The fact that Jeremy’s guitar enables him to make money wherever he goes signifies the play’s interest in the relationship between music and travel. Indeed, “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone” is itself a title borrowed from an old blues song about the white tyrant Joe Turner (or Joe Turney), who used to capture black men and force them into labor. When somebody would ask why black men were missing from a town, people used to answer by saying, “Joe Turner’s come and gone,” a phrase that soon made its way into a blues refrain, becoming a song that traveled throughout the South and into the North. As such, Wilson uses music to discuss migration and transience, as evidenced by Bynum’s belief that each person has their own “song” that they must find—this “song” (or the lack of it) is what drives people to the road, as even Bynum himself admits that as a young man he traveled from town to town because he couldn’t find this “song.” Jeremy’s guitar, then, becomes a stand-in for his internal song, a way of compensating for the fact that he hasn’t yet formed his spiritual identity. In keeping with this idea, Wilson notes, “He is a proficient guitar player, though his spirit has yet to be molded into song.” Indeed, Jeremy seems to rely on his ability to make his own music, a skill that allows him to travel wherever he wants rather than staying in one spot and dealing with hardship. When he loses his job, he says, “I can get my guitar and always find me another place to stay.” In this way, his guitar keeps him on the road, just as Bynum’s pursuit for his internal “song” kept him traveling from place to place.
The Guitar Quotes in Joe Turner’s Come and Gone
From the deep and the near South the sons and daughters of newly freed African slaves wander into the city. Isolated, cut off from memory, having forgotten the names of the gods and only guessing at their faces, they arrive dazed and stunned, their heart kicking in their chest with a song worth singing. They arrive carrying Bibles and guitars, their pockets lined with dust and fresh hope, marked men and women seeking to scrape from the narrow, crooked cobbles and the fiery blasts of the coke furnace a way of bludgeoning and shaping the malleable parts of themselves into a new identity as free men of definite and sincere worth.
These niggers coming up here with that old backward country style of living. It’s hard enough now without all that ignorant kind of acting. Ever since slavery got over with there ain’t been nothing but foolish-acting niggers. Word get out they need men to work in the mill and put in these roads…and niggers drop everything and head North looking for freedom. They don’t know the white fellows looking too. White fellows coming from all over the world. White fellow come over and in six months got more than what I got. But these niggers keep on coming. Walking…riding…carrying their Bibles. That boy done carried a guitar all the way from North Carolina. What he gonna find out? What he gonna do with that guitar? This the city.
JEREMY: It didn’t make no sense to me. I don’t make but eight dollars. Why I got to give him fifty cents of it? He go around to all the colored and he got ten dollars extra. That’s more than I make for a whole week.
SETH: I see you gonna learn the hard way. You just looking at the facts of it. See, right now, without the job, you ain’t got nothing. What you gonna do when you can’t keep a roof over your head? Right now, come Saturday, unless you come up with another two dollars, you gonna be out there in the streets. Down up under one of them bridges trying to put some food in your belly and wishing you had given that fellow that fifty cents.
JEREMY: Don’t make me no difference. There’s a big road out there. I can get my guitar and always find me another place to stay. I ain’t planning on staying in one place for too long noway.