Ballad of a Wobbly

by David Rovics

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If you'd like to download the whole album without donating $7, no problem -- just email me at with "album request" in the subject line and you shall receive... All I ask for in return is that you tell folks about the album in some kind of public space.

The title track on this album is "Ballad of a Wobbly." The Wobblies, or the IWW, is a union that was formed in 1906, which still exists today in many different countries (in a much smaller but still vibrant form). Although the only song that's directly about the story of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) is the title track, the rest of the album is, I think, very consistent with the interests of the Wobs -- like anything related to the well-being of what has in recent years become commonly known as The 99%.

The songs on the album were almost all written in 2017, and they cover a range of subjects from a working class rebellion in Wales in 1831 to the FBI's Palmer Raids of 1919 to the Grenfell Tower fire in the summer of 2017.


released December 11, 2017

The album was recorded, mixed and mastered over the course of five days at the end of November and beginning of December, 2017, at Big Red Studio in Corbett, Oregon.

Billy Oskay: producer, engineer, violin, percussion
David Rovics: vocals, 6-string guitar, 12-string guitar, bouzouki
Elona Planman: harmonica, guitar, percussion, piano
Pete Wells: assistant engineer, piano, keyboards, percussion
Arcellus Sykes: upright bass

Carlo Frisch: album graphics

Special thanks to all of you CSA members and you who donated to the crowdfunding campaign that made this album possible -- and to Elona and the Swedish government for the grant that made it possible for her to join me in the studio in Oregon, so far away from her home in Scandinavia.




David Rovics Portland, Oregon

"Absolutely brilliant. David Rovics says exactly what needs to be said."
Ian McMillan, BBC


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Track Name: Ballad of a Wobbly
When I came to this country, left Scotland far behind
Evicted from the highlands, told to go and find
A new life in America across the Atlantic Sea
Where I joined the millions of other refugees
Who ended up at Ellis Island as the century began
The wretched of the Earth from every foreign land

When I came to this country, broken and bereft
I quickly saw I'd have been no worse off if I'd never left
Such awful deprivations as I'd never had to face
Borne by Swedes and Russians, Africans and every other race
Millions of people trying not to end up dead
From cholera or blacklung or getting clubbed on the head

When I came to this country, to have something on my fork
It was obvious the first thing was to get out of New York
I learned to hop the freight trains, some other stiffs and I
Caught a westbound rattler to give Oregon a try
Signed up for the logging camps, became a timber beast
If I'd stayed there any longer I'd have surely been deceased

When I came to this country, I worked the copper mines in Butte
I was a gandy dancer in Spokane in a gandy dancer suit
I heard the Rebel Girl speak one night in a railway yard
I joined the union right away and got my first red card
I became a hobo organizer for the One Big Union grand
Preaching the Wobbly gospel across this starving land

When I came to this country, I soon enough lost track
Of the number of times I felt a billy club upon my back
Or how many times I saw the tents with freezing kids
Working in the mines instead of living on the skids
How many times I heard the horrid crying from below
Of those trapped there in the dungeons with nowhere left to go

When I came to this country, it was a hopeful time of desperation
The red flags flew all across the nation
But when the war began in Europe we refused to die and kill
We refused to fight a bosses' war and serve the bosses' will
That's when they got the Legion to burn down our union halls
All across the land, where there used to be four walls

When I came to this country, I had no great expectations
But I didn't think I'd end up back here awaiting deportation
On a steamship on the Hudson, I watch the sunset fade
With 20,000 others swept up in the Palmer Raids
Counting myself lucky that I'm still alive
Remembering the moment that I first arrived

When I came to this country...
Track Name: Today in Charlottesville
There was a massacre in church that got certain forces moving
Many towns are now at least superficially improving
Such as in Virginia, where a statue of General Lee
Stands as a reminder of the days of slavery
In the city center, an indelible mark
In the spot that's been renamed Emancipation Park
Slated for removal, when a judge intervened
Which might be the moment that most fully set the scene

(For) 19 injured, one killed today in Charlottesville

With their man in the White House, members of the Right
Marched through the university, torches alight
Chanting against immigrants, Africans and Jews
But it's not the flying bottles that put them in the news
So much as the bigot in the car, revving his engine loud
Speeding forward and then back, running down the crowd
Using the same tactic promoted by Islamic State
Maybe he was even shouting “God is great”

19 injured, one killed today in Charlottesville

More than half the city used to be in chains
Now their descendants who still remain
Are being forced to leave by gentrification
Just like poor white folks all across the nation
And with the presidential tweets and xenophobic rants
It's just a matter of time before some pawn takes the chance
To plow into a march with half a ton of steel
This is not fake news -- it's real

19 injured, one killed today in Charlottesville
Track Name: Cheese and Bread
1831, the age of industry begun
For the working folk of Wales, life was short
With wages cut again it was only sensible that then
Folks took over and shut down the debtors' court

The gentry pulled the wire, told their men to open fire
And restore the rule of their estate
But as the night descended and the battle ended
The soldiers had all fled behind a gate

They chanted “cheese and bread”
And “our children must be fed”
In the days when Wales rose against the crown
They chanted “cheese and bread”
With a bloody loaf above their heads
When the red flag flew in Merthyr Town

The message went out east and west to put the gentry to the test
The cavalry was ambushed and turned back
After so long playing defense, the time had come now whence
The workers were the ones on the attack


The crown sent soldiers by the score until order was restored
Then came Dic Penderyn's execution
Another martyr for the cause, meant to give us pause
The next time the people call for revolution

Track Name: Names and Addresses
At 1 am on a Wednesday morning, no one knew what was in store
A fire started and quickly spread until it covered every floor
Stairwell blocked, no way out, smoke and fire all around
Parents grabbed their little babies, dropped them ten floors to the ground
People cried to no avail, 24 stories tall
Engulfed in flames, the fire ladders were just like toys, no use at all

There were no sprinklers, few smoke alarms, fire extinguisher out of date
All repairs, if ever done, always too little, too late
When they built Grenfell they believed housing was a human right
But all that changed, now if you're not rich you should be kept out of sight
Out of sight, out of town, or wrapped up neatly, plastic-clad
The flats may all be falling apart, but at least they don't look too bad

The residents had tried to warn the authorities for years and years
But all their letters, all their blog posts, all their calls fell on deaf ears
Council housing taking space, left to rot, for by and by
It would someday be turned to dust in the forward march to gentrify
And in the meantime if people perish with their children in their laps
It's the price the market has to pay, to house the poor in fire traps

If this were murder
Track Name: Commandante Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz
When we look at history and how it's all unwound
There are few people on the planet that have been more tightly bound
With the liberation of our troubled human race
Than the man from Santiago with the beard upon his face
Dressed in green fatigues that he wore most of his years
As he led his country longer than any of his peers
And few men have been vilified more often in the news
Than Commandante Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz

Born into a country of Dengue and despair
Ruled by foreign armies ever since Columbus got there
He'd reject his privilege and join humanity 
Forced to choose between his species and his family
And when legal means had failed to stop the suffering he saw
He decided it was high time to work outside the law
He organized a revolution with the rifle and the fuse
Commandante Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz

When you win a revolution, you might stop when you're ahead
But in the Havana Declaration the revolutionaries said
Wherever people anywhere are found to be oppressed
As long as we have hearts that beat within our chests
It is our duty to support them – and Cuba sent their troops
And Cuba sent their doctors, in ever-larger groups
And their leader was the one in the track suit and running shoes
Commandante Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz

It could have been someone else, and he might be the first to say
The movement makes the leader, not the other way
But around the world right now, sitting at their dinner plates
There are people praising this man who stood up to the United States
And lived life as a beacon for a new society
With housing, healthcare, education and the human right to dignity
Central to the vision for which he stood accused
Commandante Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz

I can't predict the future, but if the past is any indication
Many more will follow the trail of the little Cuban nation
And soon in Havana, I hope that we may see
A statue of the man, to go beside Jose Marti
But wherefore goes Havana, or Angola, Mozambique
I'll always remember the big man's rosy cheeks
If the world could vote for a leader, how many just might choose
Commandante Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz
Track Name: Rod Monroe Campaign Song
You've been a politician for forty years
Schmoozing with your landlord peers
Governing for the millionaires
Pretending that you really care
About the regular folks who elected you
About the renters that you screw
You can call yourself a Democrat
But you're just one more fatcat

Landlord Senator Rod Monroe
The landlords love you, don't you know
But we all say it's time to go
Landlord Senator Rod Monroe

Your tenants complain of moldy walls
Leaking roofs, waterfalls
You rent out at the market rate
Which is something you create
By passing bills that you surmise
Will allow the rent to rise
Conflict of interest – no doubt
That's what this is all about


Money from landlord lobbyists
Given to you hand over fist
Corruption that's so easy to see
Just like the GOP
Against rent control, against restrictions
On anything like no-cause evictions
A servant of the elite
Who's going to lose his Senate seat

Track Name: Leila and Majnun
When Leila met Majnun it was at a traffic light
He handed her his number at first sight
It all happened very quickly, soon both of them were aware
That life can be so good when it's shared

When Leila met Majnun it was convenient, it would seem
That both of them were living in the city of their dreams
They had no plan to leave and lots of plans to stay
But one day that all changed and they had to go away

So Leila and Majnun together left the country
They got on a crowded boat, sailed the Pacific Sea
They were headed to Australia, a place they thought they knew
Then the Australian Navy took them to Nauru

Where Leila and Majnun were kept there in detention
On a tiny little island run just like a prison
Where they were told by Immigration, dream all that you can
But your only pathway off this island is on a boat back to Iran

Leila and Majnun, amid the heat and damp
Tried to make the best of life in a prison camp
But the strongest of foundations eventually will shake
And the strongest of hearts eventually will break

Leila and Majnun were on the island when
One day there came some visitors from the UN
The next thing Leila knew, she was witness to the scene
Of her beloved doused in gasoline

Leila saw Majnun in a state no one should be in
Bright flames rising, burning off his skin
Sometimes you can reach a point – so beaten down, so tired
The only option that seems left is to set yourself on fire
Track Name: Rojava
Listen to me, friends, from New York to California
Consider for a moment Sulaymaniyah
The last city volunteers would often see before
They hiked over the mountain and joined the war
For the freedom of the people of Rojava

The enclave defended by RPG's and guns
Wielded by Rojava's daughters and sons
Along with scores of those who have come from far and near
Who learned to fire mortars so they could fight right here
For the freedom of the people of Rojava

What makes a person go from Occupy Wall Street
To marching through the desert with blisters on their feet
To risk life and liberty to face Islamic State
Knowing that martyrdom would likely be their fate
For the freedom of the people of Rojava

Something worth defending isn't hard to find
But not many will go off and leave their homes behind
To go train on the mountain with the YPG
To go join somebody's struggle out of solidarity
For the freedom of the people of Rojava

The blood of many folk has been spilled along the way
Including several anarchists from the USA
So remember Robert Grodt and Michael Israel
Paolo Todd, Jordan MacTaggart – how they lived and how they fell
For the freedom of the people of Rojava
Track Name: On the Train
It was another Friday afternoon, just after 4 o'clock
The train trundled through the city, block by block
The MAX was full of people of most every class and creed
Shoppers, workers, travelers, graduates of Reed
Christians, Buddhists, atheists, Jews and Muslims, too
All aboard the Green Line to 42nd Avenue
But now many will remember that 26th of May
At least anyone who took the train that day

Some were coming from the airport, visiting the state
Some were getting off from work and heading for a date
Some were going to a party for the start of Ramadan
Some were heading to a meetup for fans of Comic Con
Some were looking for a strip club, some for a Big Mac
One racist thug was looking for someone to attack
He chose two teenage girls to hear the things he had to say
As he shouted at them on the train that day

The Nazi spewed his hatred, the veins bulging in his face
Yelling at two girls of a different race
No one knew beforehand, today would be a test
Or what might next have happened, but for Meche, Fletcher, Best
We can ask where he came from when all is done and said
Why he was so inspired by the ideas inside his head
But what we know for sure is two men lost their lives this way
That's what happened on the train that day
Track Name: Text Messages of the Apocalypse
I got a text from Tampa as the hurricane approaches
The biggest ever seen
We're seeking higher ground here, how are you out west
In the land of the evergreens?
I got a cloth upon my face, hibernating in place
As the ash falls all around
But at least I'm in the northwest, breathing smoke from all the fires
Instead of the in the southeast being drowned

The President is speaking in North Dakota
Where all the crops have just failed
He said isn't it great, the pipeline is finished
We can keep mining and burning all the shale
He said we'll be OK as he sweltered in the heat
Standing on the parched and arid ground
While I'm in the northwest, breathing smoke from all the fires
Instead of the in the southeast being drowned

How's the apocalypse treating you
That's how you greet your neighbors these days
Has your home been flooded, have your forests burned up
Can you see as you drive through the haze?
Come visit if you can, Jill – might be nicer here than Tampa
We can take a walk and listen to the crackling sound
Here in the northwest, breathing smoke from all the fires
Instead of the in the southeast being drowned
Track Name: Famine, Flood and Fire
An old woman approached me just the other day
“I lived in Washington, DC,” she began to say
“They all sang 'We Shall Overcome' back in 1964
Where did that all go now that it's needed even more?”
I thought I should have an answer – I think I should now, too
But when I look around me now, I'm afraid I haven't a clue
With the country and the world sinking ever deeper in the mire
In this age of famine, flood and fire

Walking on the ashes, through the toxic, hazy air
Past the chimneys – the only things still standing there
Now if we think ahead seven generations
What little might remain of what we call civilization
It was maybe damned to start with, but what a thing to comprehend
That you and I and our grandchildren may be the ones who watch it end
Now that it is past the time when it was only down to the wire
In this age of famine, flood and fire

I used to marvel at the people going out and having fun
I'd wonder if they thought of all that which must be done
Now it's too late to join them in the ignorance and bliss
I'll just wonder as I watch them, might their children live like this?
All the pot in California cannot numb the pain
And sometimes I try to figure out, in the time that still remains
How would I spend the rest of it just fulfilling my desire
In this age of famine, flood and fire

Perhaps a scientific breakthrough will allow us all to live
Now that industry has robbed the Earth of all it had to give
Maybe from the ashes, new life will arise
That will not be burdened by what I've witnessed with these eyes
Perhaps some global spring will be born out of the flood
A great forest will grow up from somewhere beneath the mud
But if I said I was an optimist then I would be a liar
In this age of famine, flood and fire
Track Name: On the Streets of Copenhagen
The treaty was rejected in 1992
Most Danish voters were afraid they already knew
That it would not be a good thing to give away control
To the likes of neoliberals like Mitterand and Kohl
It was voted down, but then in 1993
The vote was held again for the Maastricht Treaty
This time the ruling parties got what they were looking for
And that very night the city sounded like a place at war

On the streets of Copenhagen

The air was full of anger, the reasons for it clear
It had been voted down only just last year
And now we're just supposed to give our sovereignty away
To institutions that don't care what people have to say

On the streets of Copenhagen

Stones flew, windows broke, more than many folks could bear
As the riot cops fired tear gas in the air
Before the night was over, the cops stood right there in that spot
Fired pistols at the crowd – eleven people were shot

On the streets of Copenhagen

When hard-won rights are lost, when ruling parties throw them out
They may pretend to wonder what the riots are about
But anywhere near Norrebro you'd find few who'd disagree
About exactly what happened on that night in 1993

On the streets of Copenhagen
Track Name: Failed State
When you're working two jobs and living in a tent
When a house costs a million bucks and you can't pay the rent
When politicians say they'll help but it keeps getting worse
Each time the landlord lobby pulls the strings of the purse
When the human right to housing isn't even part of the debate
You know you're living in a failed state

When millions of citizens are spending half their lives
Locked up in a prison for trying to survive
When laws must be broken just to have a place to stay
When the prisons pay the senators to look the other way
If you have to be a criminal to put food on your plate
You know you're living in a failed state

When you're facing climate breakdown, when the trees are all on fire
When half the country's underwater, when a climate change denier
Runs the nation and the opposition party
Votes for oil rigs and pipelines, this is not so much a country
As it is a corporation, buckling under its weight
You know you're living in a failed state

When your nation is an empire facing daily blowback
And the only thing your leaders can think to do is attack
Bipartisan consensus that we need to spend
700 billion before the year's end
On a military budget to make America great
You know you're living in a failed state

When almost every day some psycho with a gun
Has to open fire on a crowd before it's done
When a music festival becomes a free fire zone
And all they can say is it's OK now, he was acting alone
Buy some armor, pray to God and hide behind a gate
You know you're living in a failed state
Track Name: Make the Planet Earth Great Again
We could tackle the economy first – get rid of all the billionaires
Set the system up so that instead of hoarding, people share
Make housing, food, and health care basic human rights
Around the world, for everyone is how we'd set our sights
If we could get to that point I could say that then
We could make the planet Earth great again

With human rights around the world, there'd be no refugees
No safeguarding your homeland from terrorists overseas
No need for a border wall, no jobs to protect
With a global basic income established, it's pretty simple and direct
Free trade, fair trade, same damn thing – we get to that point, then
We can make the planet Earth great again

We could take on other issues, like the survival of our race
By which I mean the bipeds on this floating rock in space
The most invasive species anywhere around
The one that keeps on burning everything that can be found
The one that will get it together in the nick of time and then
Make the planet Earth great again

We can stop spending money on antiquated technology
Such as tanks and missiles and most other things military
We can use those vast resources to make us all safe and sound
Windmills in the air, coal and oil in the ground
We can be the envy of the rest of the galaxy when
We make the planet Earth great again

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