Probably most famous for being third in line (but the most successful) to record “Love of the Common People,” Thomas shifts from smarmy community-building to an immigrant’s plaint here. It’s a move from a coercive optimism for the poor to an embodiment of living death in which those of means “don’t care if I freeze to death and die.” The “promised land” is a set of shifting goalposts, each subsequent one narrowing the chances of survival. Salvation, too, is a false panacea, with your preacher soliciting money to go to the “holy land.” We’re implored to “give no money to that lying, cheating man.” But this shouldn’t be mistaken for either a sunny worry about equality (i.e. “we all go or no one does”) or a desire for deeds that match the (national) creeds. “Saturday night” proves formative for the trax’s critical dystopia; parties that are “outside” enjoy the practice of aggressive, excessive exchange. Come Sunday, we institute an economic austerity from the bottom up.
In a couple of ways, we’re asked here to think about issues of translation. For the trax, the key is a simple—but not simplified—ethics defined as the relation between the least of us (immigrants) and the “toughest among us” (“natives”); the previous phrase is sung in an extreme monotone despite the general lushness of the orchestration. What is the price of being included? What lies beyond—“too much”—the threshold of tolerance when understood in relation to pain? (And perhaps tolerance is predominantly about the experience of pain as much as it is being a pain.) At this level of discourse, things count because of the imposing odds. From an immigrant child’s first lesson in “the fact of blackness” to his “dignified” manner in the face of it to our relative ease in a world where it’s “hard enough/Just to make it through a day,” we’re asked to sympathize while our privilege is idealistically negated by our squeamishness of self-suffering. In a geopolitical vein, things are counted similarly by the United Nations; it’s the vantage point that differs. Noting the “complex interrelationship between migration and development” in their “Declaration of the High-Level Dialogue on International Migration and Development,” the General Assembly says it’s about “synergies,” though. Things must be square between the rights to movement/livelihood and “development.” (In other words, let there be remittances!) Sade’s allusion to the story of Joseph yokes the two contexts together, with the body and blood of the immigrant wed to the center.