Dem Bones, Dem Dry Bones

I’ve been watching the re-runs of The Singing Detective on BBC4 for the last few weeks. It concludes tonight. The only other time I’ve watched it was when it was first broadcast, back in 1986. A gap of twenty six years seems pretty reasonable to revisit doesn’t it. I’ve got to say I’ve got even more out of it more now than I did aged 16 (although it was engrossing back then. And for a 16 year old boy Joanne Whalley was diversion enough on her own, nevermind all the other stuff going on in it). If you don’t know the series read this, then go and get the box set.

One of the scenes that had really stuck in my memory from 1986 was the one where Philip Marlowe is lying in his hospital bed, awful psoriasis and pain leading to hallucinations. The doctors study him and then begin to break into song as they diagnose. The curtain around Marlowe’s bed is drawn back and the ward starts to dance, with nurses providing a chorus line and playing skeleton xylophone. Youtube here. The song playing that the medical professionals mime and dance to is an old spiritual Dry Bones (or Dem Bones or Dem Dry Bones), a song written by James Weldon Johnson to teach children anatomy which somewhere along the line got mixed up with the Book of Ezekiel. There have been scores of cover versions over the years. Eventually I found the one from the TV series, by Fred Waring and His Pennsylvanians. Apologies for the volume/quality on this mp3 but then the recording is many decades old and hasn’t had the benefits of remastering.

Dry Bones

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