Prison Songs

From The Joe Frank Wiki
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Prison Songs[1]
The Other Side
Original Broadcast Date
Joe Frank
59 minutes
Preceded by: No Angel
Followed by: The Box

It was a particularly hot day of a sweltering summer in Manhattan.

Prison Songs is a program Joe Frank produced as part of the series The Other Side. It was originally broadcast on October 31, 1999.


Joe tells of when he was a child, went to the beach with his mother. She forgot towels so she buys a newspaper to use as one. A policeman cites her for littering. She does something to get him to tear up the ticket.

2:10: Billy Friedman and Joe, when they were 14, jump over an air shaft about 10 stories up, their favorite sport. One day they see a couple making love through an open window. Joe goes to get a broom and mirror so they can watch more easily. While fetching the broom Joe takes a dump; it gets dark and cold suddenly, and a strong wind tries to suck Joe off the toilet. He has to cling to the seat and push against the windowsill to hold on. When he gets back to the air shaft, Billy's dead at the bottom.

5:00: A Russian immigrant tells of when he was 16, wanted to go to JFK High[1] to be with Karen - but he has no English. He takes a course at Yeshiva[2], but it's mostly Jewish history and Hebrew. Further, since all the students are Russian, therefore speak in Russian outside of class, he doesn't learn English. An administrator tries to bribe him to get circumcised with a $30 Panasonic tape recorder. He demurs.

16:10: A fellow who's having a hard time making it as a performer takes a job selling religious supplies to priests. It's a terrible job, cold-calling priests on straight commission. One callee shows an interest in a Burning Bush, a $3,500 chalice, for which his commission would be about $900, so the guy rushes over.[3] The priest is looking for a pickup. In a struggle over a $5-bill the priest shoves in his shirt pocket, that he doesn't want, he drops the chalice. He can't afford to pay to fix it. The priest insists on paying in installments, which the guy has to pick up, which seem like creepy dates to him.

23:20: Joe recounts his breakup with Darlene, the awful things they did to each other. Joe imagines dismembering Darlene, making ornaments from her body parts.

26:20: Joe lists people who need love.

27:50: Joe lists analogies for love, how necessary and irreplaceable it is. He addresses Darlene, how much he misses her.

35:00: The Russian guy recalls living in Boston, that there are successful Russians and wasters. The wildest guy is a weaver who drinks and drugs, dances on tables, whacks his large penis on tables… A dealer gives him an advance. He weaves rugs and tapestries for a year, has a show, makes a lot of money, buys a new car, the preserving of which makes him dull with responsibility. An accident frees him. Now he lives in Alaska, married, with children, hunts mountain goats.

44:20: A guy explains how he got into trouble. He couldn't get an honest job so kept on committing crimes.

45:30: Joe recounts walking along the ocean, coming upon an orchestra, dressed-up people dancing, waiters, champagne. A helicopter lands, lets out a man in top hat and tails who comes to the microphone, explodes, killing everyone but Joe. Joe returns to his hotel, pours a shot of scotch, pours it out into the pool.

47:40: Joe recalls Socrates's death.[4]

48:20: Joe thinks about finding eternity.

49:00: Joe recalls his father being killed in a factory accident when he was 5, reduced to paste.

49:50: Joe recalls his piano lesson when he was 10. He was a poor student; the teacher struck him when he made a mistake. He developed migraines as a result. Years later he started therapy with a psychiatrist. She and Joe fell in love, made a suicide pact, which she honored but Joe did not.

51:30: Joe recounts when he was a cabbie in Manhattan, the couple he drove to Atlantic City and back.

54:00: Joe recalls meeting Sol at Lutece.

55:20: Joe recounts bursting into Bludstein's office; Bludstein was having an affair with Darlene. Bludstein pisses out the window.

Legacy Synopsis

Narrator and mother on the beach. Peeping at a naked woman, friend falls to his death. Man's story of coming to USA as a boy and wanting a girl but winds up learning about being Jewish. Prison song. Struggling performer meets with a priest becomes a salesman for priest's materials ends in a strange relationship. Narrator recalls losing a girlfriend like an amputation. "Needs Love" diatribe. Russian immigrant describes person who lost his joy once he became successful. Song. A guy describes being in and out of prison for 18 years. Narrator and an lavish party where a man explodes. Narrator describes his father killed in a grinder when he was five, piano lessons when ten, therapist who dies. Driving a cab for foreign, arguing couple. Contemplations of purpose and success.



  • The prison songs which appear here and in several other programs are from a compilation of field recording made in 1947 by and released in the 50s on the album "Negro Prison Songs." The album has been re-released, along with previously unpublished material from the same source tapes, on two CDs by Rounder:
  • Prison Songs: Historical Recordings from Parchman Farm 1947-48 Volume 1: Murderous Home (Alan Lomax, Rounder CD 1714, 1997, #ASIN: B0000002UV)
  • Prison Songs: Historical Recordings from Parchman Farm 1947-48 Volume 2. Don'tcha Hear Poor Mother Calling? (Alan Lomax, Rounder CD 1715, 1997, #ASIN: B0000002UW)

Joe re-uses 25 minutes of this episode in Love Prisoner.


  1. in Riverside, NYC
  2. because he's Jewish
  3. I can't find any information on this chalice.
  4. wrongly