I Am Trying To Remember

Songfacts®:

  • This is another number from the musical Parade with music by Jason Robert Brown. The person trying to remember is the hapless Newt Lee, who was the nightwatchman at the pencil factory where 13-year-old Mary Phagan was brutally murdered in April 1913. When Lee found the body he tried first to contact the factory manager Leo Frank, but when he couldn't get through to him on the telephone, he called the police, and thereby became the first suspect. Suspicion against Lee might have hardened when a bloodstained shirt was found in his apartment, but this, like the two bizarre notes found at the crime scene which also attempted to incriminate him, was a little too obvious.

    Frank was eventually arrested, indicted and tried for the murder, and convicted of it, which together with his subsequent reprieve and unfortunate lynching is what this musical is all about.
  • "I Am Trying To Remember" is not really a song but a broken narrative set to music; Frank also contributes in an extremely nervous voice, as he might well done.
    Frank was convicted primarily on the evidence of Jim Conley, who admitted helping him cover up the crime. Like Lee, Conley was a Negro, and although to this day the consensus is that Conley rather than Frank was the villain of the piece, the motive for the murder of Mary Phagan was clearly sexual; she was almost certainly killed because she rejected her attacker's advances. And bearing in mind both that this was the Deep South and 1913, it is barely conceivable that any Negro would have propositioned a young white girl under such circumstances. Frank's conviction was upheld, and neither his reprieve nor his posthumous pardon in any way invalidates the trial jury's verdict.
    Although "I Am Trying To Remember" is not per se an inferior composition, the first song written about this tragedy - by Fiddlin' John Carson shortly after the murder - stands head and shoulders above anything written about it since. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Alexander Baron - London, England, for above 2

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