Song of the Week: Gramatan

gramatan plaque

My last year in grad school I lived with my girlfriend (the inspiration for “Susquehanna Hat Company“) in Tuckahoe, right on the border of Bronxville. My walk into town always took me past this marker, which commemorates the spot where Mohawk chief Gramatan sold the land to some enterprising Dutch folk.

I always found this triply ironic. First, because Bronxville was very notoriously a “closed” community that actively kept out minorities well into the ’60s, so if Gramatan’s descendants had wanted to live there they probably couldn’t. Second, because Gramatan had probably thought he was ripping off the crazy settlers who were trying to pay him for something nobody could own as far as he was concerned (maybe this is the type of apocryphal “fact” revisionist historians use just to be contrary, but I remember learning with some glee that Native Americans figured land belonged to whomever was using it, so they regularly took whatever trinkets European settlers offered them, then re-settled on that very same land months or years later if those Europeans hadn’t yet done so themselves).

And, third, because I assumed Gramatan would have been horrified if he could have seen my friends and I in our sunburns and stupid shorts getting on the little yellow bus to take us to Camp Mohawk each summer when we were kids.

Anyway, every time I passed that sign I tried to imagine the original transaction, with each party assuming they were getting the best of the other. And eventually it turned into a song. Despite what Tommy says below, I don’t recall playing this one live very often, though I always loved it when we did, because the chords were simple enough for me to play along, and there are lots of bits where we could all stab those chords at once while leaping in the air.

Here are Tommy’s thoughts:

Love how this song starts with the mellow drum/guitar intro, soft vocals, and keeps building up until Tim and Sandy snarl “it’s getting dark!”, followed by a huge drum fill…the song is then off to the races! Gramatan became one of our regular songs we would always play live. When we do play it live, there is a cool music only bridge part where the bass and drums do some really cool, syncopated hits. Aside from being a cool song we all liked, I think we originally planned on playing this live to catch our breaths, but it would do the opposite. By the end of this song we would always end up flailing around like maniacs…rock and roll…I still live near Bronxville, NY and chuckle to myself when I find myself on Gramatan Avenue…

And producer Paul Fox emailed me this:

This is one of my favorites on the record…

The tension at the beginning, the picture in my head of the Indian, Gramatan,
the way it sounded like you were at a Pow Wow, and the way it gave you a sense of
 continuously building, slowly, quietly, and then begins to explain the picture of the
Indians who owned the land, and who were about to lose it to the white man.
The doo’s continued to bring you in and then the building gets bigger and bigger,
and suddenly everything comes together, snow, rain, drums, the guitars and the
bass step out and then suddenly, soft, quiet.
Great way of keeping the interest, a story, if only you could see this, and not
just hear it.
Then the big finish, doo’s, Gramatan’s etc, the drums, guitars,
and then the quiet, ahh,  what beauty.
Yes, the song is pretty. What we did to Gramatan, not so much.

2 Responses to “Song of the Week: Gramatan”

  1. TMJ road dog Says:

    I will have to concur with Tommy, I fondly remember this being a part of the live set. I will have to check my archives to see if I can scrounge up an old set list to prove it. :)

  2. Zach Says:

    Thanks for posting this series. It brings back a lot of fond memories. I must have listened to Gramatan 1000 times on mixtapes in the early 90s.

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