Historic Times

by David Rovics



Historic Times first appeared as a vinyl record around the beginning of 2019. The album consists of selections from three different full-length albums, plus several songs recorded just for this project. Those songs, plus the songs taken from Ballad of a Wobbly and Punk Baroque were all recorded at Big Red Studio in Corbett, Oregon, with Billy Oskay producing and playing violin (wherever you hear one), and Arcellus Sykes playing some variety of a bass. The other project that several of the songs come from was recorded in Rostrevor, Ireland by Fra Sands.


released May 1, 2019

All the songs were written by David Rovics, who is also generally responsible for any acoustic guitars and cellos present. The other vocalist on the live tracks is Lorna McKinnon from Glasgow, Scotland. Harmonica and stomp box is by Elona Planman from somewhere in Scandinavia.

Serious audiophiles (and only serious audiophiles) will note that all the tracks from other recordings were enhanced and remastered to hang together sonically well as an album with the new tracks, and for the individual tracks to sound better.




David Rovics Portland, Oregon

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


contact / help

Contact David Rovics

Streaming and
Download help

Report this album or account

Track Name: Just A Renter
Ten thousand yuppies just moved here
Ten thousand others came last year
The rent has doubled since I moved in
Each month I take it on the chin
Each month I wonder how many more
Can I stay in Portland before Before I move into my car
Or end up somewhere behind bars

Ten thousand yuppies say don't complain
Now that the city is in the fast lane
It's just the market and it knows best
That's how the bankers built the west
So just get rich and you can stay Otherwise just go away
There's no room here for us Holding on under the bus

I'm just a renter, this ain't my town
Might as well just burn it down For all I care

Ten thousand yuppies think it's great
To invest in Portland real estate
“Keep Portland weird” they like to say But that was over yesterday
Of their achievements they're so proud Living lives in some cloud
But unlimited data will get you nowhere If you can't afford to care

Ten thousand yuppies and on each block
They're flipping houses and taking stock
Where's the next place they can transform
Tents and mansions, the new norm
They like Ted Talks, they like greed
They like wine bars, they like weed
They like bike lanes, they want more
They're the face of the new class war
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: Gather Round
Gather round all you workers Whether you have a job or not
You who pick the tomatoes You who grow the pot
You who stay home to raise the children You that record the sound
You who flip the burgers All you workers gather round
Gather round all you workers All of you who pull the shots
You who wash the dishes Park the cars in parking lots
You who dig the ditches To put the caskets in the ground
You who clean the bathrooms All you workers gather round

Gather round all you workers All of you who write the code
You who teach the children You who pave the roads
You who run the freight trains Wherever they be bound
You who drive the buses All you workers gather round
Gather round all you workers Struggling to pay the rent
You who work a second job And wonder where all the time went
You there in the sleeping bag Shivering on the ground
In the houses, on the sidewalks All you workers gather round

Gather round all you workers All you actors on the screen
You who point the cameras And write for the magazines
You who launch the missiles You who fire from the ground
You who fly the helicopters All you workers gather round
Gather round all you workers Gather round and you will know
That gathered all together We can vanquish any foe
As sure as we're made of water So history has found
The workers have the power If all we workers gather round
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: East Kilbride
Jet fighters bombed the palace, we all watched it on TV
The 11th of September, 1973
All across the world people cried in vain
As we heard stories of the people being tortured and slain
Stories of the workers, shop stewards and the rest
Being slaughtered at the new dictator's behest
Labor groups condemned it, said we were on the workers' side
Including all the engineers of East Kilbride

People organized a boycott of General Pinochet
Who had overthrown Allende with a Hawker Hunter jet
Then a few months later, March of '74
Bob Fulton came to work at the Rolls Royce factory floor
He looked at the orders that had come in that day
And found crates with jet engines from Chile
Jet engines from the Air Force across the ocean wide
Sent to be repaired in East Kilbride

It didn't take a minute for Fulton and his mates
To come to the decision that they would not touch these crates
Soon four thousand Rolls Royce workers voted they agreed
To stand with the Chileans in their hour of need
Management decried them, the Tories screamed and cussed
But the Hawker Hunter engines were left to sit and rust
Nowhere else on Earth were workers qualified
To repair the engines sitting there in East Kilbride

It's often hard to know if you've changed anything a whit
But decades later a Chilean general would admit
For a time in Santiago there were no fighters in the sky
Because the whole Chilean Air Force had not one jet that could fly
They may not have changed the world, this group of union engineers
But these crates of metal sat corroding for four years
So here's to British labor, how for four years it tried
To do what could be done from East Kilbride
Track Name: 1933
History doesn't repeat, they say, but it often appears it does
Enough so that it seems like we should know just how it was
When in another time and place the party in the driver's seat
The Social Democrats ruled on behalf of the elite
And the next person who arose to lead the state
Said he'd stand up for his people and make his country great
He said everyone's exploiting us, and the reason why
Is we've been ruled by weaklings, and now it's time we must reply
Military spending and industry grew
And the razor wire tent camps did, too
He said we'll take the country back, and standing on the brink
He said it's anarchy or me, we can rise or we can sink
For Blood and Soil

From Budapest to London, from Chicago to Milan
There was the specter of all those so inspired by the man
He signed treaties that were broken before the ink was dry
He left the League of Nations and Prime Ministers would try
Appeasement, but whatever they would do
The fuhrer would just tighten the screws
Most of the news seemed real – at least after a while
The same propaganda, wherever on the dial
Germany was the victim – it would be victim no more
That's what he was saying years before the war
Years before the blitzkrieg, before extermination
Became the fate of so many then living in the nation
For Blood and Soil

He talked of enemies within and enemies outside
Who together had conspired and stolen and lied
He said they took us for a ride with treaties signed by those
Serving foreign interests, as every Aryan knows
But follow me, he said, you won't recognize the place
We'll be great again – we're the Master Race
People look back and wonder what could have been done
Many years before the war was won
When social institutions fell one after the next
And then faster than almost anyone expected
Few people could have even imagined the cost
Once it was too late, and the chance for peace was lost
For Blood and Soil
Track Name: Mawda Was Her Name
Their country was invaded and destroyed
Then they had a baby boy
They sold everything they owned
So they might escape the war zone
They took the Baltic Route, north and west
It was the one the smugglers said was best
They got as far as Germany
Which is where they had another baby

It's a deadly thing, what some call immigration
England was their final destination
In a crowded van, driving to the port
On past Flanders' fields, yet another life cut short
Cops on every side, the vehicle surrounded
When the loud crack sounded
Mama held her daughter, tight in place
Then she saw the bullet hit her face
And Mawda was her name

There are many ways to stop a van
Many ways to do it – they can
Make a roadblock, for one
If you're under fire, you can use your gun
But all the bullets flew in one direction
At first they denied it, but at closer inspection
The cop was aiming for the driver's head
But he missed and hit the girl instead
And Mawda was her name

And if the driver had been hit, how many more
Numbers would be added to the score
Of those who only wanted to raise a family
But then died on the shores of Turkey
Or somewhere in the desert, or tortured in a prison
Or on the bottom of the ocean
At a Baghdad checkpoint, or at a traffic stop
Or shot down by a Belgian cop
And Mawda was her name
Track Name: Letter To My Landlord
I'm writing you this letter 'cause among the choices
It's probably better than listening to voices
Raging in my head, saying point and shoot
Then after you're dead, your face meets my boot
I don't know your name, it's better that way
'Cause I can't play this game, who knows what I'll say
I feel like I'm burning, I've had it up to here
Time that you were learning the meaning of fear

I live in these apartments – they're your private property
Among your residents, most of us agree
That you're a piece of shit – how does that make you feel
We don't like you one bit – that's for real
We think you're a thief, that you don't care
Seems your one belief is whatever the market will bear
Whatever you can get away with, what you can make us pay
If we ever get justice, you should fear that day Landlord!

But it's not just you – it's all your kin
The things you do caused the state we're in
You bribed the politicians so they'd let you off-lead
Now the legal situation's just the one you need
For you to make millions, for profits to be high
Even billions won't be with you when you die
I hope you find the death you seek, meet the devil that you serve
If you live another week that's more life than you deserve Landlord!

In the class war you are waging there's no question who is winning
But if there's any justice, this is only the beginning
The next act in this play will be written by the tenants
And until your dying day, you'll be paying penance
Your assets will be seized, that's a fucking given
You profiteers of misery will start spending time in prison
Then you can get a job – figure out what you do best
You can keep the house you live in – but we're taking all the rest Landlord!
Track Name: If This Were A War
If this were a war, if he were a soldier
He'd find a well-defensible position
He'd put on body armor if he were a sniper
And set his sights with terrible precision
If this were a war and he was somewhere overseas
He'd be watching out for the other side
Watching for the Taleban or whichever enemies
Kept on trying to blow him open wide

If this were a war he'd be dodging shells
Aimed at him for being on the street
He'd be on alert for any sign that tells
That the soldier might be drawing heat
If this were a war and he were being shot
He'd be under orders to shoot back
If he had learned the lessons from the training that he got
He'd carefully prepare his counterattack

If this were a war and the enemy wore blue
He'd be looking for signs of it everywhere
If he was in good form and his aim was true
He would pick them off and center his crosshairs
If this were a war, not a Dallas parking lot
He'd be getting medals for this firefight
If he were a soldier, he'd be praised for every shot
He fired from above on that deadly night

If this were a war
Track Name: St Patrick Battalion
My name is John Riley
I'll have your ear only a while
I left my dear home in Ireland
It was death, starvation or exile
And when I got to America
It was my duty to go
Enter the Army and slog across Texas
To join in the war against Mexico

It was there in the pueblos and hillsides
That I saw the mistake I had made
Part of a conquering army
With the morals of a bayonet blade
So in the midst of these poor, dying Catholics
Screaming children, the burning stench of it all
Myself and two hundred Irishmen
Decided to rise to the call

From Dublin City to San Diego
We witnessed freedom denied
So we formed the Saint Patrick Battalion
And we fought on the Mexican side

We marched 'neath the green flag of Saint Patrick
Emblazoned with "Erin Go Bragh"
Bright with the harp and the shamrock
And "Libertad para la Republica"
Just fifty years after Wolf Tone
Five thousand miles away
The Yanks called us a Legion of Strangers
And they can talk as they may

We fought them in five major battles
Churobusco was the last
Overwhelmed by the cannons from Boston
We fell after each mortar blast
Most of us died on that hillside
In the service of the Mexican state
So far from our occupied homeland
We were heroes and victims of fate
Track Name: Send Them Back
It's 1939 and the boats are coming
But we can't have them here, that much at least is clear
Our economy is poor, we can't just open up the door
We've got problems of our own, they should just leave us alone
And they're a tribalistic race, they keep a separate space
They don't really integrate, they'll be a burden on the state
Watch before it is too late

It's 1939 and the boats are coming
But if we let them land and acquiesce to their demands
We'll soon be overrun, our Christian country will be done
They should just take the tram closer by to Amsterdam
Keep their problems in the region, this invading legion
Enemies within our ranks with names like Rosenberg and Frank
Watch that water that you drank

It's 1939 and the boats are coming
But they must stay away, in the newspapers they say
They don't believe in Christ the lord and they're jumping overboard
Crossing borders in a swarm, they'll never be reformed
It's a Trojan Horse attack and we've got to send them back
There may be Nazis in the hall, answering Hitler's call
These Jews are Germans after all

It's 1939 and the boats are coming
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: ICE
She left late at night out of sight of the gangs
The most violent place in the West
Just the clothes on her back to escape the attack
With one child held to her breast
For weeks they would go through Mexico
Where Rosita and so many others
Would learn too late that the United States
Takes babies away from their mothers

When Rosita was younger the future looked brighter
But then came 2009
A junta, a coup, and prospects were few
As the bodies were stacked up in lines
She tried to stay but there was no way
When they kidnapped and tortured her brother
So she got to the border where they're following orders
To take babies away from their mothers

She thought she might stay in Monterrey
But the gunmen were always so near
She knew she had to push on, make it to Houston
Where she might live a life without fear
Their journey was done – Rosita, her son
At the border they held one another
Oh, how he wailed as they took her to jail
And tore him from the arms of his mother
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 when
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: 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