Texas Tech University

Anemic Dry to Wander Charred from Birth: Cli-Fi in Song

Ken Baake

One of the greatest challenges society faces is how to support the poorest among us given a rapidly changing and volatile environment. It has been noted that the poor, living in makeshift housing at sea level in Asia or in the deserts of Africa, will be the first victims of climate change.

Some in the West deny the science that points to such a scenario. A big reason of course is self-interest; denial means we do not have to confront our own lifestyles and economies of voracious consumption. Another reason for denial, though, is simply that science and policy makers can seem indifferent or even smugly condescending to the stories that have unified and nourished people for eons. For example, religious stories say God is in control, not privileged bureaucrats, not celebrities, not the intelligentsia.

Many who are concerned about communicating climate change and the urgency to confront it now realize we must find ways to embrace stories that have unified cultures. Writers of fiction are rapidly embracing a new genre that has been dubbed "Cli-Fi." Some are dystopic stories that serve as prophecy about where we might be headed—either in excessive drought, water wars, or recurring floods. In a way this line of science fiction prophecy is the obvious successor to the 1950s genre of fiction that addressed the dangers of a nuclear holocaust.

In some small way I am trying to join the chorus of Cli-Fi storytelling through some of the songs I write and record. Admittedly these songs are not headed to the front office of "America's Got Talent" or to viral internet fame. But perhaps they can, in some miniscule way, help motivate other storytellers and those who love stories to recognize that they—as much as the scientists—have a role to play in motivating us to take up the cause of the environment and the poor so badly exposed on its front lines.

Here are two songs I have written with climate change themes, available through my Bandcamp page, along with a little explanation.

And The Glory Of

There is a reason West Texas is so heavily Christian; these lands and their curses are not that different from those of the ancients of Palestine. Recurrent drought, dust storms, and increasingly, a desert-like terrain. This song is a plea, an anxious environmental lament with a religious cast. I had just seen a performance of Handel's Messiah, in which I noticed a constant interplay among the text and songs between torment and redemption. This after all, is the Biblical story many times over; the people are continually either on the in or the outs with God. They always squander good fortune, anger God, and turn it to bad fortune. We are not really that different, creating our "false gods" out of microchips, steel, copper—all forged indirectly through the energy of oil. Oil is just sequestered energy stolen from millions of years of past life and death.

Climate change (i.e. global warming) hasn't always been a popular idea in West Texas. Maybe the prophets have been going at it all wrong, speaking in a scientific vernacular that does not resonate in the flat windswept plains. This is my attempt at a translation from the science I don't understand to an age-old story I can't quite get myself to believe—even as I keep coming back to it.

Comfort ye, comfort ye
Comfort ye, my people
Comfort ye, comfort ye
Saith your God.

The voice of him that crieth
In the hot unyielding sun.
Thou shalt his eyes to shade.
The trembles of he who shakes
in the dry desert wind
Thou shalt his anguish drive away.

And the glory of
And the glory of
And the glory of
The Lord

Comfort ye, comfort ye
Comfort we your people
Comfort me, comfort me
I will plea to God.

Searing rays shall cover
the earth and all its people
and we like sheep have gone astray.
But surely he hath born our grief
and tread the thorns before us.
His gentle path shall be our way.

I know my redeemer liveth,
And he shall stand with me.
Though hornets pierce my body.
His spirit my flesh to ease.
Oh death I feel thy sting
And the grave thy victory
Oh sin I know the cost of your bargain.
Oh time I felt immortal
But that could never be.
Until I know his anguish and his pain

Miteb's Warning

I wrote this in 2013 after reading Abdelrahman Munif's novel Cities of Salt. It is a sweeping tale of the arrival of American oil companies in the Persian Gulf in the 1930s. The story tells how a simple Wadi (oasis) culture was transformed by the oil fields and their support cities that sprang up in the desert. An early character in the book, Miteb al-Hathal, is the one voice of prophetic warning that the simple life of the Wadi would be forever disrupted. There is no Abraham in the story, a character I added to give the warning a Judeo-Christian resonance. Of course, I know it wouldn't be possible to have the musical instruments I have, the recording capabilities, or the Internet to present my work without oil. In fact, I probably wouldn't even be alive.

Abraham saw Miteb al-Hathal
In moonlight at the edge of the well spring
A shadow not define he could not tell
What or even if he was saying
What or even if he could say.

Miteb scorned the devil and his curse
Those sons of whores that fouled the garden.
Driving iron poles into the earth.
God did cause their hearts to harden
Even mothers shunned their leather hearts.

Atoum sprang forth a god from wells deep
Primordial both before and after time.
Flooded plains sow fertile river seed.
Made lean and strong all of Miteb's tribe.
Made even camels heave and surge with life.

Lightening cut the sky at the wellspring
When Abraham heard Miteb's piercing scream.
These rains that gorge the brook now make it sing
Will be the last forever in your lifetimes.
Will be the last but in tormenting dreams.

These thieves who foul water with black blood
Of ancient creature jinn inside the earth
Feed machines of soulless steel and rubber
God's scorn by drought so all will be cursed.
Anemic dry to wander charred from birth.