Music and Texts of Gary Bachlund


The Junk Man - (2009)    

Carl Sandburg

for medium voice and piano


I am glad God saw Death
And gave Death a job taking care of all who are tired
        of living:

When all the wheels in a clock are worn and slow and
        the connections loose
And the clock goes on ticking and telling the wrong time
        from hour to hour
And people around the house joke about what a bum
        clock it is,
How glad the clock is when the big Junk Man drives
        his wagon
Up to the house and puts his arms around the clock and
            "You don't belong here,
            You gotta come
            Along with me,"
How glad the clock is then, when it feels the arms of the
        Junk Man close around it and carry it away.

[ 3 pages, circa 3' 00" ]

Carl Sandburg


"The Junk Man", from Chicago Poems by Carl Sandburg (1878-1967) , was published in 1916. It is an interesting metaphor which presages other such twentieth century poems about death, like E. E. Cummings' "dying is fine)but Death," 6 in XAIPE, from 1950. Yet Death as a character in a story line can be seen in the religious morality plays of the Medieval and Renaissance eras, and through to recent stories like Terry Pratchett's various fictions (Hogfather as one example) and Hollywood films (Death Takes a Holiday). Sandburg's Death is the junk man and life as the other character in this text is the clock, a metaphor for time "winding down." In so many cases the modern perspective is quite "religious" while not referring to religious tenets, and posits a view to the end of life as "glad," in Sandburg's text.



The tonic of C minor is introduced through the harmonic submediant minor with its raised sixth, which acts also as the raised sixth in the four note tonic minor. For this, the melodic line is pressed into this scheme. The text seems through composed, so to speak, while the setting breaks it into seeming strophes, two appearing before a bridge and the reprise afterwards.



The bridge moves the the mediant in its major-minor seven chord form for a short statement as "Death," the "Junk Man" in capital letters, speaks gently, and more slowly than the surrounding tempi of this setting. The parallel slip chords lead to D flat as the fulcrum back to the opening of the setting itself, B double flat as A natural in the next measure.



The score for The Junk Man is available as a free PDF download, though any major commercial performance or recording of the work is prohibited without prior arrangement with the composer. Click on the graphic below for this piano-vocal score.


The Junk Man