Oh Lord, Don’t Let Them Drop That Atomic Bomb On Me

Charles Mingus


It is not often that a song is both a prayer and a cry of dread, let alone your specific prayer and dread. That is why I’m going with Oh Lord, Don’t Let Them Drop That Atomic Bomb On Me, which I first heard on Charles Mingus’s 1962 album, Oh Yeah, as my song for the new year. Several songs on that album say it for me. Eat That Chicken, for instance, where Mingus and his band declare, “Oh Lord, I wanna eat the chicken.” Fine words. But I’m picking the other song for now because, let’s face it, 2018 looks about as promising as a new Chetan Bhagat novel.

Between America’s Donald Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, we have two megalomaniacal bigots with terrible haircuts and an anger management problem who like pressing buttons. North Korea has already sentenced Trump to death for insulting Kim and if they have an extradition problem, they know what to do. We also have Russia expanding its weapons collection. And we have India and Pakistan arguing about shoes. The Doomsday clock is at two and a half minutes to midnight, the closest it has been since 1953.

No wonder Mingus is not singing about an atomic bomb, a theoretical one somewhere far away, he’s talking about that one, as if it’s hovering over him. The song draws on gospel blues, though it seems to replace an invocation of faith with a dry-eyed lack of it. Mingus usually plays the bass but here his piano tremolo gives way to ominous chords and then the horns come in. The song progresses in clear, mounting waves of music, but still with that underlying tremolo. In the middle, Mingus breaks into a crisp, sparkling piano solo. It’s fear and anger laced with humour, it’s a reckoning of the future with no illusions about it but without giving in to despair. Alright then, 2018, let’s have it.