"Free Until They Cut Me Down" as written by and Samuel Ervin Beam....
When the men take me to the devil tree
I will be free and shining like before
Papa don't tell me what I should've done
She's the one who begged me
"Take me home"

When the wind wraps me like the reaper's hand
I will swing free until they cut me down
Papa don't tell me what I could've done
She's the one who begged me
"Take me home"

When the sea takes me like my mother's arms
I will breathe free as any word of God
Papa don't tell me what you would've done
She's the one who begged me
"Take me home"


Lyrics submitted by feverdream

"Free Until They Cut Me Down" as written by Samuel Ervin Beam

Lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc.

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Free Until They Cut Me Down song meanings
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  • +4
    General CommentTo me it definitely sounds like it's speaking from the point of view of a black man in the South who's about to be murdered by a lynch mob for associating with a white woman. His father blames him, saying if he had followed the "should've, could've, would've" restrictions of the white men and stayed away from the woman, he wouldn't have had to die. The son, however, asserts his humanity, saying that even though he will be killed, he will swing "free until they cut me down".

    This is a beautiful song and recalled to my mind the lyrics from Arrested Development's song Tennessee, where the singer goes to the South and climbs "the trees my forefathers hung from".
    MsMollyon May 03, 2005   Link
  • +3
    General CommentThe "devil tree" is a real tree in NJ where blacks were lynched by angry white mobs. According to locals the tree possess evil properties and is possibly a portal to hell. Now I don't know about all that hell mumbo jumbo, but it seems to me Sam is referencing this tree, thus making it more likely the song is in fact about a young black man being lynched for sleeping with a white woman. Maybe its a coincidence, but I don't think so given the other lyrics.

    In either case, Sam grew up in South Carolina, where even today there are areas that you should avoid at night if your black. I grew up in Georgia and went to school in SC, and I can tell you racism is still alive and well in many places in the South. Sam certainly witnessed enough of this sick behavior first-hand to provide motivation for a song.
    psellon May 04, 2010   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI agree with most of this, but the freedom the singer is talking about is freedom of the soul. I'm not sure if it's a black man here, here's the story in a nutshell (as I see it):
    - Some sexual activity
    - Accusation of rape
    - They're going to hang him
    - He tells his dad that he didn't do it, but assures his father that God knows the truth, and when he dies, in the eyes of God, he will be exonerated

    Consider that if this were a lynching of a black man, he wouldn't say "when the men take me..." They would just take him on the spot. He seems to be talking from jail here.
    Despite this, he has a very calm and cool "I know something you don't know" attitude. What he knows is that "the men" can kill him, but not take his "word of God" freedom.
    Mr.Meon September 02, 2005   Link
  • +1
    General CommentThis is a song of a strange fruit.

    (Southern trees bear strange fruit,
    Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
    Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze,
    Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.
    By Billie Holiday and Abel Meeropol 1937)
    vexion January 21, 2007   Link
  • +1
    General CommentIf the girl truly begged the man to take her home, why doesn't she speak up in defense of her lover? Probably because she's afraid of the backlash. This especially makes sense if the man was black and she was white.

    Unless the man is lying, and he simply raped the girl and murdered her. But then the song is sort of weird and pointless, except perhaps as a story of egotism and blindness to one's own faults.
    krackerdogon June 10, 2008   Link
  • +1
    General CommentReminds me of 'To Kill a Mockingbird', in which a white woman is attracted to a black man, and tries to seduce him. When he refuses her advances, she's embarassed and frightened by what she's done, and convinces herself and eventually the court that he's raped her. Obviously everyone believes her word over his because he's black.

    I don't necessarily think that's the story of this song, but it certainly has echoes. The song may or may not have anything to do with racial issues.

    Anyhow, as someone said above, the point of the song is obviously the emotion and meaning of the moment, whatever the events behind it.

    I like how, when listening to it, the line 'take me home' could equally be him anticipating heaven. I think the driving rhythm of the music establishes the mood briliantly. It's almost as if he's so disgusted with the unjust world that he can't wait to get out of it - to go home.
    meudwenon July 27, 2008   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI don't see the theme of the cross here, but that's just me. I think that this is a man singing about his imminent excecution for the murder of or crime against a young woman. He keeps saying, "She begged me to take her home" making it her fault somehow. He's not really free persay, but will literally be swinging free on the wind after he is hung.
    neonskylineon March 10, 2005   Link
  • 0
    General CommentConsidering Sam Beam grew up in South Carolina, at the end of a time where rascism was quite bad. He could've possibly been talking about that.... maybe putting himself in a black man's shoes in the segregated south and having sex with a white girl...being extremely frowned upon back in the day of slavery, inspiring enough to write a song about.
    Wilsongon March 16, 2005   Link
  • 0
    General CommentIs he singing about being hung for murder? Sounds sort of like a woman told him to kill her ("Take me home"). So he killed her and is being executed for doing so. My interperetation might very well be incorrect. Please, correct me if I'm wrong.

    Great song, nevertheless.
    Bravuraon August 30, 2005   Link
  • 0
    General CommentWell, it is an "interpretation"... but I assumed he was caught sleeping with a woman, probably underaged. Or maybe just unmarried, an old-fashioned idea that would fit with the old-fashioned punishment of hanging. I'd like to think they loved each other and chose to have sex even in the face of a strict society, but that's unfounded. Anyway, as the song says, he was always a free spirit, and does not regret what he did. He chose his fate; might even be considered a martyr.
    queenofswordson August 31, 2005   Link

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