SONG: In the Years Before A/C


“In the Years Before A/C” [Download]

ARTIST: grant.

SOURCE: National Park Service, 1 May 2023, “National Park archeologists find remains of an underwater hospital and cemetery at Dry Tortugas,” as used in the post “Sunken cemetery, hospital found off the Dry Tortugas.”

I cannot write songs like Brian Sella, but then again I don’t think even Brian Sella can write songs like Brian Sella. I wrote this song like me. I started out with an idea – it was going to be, it had to be about the discovery or rediscovery of the Fort Jefferson Post Cemetery. There is, first of all, the image of a diver hovering in the murky blue over rows of coral-encrusted headstones. And then there is the idea that it was lost. The military is kind of known for keeping records, even of things we’d all rather forget. But someone we lost track of this cemetery. That’s pretty strange.

There’s also the idea that this place was swallowed by the sea in the way that some climate observers say all of South Florida will be in a few decades. How much will we forget then? And there is also the thought that this was a place of quarantine, and how much we have forgotten quarantines, and how much the recent covid pandemic is already being forgotten, how much it doesn’t show up in movies or comic books at all. Just a couple of years we can skip past, except for the politics of masking and lockdowns becoming an element of presidential campaigns.

I wrote this song after earworming myself yet again with “Twin-Size Mattress.” It is not meant to sound anything like it, other than I think that two-finger guitar thing that starts that song is a thing I do alot with songs, too. The lyrics, though, do start with a “This is for the…” construction, and then go into something I will do, a first-person response. In this case, I will listen to the ghosts of the sunken island and try to remember them.

Air conditioning was invented in Florida as a medical therapy for yellow fever sufferers. But that was up in the panhandle. At Fort Jefferson, which you can only reach after a fairly long boat ride, the comfort of the patients was not the primary concern. This is where Dr. Mudd, who treated presidential assassin John Wilkes Booth, was imprisoned.

All the guitar parts on this are done with a nylon-string acoustic run through some amplifiers and other effects. The bass is real and the cello is MIDI. The vocals I had to wait for days to record because I just can’t sing that loud with other people in the same house. The drums are made from three tracks and maybe they could be made simpler, but they fit together nicely.

This is for you to remember.


This is for the quarantines washed over by the sea
And this is for the restless, forgotten dead who no longer need to breathe
I will bring aqualungs and archaeology
Of hospitals and headstones / of rising tides and temperatures
The nurses, saints, and prison guards/ at the yellow fever wards
In the years before A/C.

This is for the name John Greer
Carved across a graywacke slab
He built the walls that once stood here
In the military prison hospital lab
Where they’d amputate the gangrene / And evaluate the scab
Make observations of the fever
In the years before A/C

BR: Until the sand itself surrendered
And the ocean swallowed everything that stood
We maintain a talent for forgetting
But I’m for getting back what once was gone for good
In the years before A/C (x2)

Shadows grow on the horizon (In the years before A/C)
Like rising temperatures and tides (Sweat soaked and saber-scarred)
We write our notes on paper bloated with the brine (Drilled to stand ramrod straight)
We are dissolving over time (In whale bones and winged hussars)
In the years before A/C (x3)