[after “Please Mrs. Henry” on The Basement Tapes]


Caravaggio, Judith Beheading Holofernes, 1598
Caravaggio, Judith Beheading Holofernes, 1598


The place was hot,
the place was packed,
the noodles cold,
the china stacked.
Democracy Judy, when did you come along?

We put on glasses,
and changed our looks,
and left our spouses,
and picked up books.
Democracy Judy, where do you belong?

Democracy Judy
I’m so glad you came, it’s why I wrote this song.
Democracy Judy
I agree with what you say!
Have you known it all along?

Plans were laid,
and plans were blown,
and shells were cracked,
and seeds were sewn.
Democracy Judy, her seeds were oblong.

People came,
and people went,
and trust was shared,
and care was spent.
Democracy Judy, don’t you love this song?

Democracy Judy
I’m so glad you came, you’re coming on strong.
Democracy Judy
I agree with what you say!
By the way—are you wearing a thong?

Walls were scaled,
and frames were broke,
and halls were trashed,
and cigs were smoked.
Democracy Judy, where’d you put that bong?

A bearded man,
with bearded thoughts,
poured bearded wisdom,
from bearded pots.
Democracy Judy, why’s your face so long?

Democracy Judy
I’m so glad you came, despite the mood of the throng.
Democracy Judy
I agree with what you say!
Why’d it take so long?

We rubbed our eyes,
and craned our necks,
and stretched our legs,
and cashed our checks.
Democracy Judy, where did we go wrong?

The place was cool,
the lights were dim,
the overworked chef
was sleeping in.
and Democracy Judy was long, long gone.

Democracy Judy was long, long gone.
Democracy Judy was


by Steve Canal Jones

Sometimes a ballad is just a ballad, and sometimes a ballad works on levels other than the literal subject of its lyrics. That’s the case with this subversive little ditty, which was inspired by a series of open conversations that took place on the Lower East Side of New York in June 2008. The talks were hosted by E-flux, New York, were organized by Aprior magazine, Brussels, and were intended to revolve around the concepts of participation, distribution, caring, and trust in contemporary art. The conversations were transcribed and printed in Aprior #18 in relation to the work of Nico Dockx, Rirkrit Tiravanija, and Anton Vidokle. A number of significant artists and critics were made keynote presentations each day, accompanied by discussions with whomever else had chosen to come. The events were punctuated by communal lunches and dinners that were courtesy of Rirkrit, who was aided by a team of assembled culinary friends.

The talks were by turns informative and infuriating and, in the end, were most informative not for what was said but, indeed, for the way they were infuriating. Designed to avoid the usual hierarchical structure that distinguishes an invited speaker from their audience (podium, stage, stage lighting, auditorium seating, etc.), the presentations hoped to have a less detached, more democratic exchange of ideas. With no designated authorities, anyone’s opinion would be given equal consideration alongside anyone else’s.

Unfortunately, avoiding the usual hierarchies did not make the collective desire for social structure disappear. Rather, a political economy of power and status took shape on the basis of intangible, but no less reliable, material, and so the apparent friendships, known accomplishments, and institutional affiliations of the noteworthy people in the room became the ad hoc structure for evaluating things. It boiled down to a comment by an “unknown” person carried less weight than if the same comment came from Liam Gillick or Lawrence Weiner.

On the morning of the third day, at the midpoint of a presentation by Jan Verwoert in which he floated several specious social theories—particularly that women are better at “caring” than men because they are capable of giving birth—one person couldn’t take it any more. Having witnessed several audience members get cut off by Verwoert and his sponsors whenever they tried to engage Verwoert in dialogue—a young woman, I don’t know who—started speaking and, in a polite but relentless way, refused to be silenced. I don’t remember her exact words but I do remember their effect, which was to utterly dismantle the sham democracy of the three-day conference with one deliberate, two-minute speech. This song—Democracy Judy—is dedicated to her.


First published as “Democracy Cutie” in Aprior (Brussels: Aprior Magazine): 335.

Image: Caravaggio, Judith Beheading Holofernes (c. 1598-99)

For related content see The Ballad of Ed Ruscha