Harry Partch – Barstow

“It’s four p.m., and I’m hungry and broke. I wish I was dead. But today I am a man.” So goes a refrain from Barstow (1941), a piece by iconoclastic composer Harry Partch based on hitchhikers’ graffiti he discovered near the desert town of Barstow, a couple of hours east of Los Angeles. Sometimes known as the “Hobo Concerto,” Barstow is part of Partch’s “Americana” series written after a decade of his own train-hopping during the Depression. The eight hitchhikers’ inscriptions in Barstow are spoken and sung verbatim, offering a candid portrait of the travelers’ thoughts and desires, such as: Marie Blackwell. Age nineteen. Brown eyes, brown hair, considered pretty. One-eighteen East Ventura Street, Las Vegas, Nevada. Object: matrimony. When Partch first read these plaintive scribblings, he instantly recognized their musical potential, and Barstow has become one of his most beloved compositions.