“Examining the Morality of Moby’s Archaeological Dig ‘Flower,’ on Academy Awards Night, No Less”

According to somebody’s comment on quora.com, which I hope is a reliable source seeing as I’ve probably gotten over 100 junk emails from them in my life, “(‘Flower’ by Moby) is rooted in an old slave song, ‘Green Sally Up’ that (sic) was used to entertain young African-American children.” [1] [2]
Here’s another interesting phenomenon when you google “Green Sally Up”: you get an overwhelming majority of websites handling Moby’s song “Flower,” and not as part of a larger amalgamation, but rather with focused exclusivity. You’ve got the youtube link, and a bunch of lyrics. Lyrics? Moby? Lyrics?
Anyway, here’s… yet ANOTHER INTERESTING OBSERVATION ABOUT “FLOWER”! ANOTHER INTERESTING OBSERVATION ABOUT “FLOWER”! It’s on more movie soundtracks than it is studio-recorded Moby publications. Yes, that’s right. It’s on more movie soundtracks (two, Gone in 60 Seconds and Swing Vote) than it is studio-recorded Moby publications (one, Play & Play: The B-Sides, or whatever the fu** this da** thing is called). [3] That’s right: it made TWO major movie soundtracks, but the artist also left it off of his greatest hits. Eat your heart out, Lenny Kravitz. [4]
So whaduwe wanna know? I’m gonna veer things back in the direction of cinema, but not for the reason you might think.
There’s this little old actor named Steve Buscemi, see. He might be the only man of Hollywood in history to never do a bad movie. (Correct me if I’m wrong about this.) One of his films, Ghost World (2001), is based on a Daniel Clowes novel, and features the concept of “found art”: an object rendered somewhere in the spatial realm of our universe originally not conceived as having artistic value, but, with the help of some skewing force like the great elapsing of time, takes on new meaning. The example given in the movie was an advertisement for “Coon Chicken,” a fast food chain which had since changed its name, but which surely gave a mental ticket back to a more sociologically unscrupulous time.
Now, “Flower” isn’t EXACTLY “found art.” It’s more like it’s found, and it’s art. If anything is “found art” about the situation, it’s the hopelessly condescending attitude on the part of the quora writer that these old spirituals were “entertainment,” as if they’re only as meaningful as a game of Crazy Eights or Blackjack. Anyway, another appealing “found” thing about it, surely, is Moby’s classy reticence to exploit it too badly. He apparently believes in film, or the record company does (you can bet the record company does), because he’s granted two directors permission to use it… who’s getting paid then? Is what Moby’s doing by not putting it on Play or greatest hits actually covering his own a** against black violence/unrest?
Umm… oh, here it is on wikipedia: “Play mixes songs from Alan Lomax’s 1993 Atlantic recording Songs of the South: A Musical Journey from the Georgia Sea Islands to the Mississippi Delta.” This compilation, as well as Play & Play: B Sides, has no wikipedia page, so it’s impossible to discern who songwriters are in these cases. This Alan Lomax comp has no blurb, that is, but on the Play one I do find: “‘Flower’… samples ‘Green Sally up,’ a children’s playground song sung by vocalists Mattie Gardner, Mary Gardner and Jessie Lee Pratcher.” [5] We also learn here that Moby did not profit on the cinematic usages: “Play was the first album ever to have all of its tracks licensed for use in films, television shows, or commercials and this proved a major contributor to the album’s success.” [5] “Moby explained,” continues the blurb, “that he licensed the songs because it was the only way he could get the music heard.” [5] This sentence in particular makes me think that either Moby didn’t profit, or that he cut the movie companies a really easy deal for obtaining the music, although later it does denote the pecuniary lucrativeness of the album itself, as well: “(the) licensing venture (was) so staggeringly lucrative that the album was a financial success months before it reached its multi-platinum sales total.” [5]
The next issue at hand deals with the moral practice of Alan Lomax, the historian and music compiler himself, and whether he actually contributed to black enterprises, or just pocketed all the money he made by exploiting them. Finding the answer to this would require extensive research, but one thing apparent from the wiki blurb on his is that he was a tireless worker: he conducted frequent interviews, and worked for radio stations as well as the Library of Congress, along with his father, so it seems that things didn’t just exactly fall into his lap. Still, at what point do we have the greatest contingency of blacks complaining about their own monetary treatment, in music, by way of music? Maybe Clipse – Hell Hath No Fury, which also happens to be one of the greatest hip-hop albums of all time, and composed of, you guessed it, zero samples. It just shows you, sometimes perfection is so hard to reciprocate, because it’s so unexpected.
[1] https://www.quora.com/What-is-the-meaning-behind-the-Bring-Sally-Up-song
[2] I’m not going to get into the sickening aspects right now of how patronizing it is to allot these designated FUNCTIONS of these old slave songs… that would take an entire grad school dissertation, perhaps one made interdisciplinary with some psychological study. Suffice it to say that it’s extremely troubling encountering any persons for whom said value does not contain readily emerging, self-explanatory value all on its own.
[3] Excuse my firewall-friendly profanity: this evasive “b sides album” seems to be called something different on every website I look at, and it does not own its own wikipedia page. This, especially, is noteworthy. For if Play & Play: Moby’s Greatest Sh**s, or whatever this da**ed thing is called, actually had its own wikipedia page, then you know what would have to be on there? Original songwriter. And it’s every bit possible that that tidbit of information is still Moby’s little secret.
[4] “American Woman” was SUPPOSED to be a cinematic dark horse, surfacing not officially on a studio album (only as a bonus track eventually) but doing it to Austin Power 2: The Spy Who Shagged Me in a big way, but then the song does turn up on Greatest Hits (Kravitz). Understandable, I guess.
[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Play_(Moby_album)


[6] Hmm, “Among the films which have used tracks from the album are Danny Boyle’s The Beach, Gone in 60 Seconds and Swing Vote,” eh? Two of those three song usages are “Flower.”

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