Historic Times

by David Rovics

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
Failed State 03:03
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
Gather Round 03:42
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
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
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
1933 03:34
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
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
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!
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
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
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
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
ICE 02:41
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
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
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


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

Singer/songwriter, writer, podcaster (on Spotify, Substack & Patreon), anarchist, dad, lover of life.


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