So, what’s a guttersnipe?
That’s what I wondered the first time I heard this song on KEXP Seattle some time ago, before listening closely to the lyrics. The Concise Oxford Dictionary defines it (concisely) as a “street urchin,” and Merriam-Webster says it means “1: a homeless vagabond and especially an outcast boy or girl in the streets of a city (and) 2: a person of the lowest moral or economic station.”
Either way, it’s not an enviable position. The official music video for Bhi Bhiman’s song illustrates this starkly, with film footage of people and rudimentary housing adjacent to India’s railways, a scene played out in many places worldwide.
“Guttersnipe” was the lead single on American singer-songwriter Bhi Bhiman’s second album, BHIMAN, released in 2012.
The song tells a heartbreaking story from the perspective of a child living in homelessness; an existence too many of our world’s young people face. I find such a deep contrast to the joyful celebration of equality in the ancient festival of Holi, which I described in my post a couple of days ago on “The Course.” However, the video also shows people going about their daily lives, persevering and often in joyful companionship.
In a similar kind of balance, the child tells of the challenges of living in homelessness, expressing gratitude for some of the simple needs met in that reality. The second verse sums this up beautifully: “I’ve been to Juarez, I been to Houston, Baton Rouge / I got some good friends, some folks to really help me through / I’ve been all over, I spend my time just like I do / I stay out of trouble, but it’s got a way of finding you…”
“Guttersnipe” has a rolling melody and simple beat (and a superb bass line), evocative of a slow railway journey. Some of the words express appreciation for experiencing the ride: “I’m just a vagabond, I live to see the light of dawn / The train beats a rhythm, and I love to sing along…”
The song reminds me of the many factors contributing to a comfortable life for me versus the grinding poverty endured by others. It also recalls the resilience I’ve observed encountering people bearing the harshness of life on the streets in my own city.
Now you know a little about why this is My Song of the Day for Today. Thanks for joining me here.
Here’s the video from Bhi Bhiman’s official YouTube channel:
Full, unofficial lyrics are available courtesy of Genius.com.