Monday, October 12, 2009

David Rovics - the beautiful voice of the American Resistance

In a country which has practically turned into a world-wide symbol of the pretend and fake, it is an amazing thing to discover something so true, so powerful, so genuine that it leaves your head spinning. Have you ever felt the exhilarating feeling of coming out from a deep long dive and taking a lung-full of fresh sea-smelling water? Have you ever had the chance to breathe some pure oxygen? Or think of the proverbial glass of cool mineral water in the middle of a sun-scorched desert - any of these will convey to you what I felt when, for the first time in my life, and after having lived 8 years in the USA,I heard David Rovics' songs last week.

It all began when, during a break on DemocrayNow, a heard his beautiful song "Behind the Barricades" which David sang a capella, accompanied only be a female vocalist.

(Please use the player below to listen to this, or any other song I mention in this review)

Frankly, I had no idea who David Rovics was. I decided to check him out, but I figured that "Behind the Barricades" was probably his best song, if not the only good one. Little did I know what I would discover next.

First, I did what I usually do. I used a torrent tracker to download a collection of his albums. I don't believe that there is anything wrong in downloading music like that since I believe that there is no such thing as "piracy", at least not for music or software. As it turns out, neither does David Rovics - and most of his music is - 222 songs! - available online for download. Ditto for his excellent songbook which can be downloaded in PDF format from here.

Here is what David writes:

Feel free to download these songs. Use them for whatever purpose. Send them to friends, burn them, copy them, play them on the radio, on the Internet, wherever. Music is the Commons. Ignore the corporate music industry shills who tell you otherwise. Downloading music is not theft, you're not hurting anyone, I promise. (And in any case, yes, this is legal, and I'm making all of these songs available myself.)

Wow! When I read these words I knew I was dealing with the "real thing" - a guy who not only rejected the capitalist "corporate" world, but who refused to live by its ideology of greed and dollar worship. While I don't like labels, in particular not the "Right vs Left" or, even less so, the "Conservative vs Liberal" - I will coin one to try to summarize David's art: "new hard libertarian Left" (yeah - that's ugly, but that's the best I can come up with).

Rovics is unapologetically anti-capitalist and anti-corporatist. In a time when the vast majority of the so-called Left "does not have the courage of its own opinions" (French expression), it is wonderfully refreshing to listen to an artist who simply says what he thinks without giving a damn whether anybody likes it or not.

We shall fight them on the beaches
We shall fight them on the shore
They will bring us exploitation
We'll bring them their class war
We'll lock down to the gates
As they're spreading vicious lies
They want to dominate the world
And we see through their disguise

If they'd have one big multinational
With their corporate flag unfurled
Searching everywhere
For the lowest wages in the world
Then we'll have One Big Union
From Melbourne to Prague to Seattle-town
Wherever they may go
We will shut them down

We'll shut them down, we'll shut them down
We will shut them down

And CNN will spread the lies
This is just how it's gotta be
Well they can have their CNN
'Cause we got our IMC
And we will tell the truth quite clearly
Though they don't want to hear it
And they'll try to stop our broadcasts
'Cause the truth is that they fear it

They want a world full of strip malls
Plants grown by biotech
As long as they get richer
They just don't give a heck
But we don't want their ecocide
We want a world we can live in
That's why we're here to stay
And we're not gonna give in

And they'll infiltrate us
Provocateurs within our ranks
And if they can't divide us
They'll send in the tanks
But we will stand together
Pacifists and Zapatistas
Workers, farmers, the indigenous
Tree-huggers and baristas

And we will build a new world
Without the corporate elite
And we will see the day
Of their international defeat
We'll have self-determination
And equality for all
For what choice do we really have
But to rise up and see them fall

One can agree or not with Rovics on the desirability of class warfare (although I would argue that, since the plutocrats are already fighting the rest of mankind, it's not like we have much of a choice), but one has to respect his determination not to give in to the "fat cats" running the Empire today. In fact, if there is one thing which Rovics' fully understands and, therefore, loathes, it is the hypocrite nature of the ideology which underlines all USraelian Empire's polices.

The President got on TV and there was nary a dry eye,
he said he loved his country and mom and apple pie
He said he was a proud man and he liked his home fries grilled,
and as for countries harboring terrorists, those people should be killed
He said we'd send our bombers to deal with rogue states
and all those evil people would have to meet their fates
So it was with some trepidation that I looked up to the skies,
'cause I was driving past Fort Benning when I came to realize

That I guess we're gonna have to bomb Columbus, Georgia, home of the infamous SOA
'Cause they train the death squads of Colombia who commit a massacre every day
Civilians are their targets, folks just like you and me
I guess that makes them terrorists, any idiot must agree

And I was heading further south for a vacation to spend some time hanging on the beach
Soaking up some sun and playing volleyball with all my troubles out of reach
And then I saw Brothers to the Rescue flying in the clouds above my head
And I thought this trip might not be too restful if tomorrow I am dead

'Cause I guess we're gonna have to bomb Miami, with all those insurgents running loose
Killing Cubans at the Bay of Pigs and elsewhere, they say they've got some kind of excuse
But isn't terror terror irregardless if your victim is a fan of Karl Marx
So let's bring on the cluster bombs and napalm, kill off some people, fish and sharks

Well I thought I would head north, go someplace where I might feel safe
These thoughts all seemed a bit unsettling, I was feeling a bit like a lost waif
It was then I thought I'd move to Costa Rica, though such a thing seemed terribly uncouth
Because I suddenly realized with horror, the terrifying clear and present truth

I guess we're gonna have to bomb Washington, DC, 'cause terrorists are lurking all around
Sending soldiers, guns and money wherever death squads and dictators may be found
So let's appreciate the situation, take your Orwell off the shelves
If we are to listen to our President then we're going to have to bomb ourselves

One of his most amazing "songs" is actually not a song, but a poem entitled Lebanon 2006. I have to admit that when I heard it for the first time it brought tears in my eyes.

Please listen to this short poem by clicking on "play":

Two soldiers had been captured
They’d crossed to the other side
Two soldiers taken prisoner
Several others died
This is how it started
So said the Jewish state
Forget about ’96, ‘82
’67, ‘48

Two soldiers taken hostage
And by the Sea of Galilee
We must defend our borders
Wherever they may be
We must defend our soldiers
Wherever they’re deployed
Two of them are captured
One country is destroyed

Somewhere in Tel Aviv
Generals drawing battle lines
For the town where Jesus
Turned water into wine
On the ten-year anniversary
Of a massacre of children
They thought it was a good idea
To massacre some children

Anyone in the south
I heard Ehud Olmert say
Everyone’s a target
And may be killed today
And if your home has turned to rubble
It may be pulverized some more
‘Cause two soldiers have been captured
And we gotta settle up the score

A hundred thousand homes
Levelled to the ground
Every olive branch on offer
Burned where it was found
Every chance at dialogue
Rejected right on cue
If you’re gonna burn your bridges
You might as well bomb them too

They even bombed the prison
Where they used to torture fighters
Where they had the dogs and leashes
Cigarettes and lighters
Where they were kept shackled
Not allowed to stand
Where they torched the forests
Turned them into sand

Who’s the terrorist now?

And the entire world watches

A few thousand demonstrate
Governments take action
All too little or too late
All the telephones are ringing
In case you couldn’t read the signs
This is the IDF
And you’re in the firing line

Condoleeza came to visit
For about an hour
She thought it was a party
Some kind of baby shower
She said these were the birth pangs
Of a brand new morn
But in the hospitals today
All the babies were stillborn

The stars and stripes among the ruins
Say where they were made
In case anybody wonders
About all that military aid
In case anybody wonders
About the mines around the farms
Or why so many toddlers
Are missing legs and arms

Or why so many of them ask
Exactly what was meant
By wiping out their homes
And then sending them a tent
Or why if you ask them
Who is Nasrallah
They’ll tell you he’s our leader
And we all are Hezbollah

It takes real guts to dare to write these words in a country in which the vast majority of the people, including of the so-called "Left", seriously believe Uncle Shmuel's propaganda about Hezbollah being the "A-Team of terrorists". Rovics - who has actually been to Lebanon, knows better, of course.

In the bad old days of the Soviet Union, my friends and I used to make a distinction between "dissidents" and "opponents". We called "dissidents" the folks who wanted to right some wrongs of the Soviet system, but who fundamentally saw themselves as "Soviet" and who thought of their country as the "Soviet Union" - people like Andrei Sakharov, Roy Medvedev or Sergei Kovalev (After the fall of Soviet Union in 1991 - these type of dissidents turned rabidly pro-American). We called "Opponents" the folks who did not try to reform the Soviet system, but who wanted it completely eliminated. They thought of themselves as "Russians" their country as "Russia" - people like Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Igor Ogurtsov or Leonid Borodin. Typically, the Soviet regime treated the "opponents" much more harshly than "dissidents". Likewise, the CIA-sponsored media like VOA or Radio Liberty gave much more support and visibility to the "dissidents" than to the "opponents". For all practical purposes, most opponents stood against the Soviet regime alone (Solzhenitsyn being the exception).

David Rovics is in the same situation in the USA. He is an open opponent of the USraelian Empire and he clearly does not believe that this system can be reformed or otherwise changed from within (and, in this, I fully agree with him!). Being the open opponent that he is, he is also clearly quietly marginalized not only be the corporate propaganda media in the USA, but even by a good segment of the "moderate" Left. Frankly, I am absolutely baffled by the fact that I discovered this amazing artist only by chance, a full 8 years after moving to the USA. If somebody like me, who roams the Internet and the "alternative" blogosphere for several hours each day, can only discover an artist like Rovics by chance, what is the likelihood that anyone else will?

Yet, this relative solitude does not stop him from committing "crimethink" after "crimethink". Just listen to his song about the 9/11 attacks:

The planes hit New York City
And thousands now are dead
"It was Arab terrorists"
This is what you said
Well if that is the truth
Then what have you got to hide
And what were you doing
On the day all those people died
Where the fuck were the fighter jets
Ordered by the FAA
And what is your explanation
For what you were heard to say
When you told the Air Force to stand down
Not to intercept
Did you plan to let it happen
Or are you just inept

I am left to wonder
As the flames are reaching higher
Was this our latest Lusitannia
Or another Reichstag Fire

There's some distressing information, sir
Which I think should be explained
Just which things have been lost
And just what has been gained
Like the thousands of put options
Bought days before the crash
If the money were collected
It would make quite a pretty stash
And the only stocks they bought
Were American and United
Deutsche Bank knows the answer
But the names have not been sighted
And is it just coincidence
That this firm in the private sector
Was once run by "Buzzy" Krongard
Ex-CIA Director

There's something fishy in Virginia
And I want an explanation
Why did they get the contract
What is Britannia Aviation
A one-man operation
Corporation with no history
He said he worked in Florida
But there he was a mystery
So is there a connection
I think it bears investigation
When the FAA found boxcutters
Does this cause you consternation
Hidden behind the seats
In these Delta planes
That had been fixed in Lynchburg
With Brittania at the reigns

You said Bin Laden was your friend
But he isn't anymore
Now that he's not fighting Russia
In your proxy war
Who called the FBI
Off the Bin Laden family trail
When so many times you had the chance
To re-write this sordid tale
Sudan in '96
The Taleban in 2001
Offered to turn him over
And right then you coulda won
But perhaps it is the case
That you're avoiding victory
That to justify your exploits
You must have an enemy

If you were not hiding from the truth
Then you'd have a truth commission
And not some masquerade
Kangaroo investigation
Hiring Henry Kissinger
The ancient master of deceit
To make sure all stones are left unturned
And the ruse is kept complete
And now you carry out your plans
Which you have had for decades
Conquering the world
With your troops and bombing raids
I see an evil regime
Led by an evil man
On Pennsylvania Avenue
Where this evil war began

Unlike so many othe, shall we say, "Left-leaning" artists and commentators, Rovics does not have a mental block about 9/11. On his excellent blog - The Songwriter's Notebook - Rovics has expressed his frustration with the typically rude "bullhorn" "truthers" who interrupt events with mantric screams about "911 was an inside job", yet even their antics do not blind him to the fact that there are some crucial questions about 9/11 which need to be asked.

There are too many songs by David Rovics to mention them all here, even though at least another 20-30 would deserve to be included to fully cover the breadth of Rovics' phenomenal songwriting. So I made a selection of some of my favorite ones and I put them all into one zipped file which you can download directly from here. Another option is to download them directly from David's website using the FireFox extension "Downthemall" (just set the "Fast filtering" field to "downloadSong"). And then just listen to his music. David has a beautiful voice, his guitar playing is excellent, and the melodies of his songs are varied, original and always well written. Sure - his words are what packs most "punch" - but his music is beautiful too.

And, please, make sure to do one more thing. Go to his website, check out his "support page" and read about what we can all do to support him. And, please, do send him some donation, no matter how small. Remember that David gives us all his art for free - and show him that we truly appreciate his courage and talent!

The Saker