Work of the Sisters During the Influenza Epidemic, October, 1918

Work of the Sisters During the Influenza Epidemic, October, 1918

JūS's picture


Liner Notes: 

I have never even been a believer much less a devout Catholic and yet nuns are the longest streak of inspiration for lyrics I've ever known. It's weird because if you know me, I'm about as atheist as they come.

I was reading this article about nuns in Philadelphia during the influenza pandemic. Life sucked a lot worse back then especially if you were poor, which seemed to be almost everyone.

Here's the editorial that brought it to my attention - is external)

See the document mentioned in it here -

This is what I was scanning for scenes and imagery. They’re described as having little experience in the outside world and little or no medical training and yet they went out and did everything they could.

If you want to know just how poor and miserable these people were, follow the second link. The sickness, poverty, death, and suffering was immense and surging like a storm that October.

It details a wealthy widow who called for the sisters and begged them not to leave her alone after her husband had passed. Another article describes a mining town that was so infected that state cops surrounded it to enforce a quarantine (16 sisters went in to administer medical care, domestic care, and spiritual comfort). There were also many stories of dead parents left in bed and sick kids laying around hungry and dirty. At times they were met with resistance, rejection, or denial, only to be summoned by the very same people when death could no longer be hidden. I admire the work of these sisters.

I read enough of these to get the sense that everyone had gone mad from fear and grief. The sisters suffered with them, quietly and unafraid. Well, sure they were afraid, but they went in anyways, knowing they would likely be infected (they were), beating back filth and begging people to care for the children despite their poverty. So hopeless and dark and yet there they were, being heroes.

I want to come back to the vocals and try a few other ideas and also track some live drums because I think the story deserves a hook or something more approachable. This apartment cut with shy vocals and repetitive midi vibes will have to hold it’s place for now because everything I record is pretty much a live performance for an unwilling audience of my roommate and neighbors.

Edit: I'm pretty sure the organ/synth arpeggios here are lifted from something I used to listen to a lot but I don't what it is. Please let me know in the comments or email or whatever if you recognize it.


clean cook and feed
for those in need
but we don't need to be seen
or known in time for these deeds
beds are filling up with parade goers

we've only ever walked this city
now in streetcars and the stillness
we're never lost, we bear the cross

poor little girl trying to keep house
care for sick mother and six smaller children
father went out, drunk or crazed
he thought she was the undertaker
we made him promise, we made him promise

Please keep your comments respectful, honest, and constructive. Please focus on the song and not the demo.


Frances Smith's picture

Interesting sources. Song is great, sounds really nice, the lyrics and accompaniment create a mood that works well for the song. I can see why this is providing so much inspiration for your songwriting, hope you'll carry on exploring. The deep poverty on which much of America was built is something people shouldn't forget.

coolparadiso's picture

good source good song love the guitar that goes forever. here here to your last line, that goes for the western world but it is very late in the day on this, but not some places i have worked! I think people that do good deeds cross religions and no religions - good selfless and kind is just that! great stuff

billwhite51's picture

love the cross between science fiction wobble and smooth dirge as you give us these snapshots of yesterdays sickness and poverty that have resurfaced in the world today..o perhaps they never went away and have just been blunted by the attention given to the wealth and happiness of a lucky few,

Fuzzy's picture

Yeah, I'm about as atheist as it is possible to be, and yet I gotta admire religious folks who really walk the walk instead of using their faith to judge others.
A lovely slow burner here for sure.
I'm liking the dreamy guitar off to the right contrasted with the wavy guitar on the left.
Such a great tune you got here!

Calum Carlyle's picture

I mean this is awesome. And by the way, there's nothing in this that i'd really class as religious anyway. They are nuns, so that's about the extent of it. The truth is, they were incredible people, nuns or not.
And you convey that really well in the song, as well as it being a song i really enjoyed listening to in its own right.

Jeuse's picture

As I've added to the liner notes, I'm pretty sure I've lifted that organ melody from somewhere obvious and I can't place it. Please tell me where if you've heard so I can make the song less like the thing I think I'm ripping off... Honestly, I wanna know.

fresh spotless youth's picture

That opening hook, which becomes something of a motif, is so so good. I like it even more when it comes back with the guitars. Did you unintentionally borrow it? Who cares, really. It might have some spiritual connection to the organ riff in ? and the Mysterians's 96 Tears. Anyway, this is fantastic. I'm back for a second listen already. You never sound jaded--there's emotion here, love really. I like the simple drums, the way things slowly build while sitting in that quietly powerful groove

motisbeard's picture

Gorgeous, and gorgeously restrained in the long slow build-up.

As for the subject matter, writing about the 1918 flu as a touchstone for the 2020 pandemic is a thoroughly great way to approach a topical song without dorking it the fuck up or sounding like you're jumping on a bandwagon. Me likee! This is, in fact, the ONLY song I've heard that is ostensibly about Covid-19 that I don't despise, and that's after listening to WFMU play them all day a few weeks ago.

kahlo2013's picture

Having gone to an all women’s college run by the Sisters of the Blessed Virgin Mary (BVMs) and witnessing first hand their humble Hama Italian service to the community and their deep commitment to social justice, this song strikes a beautiful chord in so many ways. The music is absolutely wonderful - so powerful - and the historical insight tribute is really interesting. I’m really grateful for this song and for the links you shared. Many of the BVMs are not older with failing health living in the nursing wing of the Mother House - Mount Carmel in Dubuque - those that are able have been out supporting the community during the pandemic and during BLM - those who can’t get out have been making masks for the community or making other things to help the community. Love the Sisters who changed my life. Thank you for this tribute.

Roddy's picture

Really good. Very creative and original. The slide haunting and echoes the later George Harrison songs. The soft vocal is very good especially with the upper harmony. The lyrics are very touching, they tell a very sad story, one that is still taking place today. The last verse has all the elements of a short story. Very impressive work.

cleanshoes's picture

Man, this is good. Great subject matter--nice historical detail with relevance to current events. The gradual build is terrific, and I love your laid back vocals. One of my favorites this 50/90.

ayeahmur's picture

This is such a great song. The subject matter is beautiful and the arrangement is about perfect. I can't identify the specific melody on the organ but there's a strong Grandaddy vibe to it which I love to bits. Fab!