed, there is still music rising from the bottom of Sand Creek…

 

-Atena Longo-

 

P.S. This is the YouTube’s link for listening to De Andre’s Sand Creek River: 

 

P.S.2. Here is the original text:

“Si sono presi il nostro cuore sotto una coperta scura
Sotto una luna morta piccola dormivamo senza paura
Fu un generale di vent’anni
Occhi turchini e giacca uguale,
Fu un generale di vent’anni
figlio di un temporale

C’è un dollaro d’argento sul fondo del Sand Creek.

I nostri guerrieri troppo lontani sulla pista del bisonte,
E quella musica distante diventò sempre più forte
Chiusi gli occhi per tre volte,
Mi ritrovai ancora lì
Chiesi a mio nonno: È solo un sogno?
Mio nonno disse sì

A volte i pesci cantano sul fondo del Sand Creek.

Sognai talmente forte che mi uscì il sangue dal naso,
Il lampo in un orecchio e nell’altro il paradiso
Le lacrime più piccole,
Le lacrime più grosse
Quando l’albero della neve
Fiorì di stelle rosse

Ora i bambini dormono sul fondo del Sand Creek.

Quando il sole alzò la testa oltre le spalle della notte
C’eran solo cani e fumo e tende capovolte
Tirai una freccia in cielo
Per farlo respirare,
Tirai una freccia al vento
Per farlo sanguinare

La terza freccia cercala sul fondo del Sand Creek.

Si sono presi i nostri cuori sotto una coperta scura
Sotto una luna morta piccola dormivamo senza paura
Fu un generale di vent’anni
Occhi turchini e giacca uguale,
Fu un generale di vent’anni
Figlio di un temporale

Ora i bambini dormono sul fondo del Sand Creek.”

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