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Juanita Nelson, Light of our Lives




Juanita Nelson. August 17, 1923 – March 9, 2015

The wonderful Juanita Nelson left us yesterday. May the light perpetual shine upon her. She was a huge influence in my life in my 20s…advocate of simple living, nonviolent resistance to war and illegitimate authority. We still have her poem, “Outhouse Blues” in our Vermont privy.

Outhouse Blues
By Juanita Nelson
Well, I went out to the country to live the simple life,
Get away from all that concrete and avoid some of that strife,
Get off the backs of poor folks, stop supporting Uncle Sam
In all that stuff he’s puttin’ down, like bombing Vietnam

Oh, but it ain’t easy, ’specially on a chilly night
When I beat it to the outhouse with my trusty dim flashlight —
The seat is absolutely frigid, not a BTU of heat…
That’s when I think the simple life is not for us elite.

Well, I try to grow my own food, competing with the bugs,
I even make my own soap and my own ceramic mugs.
I figure that the less I buy, the less I compromise
With Standard Oil and ITT and those other gouging guys.
Oh, but it ain’t easy to leave my cozy bed
To make it with my flashlight to that air-conditioned shed
When the seat’s so cold it takes away that freedom ecstasy,
That’s when I fear the simple life maybe wasn’t meant for me.

Well, I cook my food on a wood stove and heat with wood also,
Though when my parents left the South I said, “This has got to go,”
But I figure that the best way to say all folks are my kin
Is try to live so I don’t take nobody’s pound of skin.
Oh, but it ain’t easy, when it’s rainy and there’s mud
To put on my old bathrobe and walk out in that crud;
I look out through the open door and see a distant star
And sometimes think this simple life is taking things too far.

But then I get to thinkin’, if we’re ever gonna see
The end of that old con game the change has got to start with me.
Quit wheelin’ and quit dealin’ to be a leader in any band,
And it appears the best way is to get back to the land.
If I produce my own needs I know what’s goin’ down,
I’m not quite so footsy with those Wall Street pimps in town.
’Cause let me tell you something, though it may not be good news,
If some folks win you better know somebody’s got to lose.

So I guess I’ll have to cast my lot with those who’re optin’ out.
And even though on freezing nights I will have my naggin’ doubts,
Long as I talk the line I do and spout my way out views
I’ll keep on usin’ the outhouse and singin’ the outhouse blues.