Thursday, October 4, 2012

Lazarus/Last Drop of Blood

(Note: This time, the "/" does not designate two songs being discussed in the same post-- it is part of the song's title.)

Lazarus has been part of Salvador's story ever since his mother consulted the Santero (fortune teller) back in Puerto Rico. "I see [Salvador] staggering through the desert/ But he must not break his chain/ Till Saint Lazarus, in his mercy/ Turns his thirsty soul to rain."

Well, Lazarus has popped up now and again, but here, he has his first full song. And Salvador has been in the actual desert, jumping parole ("breaking his chain"?) to meet with his lover, whom he had so far only known through letters.

Lazarus appears to Salvador now and tells him that his past is still very much with him-- "Your shadow like a cape"-- and that there is no escape, no joining with his lover, until he starts his "confession."

As if this is not enough riding on the matter, Lazarus tell him that there are immigrants waiting to come into America who will not do so until he confesses. A chorus, perhaps these huddled masses on the Rio Grande at the Mexico-US border, sings: "Break a branch to cross the river there/ To deliver us salvation." Surely, this is meant to also evoke the biblical River Jordan, all that lies between the Wilderness and the Promised Land.

Until now, and as we saw in the previous song, Salvador has always maintained his innocence. But is it the murder that is Salvador's sin? Or is there more?

Salvador's response is to go on the offensive. He says that, if he is a sinner, then he has nothing; "That's all a sinner receives." He says even his freedom does not amount to much, although it was enough to "light" the way across the country. (We also learn that Lazarus was disguised as a "stranger" on the bus the whole way, and only now has revealed his true nature.)

Now, Salvador comes to his point, and recalls the Santero's prophecy: "Where is the rain you promised me?" Oh, yes, Salvador says in effect, you thought I wasn't paying attention, that I was just a "monkey-wild" kid, but I was listening! And then, he says, he waited in prison for 16 years, and no longer believes in "childhood's prayers."

Lazarus shoots back: "You killed and then you smiled." So Lazarus does believe that Sal killed that fateful night. And that yes, even after all the loss and all the miracles of his life (his sentence being commuted from death to life, his eventual parole, his finding love, etc.) he has still not dealt with reality. All of this suffering has been for naught, and all of these gifts have failed to make him see the truth.

Or did it? This verse is key, so I will quote all of it:
"I know remorse would be a river/ In the desert of my heart/
Whose loss is God, the giver/ But my tears won't start./
The State of New York imprisoned me/ The State of New York will set me free/
I break this chain, its pain and memory."

Salvador understands what Lazarus means. He killed and smiled... but he should have wept! He was defiant and defensive, when he should have been remorseful and regretful. The Santero was not talking about actual rain, but tears! How else does a "soul turn to rain"?

Salvador did kill those other teens that night. He has spent the last decade and more denying that he did and, if so, so what? He spent his years blaming everyone and everything from his poor fathering to poverty to racism.

And now Salvador says to Lazarus that he knows that he should cry, and for what reasons-- remorse, confession, re-connection with God, relief, release. He knows he should cry, but he won't. The State-- not God, not his crime-- is what locked him up, and so when the State releases him, he will consider himself "free."

But while Salvador has finally unlocked the Santero's riddle with regard to "rain," he has yet to realize that the "chain" part does not refer to his literal prison shackles or the State's hold on his physical freedom. His chain is the guilt of his crime. He says he has broken his chain, but he has not. For words cannot break it, only tears.

The Santero's prediction is still valid. Until Salvador repents and cries, a chained prisoner he shall remain. Not as a punishment, just a natural consequence. To use another metaphor, you can cover a stained shirt with a jacket and pretend the stain is not there. But you can only remove the stain with soap and effort.

At this point, a voice from the past is heard. It is the mother of one of the victims. She wishes she had died that day, and every year lights a memorial candle on her son's birthday, "for the life he never tasted." Then she tells Salvador: "I've grown weary... but I'll never be at rest/ 'Til the murder that you did is paid for/ With the last drop of blood."

Lazarus has still failed to turn Salvador's soul to rain. And so Salvador's chain remains unbroken. Now Lazarus tells Salvador the price of his intransigence: "Go live in an empty room/ And study the wallpaper... No wife, no child... Let your solitude frighten your neighbor."

"...And write in your book," Lazarus continues, mocking Salvador's literary pretensions, "How arrogant you are/ how ordinary." Then, this, again the logical end to his inability to atone: "Neither pardon nor parole/ Will ever bring you peace."

The chorus moans again for "healing" and "salvation." But none comes.

Next Songs: Wahzinak's Last Letter/ Puero Rican Day Parade/ El Coqui (Reprise)


  1. Without having seen the musical itself, it's difficult to tell what happens inbetween songs, or when songs are supposed to take place chronologically. That said, when I first got to listen to the Broadway cast album, I assumed that "El Malecon", "You Fucked Up My Life", "Lazarus", "Last Drop of Blood" and possibly even "Wahzinak's Last Letter" were all visions (hallucinations, possibly?) that Sal has while lost in the desert, simultaneously looking for love and evading capture.

    After all, as explained in the lyrics of "Lazarus", Sal knows he committed the murders, but refuses to repent, because he believes he already has via a prison sentence; his subconscious, with the aid of the heat and maddening barrenness of the desert, taunts him with visions of a perfect life he once knew, his friends turning on him, the suffering of the families of his victims, and even his own guardian angel-of-sorts, Saint Lazarus, who attacks him instead of giving him relief. "Wahzinak's Last Letter" is perhaps a vision Sal has of his love being taken away from him, as Lazarus also implied, or it could be a real letter Sal reads upon his return to prison - maybe the authorities finally catch up to him, exhausted in the desert.

  2. Anon-- Thank you for those insights. In addition to the play moving around in time, it might also move between reality and a dream-state. That had not occurred to me, but it certainly opens up many new possibilities for interpretation. Sal was a writer, after all, so of course he had a vivid imagination!

  3. I'd love to find the lyrics to this song somewhere, but I'm not having luck online. Might you be able to point me in the right direction? Thanks so much.

  4. Kindra-- I'm not sure that my Googling skills are any better than yours. I have the Lyrics book, though. You might be able to find it in a bookstore or library and copy the words (or maybe even buy the book?).