Gonna eat what I pick
And I hope you choke on it
I'm proud to break a sweat

Too late
The sideshow pays
It's a Gary Cooper story
And it shines like sammy's knee

Gonna eat what I pick
And I hope you choke on it
When I dance I raise the dead
Put a nickel in my hat
Take one look at your big smile
I'm proud to break a sweat
My black ass


Lyrics submitted by Mint Floss, edited by wbk

My Black Ass song meanings
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10 Comments

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  • +2
    General CommentHi all,

    This is late to the party (last response in 2010), but I thought I'd add my two cents, which confirms some other theories posted. I do not believe this song "doesn't mean anything at all." It seems to me that this song discusses the different ways black people were allowed to participate in the economy of the country in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, .

    "Gonna eat what I pick" seems to be a reference to sharecropping (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/…). Many Negro League players probably either directly participated in the system, or had close family members who did.

    "I hope you choke on it" follows the sharecropping thing; If I only get a meager portion of these crops, then I hope that you choke on what you get.

    "I'm proud to break a sweat" = a man has to be proud of his daily work, no matter the conditions of his labor. Or alternatively, "I am proud to break a sweat for work that I take on myself, following my own ambition."

    "Too late for Satchel Paige" By the time Satchel was admitted to the Major Leagues, he was a 42 year old rookie; it was too late for him to have a long career of equal merit to the white players of the era, and his Negro League stats are downplayed in the context of history

    "It's a Gary Cooper story" = Gary Cooper played Lou Gehrig in Pride of the Yankees, another reference to white male domination of professional sports (specifically baseball), and the narrative of sports back then used the white athlete as signifying virility, strength, and masculinity even while they would not play with the black athletes (an quite ironic reference, too, as Gehrig ended up with ALS)

    "Shines like Sammy's knees" -- Not totally sure; I have seen forums referring to Sammy Davis Jr.'s habit of dancing on his knees, which would rub off the fabric of his pants making his knees appear shiny (which leads to the next section...)

    "When I dance I raise the dead" - Black entertainers were seen as fierce and skilled dancers, lauding the physical attributes over the mental, but also pointing to artistic creativity. I'm sure there are tribal/slave dances that specifically meant to "raise the dead" but could not corroborate that, and the metaphor works just as well anyway.

    "Drop a nickel in my hat" - Pay the performer, usually on the street dancing for nickels (as opposed to being paid with more lucrative cash or checks for a show in a theater--hence the creation of Apollo Theater when black performers were not allowed to perform in most concert venues for whites).

    "Take one look at your big smile" -- a reference to blackface performers?

    "I'm proud to break a sweat" -- again, pay me for the hard work I produce, I am proud to do it as long as I am compensated fairly

    I hope this is at least somewhat on base, and helpful to Shellac fans. As a young black man, hearing this song was one of my first realizations that "Some white people actually do understand the history of this country and the harsh economic realities blacks dealt with in the quite recent past." Not as far as anyone owing black people anything, but just being cognizant of some of the inequalities. I had much respect for Albini after that, and that's not even considering how great his band and his production skills were.
    NTT66on October 15, 2013   Link
  • +1
    General CommentFrom the first and last verses, it seems to be about slavery. But in the second he talks about Gary Cooper. What's that about?
    plosionon January 05, 2005   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI've always heard it as "it's too late for Satchel Paige" as well, and "when I dance I raise the dead." Live, I once heard Steve change it to "a Babe Ruth story," at which point we could maybe start to extract some meaning.

    I know I'm stretching, but I always jokingly suggested that the title was a reference to his apparent hobby of lighting his ass on fire, as related in the Nirvana bio "Come As You Are".
    darknessdescendson September 01, 2006   Link
  • +1
    General CommentHere's a version closer to the real lyrics, but still not perfect:

    Gonna eat what I pick
    And I hope you choke on it
    I'm proud to break a sweat

    Too late
    For Satchel Paige
    It's a Gary Cooper Story and it shines like Sammy's knee

    Gonna eat what I pick
    And I hope you choke on it
    When I dance I raise the dead
    Drop a nickel in my hat

    Take one look at your big smile

    Proud to break a sweat

    My Black ass



    ...as for the meaning, well I think its basically about black slavery and baseball. People like Satchel Paige overcoming the adversity of not being treated as an equal; ie. going from the Negro Leagues to play on in the Major Leagues (not sure but I think he might've been the first person to do this). I think Omnicide is right about the Gary Cooper reference though I'm not sure who Sammy is - maybe Sammy Davis Jr?
    dio_marchon December 28, 2006   Link
  • +1
    General CommentSteve is a giant baseball fan, for those who didn't know. This either has some tie-in to maybe the negro leagues or MLB in general (the Satchel Paige part is definitely in the song, I knew my ears weren't deceiving me and it's nice to see the comments clarified that)... or he just through old Satchel's name out there for some reason.

    I always found it funny how Albini was a White Sox fan, but now roots for the Twins... can't even keep their own fans. :$
    NickMSuckson August 19, 2010   Link
  • 0
    General CommentThe 'Gary Cooper Story' is, probably, a reference to high Noon and the 'man's gotta do what a man's gotta do' philosophy

    Steve Albini is a nasty, nasty man. And a true legend.
    Omnicideon March 19, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI've seen this version of the lyrics all over the internet, and I'm pretty sure the "sideshow pays" line is incorrect.

    I always assumed it was "Satchel Paige," the baseball player. In my mind it goes with "Gary Cooper" in referencing public figures from the past.

    I don't think this song means anything at all.
    Kyomaraon July 10, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI've always heard it as "it's too late for Satchel Paige" as well, and "when I dance I raise the dead." Live, I once heard Steve change it to "a Babe Ruth story," at which point we could maybe start to extract some meaning.

    I know I'm stretching, but I always jokingly suggested that the title was a reference to his apparent hobby of lighting his ass on fire, as related in the Nirvana bio "Come As You Are".
    darknessdescendson September 01, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI alway heard "Gonna eat an icepick" but that's obviously wrong.

    Crank the treble up!
    Tristax!on January 17, 2008   Link
  • 0
    General Commentthrew*
    NickMSuckson August 19, 2010   Link

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