Song Lyrics

Otis And Marlena

by Joni Mitchell

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Marlena under Foster Grants
She's undercover from the dawns advance
That girl is travel drained
And the neon mercury vapor stained
Miami sky
It's red as meat
It's a cheap pink rose
Otis in the driver's seat
Watches the street lights fade away
On louvered blocks in green sea air
In fluorescent fossil yards
Slippers are shuffling into folding chairs
Freckled hands are shuffling cards

They've come for sun and fun
While Muslims stick up Washington *

Otis empties out the trunk
On the steps of that celebrated dump
Sleazing by the sea
Bow down to her royal travesty
In her ballrooms heads of state
In her bedrooms rented girls
Always the grand parades of cellulite
Jiggling to her golden pools
Through flock and cupid colonnades
They jiggle into surgery
Hopefully beneath the blade
They dream of golden beauty

They've come for sun and fun
While Muslims stick up Washington

Marlena white as stretcher sheet
Watches it all from her tenth floor balcony
Like it's her opera box
All those Pagliacci summer frocks
Otis is fiddling with the TV dial
All he gets are cartoons and reruns
She taps her glass with an emery file
Watching three rings in the sun
The golden dive the fatted flake
And sizzle in the mink oil
It's all a dream
She has awake
Checked into Miami Royal
Where they've come for sun and fun
While Muslims hold up Washington
Dream on
Dream on
Dream on
Dream on
Dream on

© November 21, 1977; Crazy Crow Music


JMDL visitor Evelyn Williams suggested that the following event, which occured nine months prior to the release of Don Juan's Reckless Daughter, was the inspiration for Joni's lyric.

Terror at B'nai B'rith

B'nai B'rith, always a forceful voice in the struggle against terrorism, earned even more authority to speak for victims of such attacks when a band of seven Hanafi Muslims, armed with rifles, pistols, machetes, swords and knives, took over the International Center on March 9, 1977.

For 39 harrowing hours, the terrorists held 123 hostages on the eighth floor of the building, symbol of the Jewish people in downtown Washington. Despite his virulent anti-Semitism, Hamas Abdul Khaalis, leader of the Hanafis, made no demands of B'nai B'rith, but sought revenge for the murder of his family by Philadelphia Black Muslims. The Hanafis wounded two members of the B'nai B'rith staff and severely pistol-whipped and degraded all of their prisoners; they also damaged portions of the building and much equipment and furniture. They simultaneously occupied the Islamic Center and the District Building in Washington, killing a young reporter, paralysing a city employee and wounding a city councilman and several other persons.

After the intervention of diplomats from three Muslim countries, the Hanafis eventually surrendered to police. The Hanafis were duly tried, convicted and sentenced to long terms in prison. Messages of sympathy and support poured into B'nai B'rith headquarters from around the world. In response to the attack, B'nai B'rith determined to rebuild the International Center and continue, with renewed determination, its fight against terrorism.

Following is from the March 9, 2002 edition of the Washington Post

25th Anniversary of Terror; March 9, 2002

It came with the suddenness of September 11: a well-coordinated terrorist attack in the heart of the nation's capital, 25 years ago today. Twelve gunmen, Hanafi Muslims heavily armed with shotguns and machetes, storming into the then District Building on Pennsylvania Avenue NW, the offices of B'nai B'rith on Rhode Island Avenue NW and the Islamic Center on Massachusetts Avenue NW. Before the terrorist assault was brought to an end two days later, Maurice Williams, a 24-year-old reporter for WHUR-FM radio, had been shot dead, and dozens more had been injured, including three wounded by gunshots. Marion Barry, then a D.C. Council member, was among the injured. All told, in a 39-hour terrorist siege in Washington, 149 innocent people had been taken hostage. We forget the lesson of March 9, 1977, at our peril. Like the victims of 9-11, the victims of the violent March 9 takeover had no relation to the motives behind the assault. The Hanafi Muslims, an orthodox Islamic group, killed and took hostages in 1977 to force the government to turn over five Black Muslims convicted of murdering seven members of a Hanafi member's family four years earlier. The Hanafi Muslims also killed and maimed to stop the showing in America of the movie "Mohammad, Messenger of God" on the grounds that it was sacrilegious. Fifteen hostages at the District Building, more than 120 hostages at the B'nai B'rith building and a dozen hostages at the Islamic Center had absolutely nothing to do with the jailed Black Muslims or the showing of "Mohammad, Messenger of God." They were innocent targets of opportunity -- a condition not exclusive, but certainly common, to people living and working in the nation's capital.

The March 9 terror changed the way we live in this city well before that horror-filled September day came along. Because of the Hanafi takeover, armed guards and metal detectors were positioned where they had never stood before. Closed-circuit television cameras, identification badges and concrete barriers are now permanent features of our local scenery. Terrorism also permanently changed the lives of its victims. Bob Pierce went to work at the District Building 25 years ago as a legal intern for a council member. The day ended with him paralyzed for life, victim of a shotgun blast to the back as he lay with his face buried in the carpet.

The deep rage, the mindless, violent assault on the innocents -- all that this city saw then and last September, and in numerous bloody international incidents in between -- are solemn reminders of the scourge that can strike a power center such as Washington at any time. "I say throughout this country it can get worse and there's nothing nobody can do about it," said Hamaas Abdul Khaalis, the Hanafi group's leader in one of his apocalyptic warnings and demands in 1977. Evil forces of that day were defeated. But the lesson taught 25 years ago, which bears repeating today, is that leaders in Washington, as they build for the future, must -- in a world where terrorism seeks its day -- do no less than always prepare for the worst.

Transcriptions of Otis And Marlena


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JaySwanson on

This brilliant, if merciless, social critique is definitely about the 1977 attack ("While Muslims stick up Washington"). There's an article about the attack in today's New York Times. December. 5, 2022.

danno on

And the neon mercury vapor stained
Miami sky
It's red as meat
It's a cheap pink rose...
i love it! never has cheap pink rose tasted so good.