The grudge content of songs is high. Let’s have a look at some of the best grudge songs out there, and see what conclusions we can draw about the grudges that have provided such inspiration…


WEEK 4  —  Prison Trilogy by Joan Baez



Prison Trilogy – Joan Baez

Billy Rose was a low rider. Billy Rose was a night fighter.
Billy Rose knew trouble like the sound of his own name.
Busted on a drunken charge,
Driving someone else’s car,
The local midnight sheriff’s claim to fame.

In an Arizona jail there are some who tell the tale, how
Billy fought the sergeant for some milk that he demanded.
Knowing they’d remain the boss,
Knowing he would pay the cost,
They saw he was severely reprimanded.

In the blackest cell on “A” Block,
He hanged himself at dawn,
With a note stuck to the bunk head:
“Don’t mess with me, just take me home.”

Come and lay, help us lay
Young Billy down.

Luna was a Mexican the law called an alien,
For coming across the border with a baby and a wife.
Though the clothes upon his back were wet,
Still he thought that he could get
Some money and things to start a life.

It hadn’t been so very long when it seemed like everything went wrong.
Didn’t even have the time to find themselves a home,
When this foreigner, a brown-skin male,
Was thrown into a Texas jail.
It left the wife and baby quite alone.

He eased the pain inside him
With a needle in his arm.
But the dope, it just crucified him
And he died to no one’s great alarm.

Come and lay, help us lay
Poor Luna down.
And we’re gonna raze, raze the prisons
To the ground.

Kilowatt was an ageing con of 65, who stood a chance to stay alive
And leave the joint and walk the streets again.
As the time he was to leave drew near,
He suffered all the joy and fear
Of leaving 35 years in the pen,

Then on the day of his release, he was approached by the police
Who took him to the warden, walking slowly by his side.
The warden said, “You won’t remain here,
But it seems a state retainer
Claims another 10 years of your life.”

He stepped out in the Texas sunlight,
And the cops all stood around.
Old Kilowatt ran 50 yards,
Then threw himself down on the ground.

They might as well just have laid
That old man down.
And we’re gonna raze, raze the prisons
To the ground.
Help us raze, raze the prisons
To the ground.



A crass reading of this brilliant song, focusing on the line ‘Help us raze, raze the prisons to the ground’, might conclude that Baez is arguing for all prisons to be abolished. I don’t think she is. I think she’d probably agree that serial killers and child murderers belong behind bars, if only to keep the rest of us safe.

I take this song to be a tuneful airing of a ‘Failure to Weigh Up Relative Harms Responsibly’ Grudge. I have many, many grudges on this theme. The incidents that spark grudges of this type always involve somebody (the legal system, in the case of this song) punishing a relatively minor misdemeanour in a too-harsh way and, as a result, bringing more harm and negativity into the world that the original offence did.

If there’s one thing that makes me bristle with grudge-energy, it’s anyone or anything that’s excessively punitive. I find it hard to forgive those who refuse to forgive when the inciting incident is (to my mind) relatively minor. I think that probably explains why I love this song so much.

(As those of you who have read my grudge book or listened to my grudge podcast know, I don’t believe that holding grudges is the opposite of  forgiving. I believe it’s an aid to forgiveness, if done in the right way.)


“Hopefully once you’ve read this book, you will  understand that grudges can and should be great, and you’ll be inspired to pass on the gift of grudge-holding to the next generation. Sending yourself and your loved ones out into the world with a strong grudge-growing ability is as essential as putting on a helmet and not drinking four bottles of vodka before getting onto your motorbike and zooming off down the motorway. Trust me: it’s true