Into A Prism

by David Rovics

Prism 02:34
A secretive government had a secret operation Massacring villages, killing millions, secretly bombing an entire nation They wiretapped a hotel room, they got caught and a government was deposed Because of secret documents Daniel Ellsberg exposed One government came down, and to prevent a repetition of this fact The next government passed the Freedom of Information Act Each administration since then hoped it would go away And then they finally seized the chance on a September day They passed the Patriot Act before a single Congressman had read it But don't ask the Executive how they interpret it Because that itself is secret, never to be revealed Just like their secret prisons and all the torture sessions they concealed Then they formed the Prism Program so they wouldn't even have to ask Compliant corporations to assist them in the task Of collecting information, every email you ever wrote, every book you ever read Every call you ever made, everything you ever said I looked into a prism, what did I see A police state looking back at me The Secret Government men lied to Congressional committees Secret information even a Senator can't see Secret bureaucrats working with secret corporations enforcing secret laws Forming secret juries to serve a secret cause One brave man came forward and then he fled town And now the Secret Government men mean to hunt him down Feinstein says he is a traitor, McConnell said so, too But I'd say if we have a future it's because of the whistle that he blew
Landlord 04:16
The patroons came from Holland to America, became landlords where none had been before Soon one man owned half a million acres on both sides of the Hudson River shore He invited families to move in and give him thirty percent Of everything they grew each year, this is how they'd pay the rent His name was Rensselaer, he became one of the richest men on Earth In today's terms ninety billion dollars is how much he'd be worth All this for doing nothing but saying all of this was his “I have the power of the state behind me and I'm in the landlord biz” After two hundred years of this and one revolution won Another Rennsalaer had another son And this Rennsalaer was greedier than his ancestors dead and passed It was now the 1840's and things started changing fast It was the straw that broke the back, the bottle was uncorked They started organizing meetings, the tenant farmers of New York They found the strength of numbers, they found the power of suggestion They found each other asking the same question Who gave you the right to be a landlord, to live a life of ease while others toil Who gave you the right to be a rich man, while the rest of us pay you so that we can work this soil They vowed that they would stop the rent collection, they vowed they'd bring this madness to an end And when one blew the tin horn of distress, they'd soon find they had a thousand friends Dressed in calico skirts with masks upon their faces, on horseback, armed with knives and guns They chanted and they yelled, they kept their farms, and they kept the sheriffs on the run They asked... Chorus The governor passed laws to try to stop them, but nothing could be done to break their will And by 1848 the landlords buckled and sold their holdings to the farmers in the hills Yes they overthrew this feudal system, but it's replaced now by speculators and banks And you can still hear the homeless families asking of all the landed gentry in our ranks
Assata 02:30
Special Agent Ford got on TV to put a price on someone's head Two million dollars, bring her back alive or dead On the very anniversary of the killing of Osama In the endless War on Terror, the next victim of Obama Enemy number one of those who brought us Cointelpro It's the FBI's Most Wanted, a real-life cop show It's not enough to kill them or have them jailed, old and gray You have to double the bounty for the one that got away (But) if Assata is a terrorist What does that make you? She was born in Alabama in an apartheid state Ended up up north, where she found another shade of hate Terrorized by racism in the schools and in the street Terrorized by policemen for giving children food to eat Terrorized by agents sent to disrupt and kill on sight Terrorized for daring to stand her ground and fight They tried to frame her for whatever, take your pick Finally they found something and they managed to make it stick One racist cop was dead, Assata's hands were in the air She didn't fire a shot, the all-white jury didn't care They tortured her in prison, years alone in a basement cell Her comrades liberated her and broke her out of solitary hell For years they tried to find her, but in 1984 She made her way to Havana and found asylum on the Cuban shore And they terrorize the Cuban people, try to bring them to their knees But despite the terror of the empire this so-called terrorist is free
Robert Ross was from Rostrevor, he was born there in County Down His family was given land there by the British Crown He was a man born of the gentry, born with wealth and fame But he joined the British Army to serve his Queen and make his name In the Napoleonic Wars he fought in many lands In Holland and in Spain and on the far-off Egyptian sands He was wounded there in battle, came back to fight another day And he was sent off to attack the USA York had been sacked and burned by invading Yankee men But the Canadians regrouped, chased the Yankees home and then The British Navy made its way to the shores of DC town Where General Ross burned the White House down The year was 1814, the US was in retreat It was a Canadian victory, an American defeat Without the French to help them, they got their ass whipped by the Crown When General Ross burned the White House down The place had just been constructed only twelve years before But it had to be rebuilt, soon after this disastrous war The President turned tail and ran like a raggedy clown When General Ross burned the White House down He was killed a few months later, Irish rebels stopped him in his tracks He was buried in Nova Scotia, in the town of Halifax He might have been forgotten, but he'll forever be renowned He's the man who burned the White House down
Egyptian Rag 02:59
People are mysterious, they have many mysterious ways For four thousand years in Egypt, when someone reached the end of their days They'd be carried out to the desert, preserved in an oily broth And they'd be buried beneath the ground wrapped in twenty pounds of cloth And they called it Egyptian Rag People are mysterious, some mysteries last a while With half a billion people buried in the sands beyond the Nile So when the British came to build a railway connecting west to east With every trench they dug, they unearthed the deceased Wrapped up in Egyptian Rag People are mysterious, like one wealthy man in Maine Who heard about these mummies discovered as the British built their train He formed a corporation to make good use of this find He sent steam ships across the water where there were graveyards to be mined Filled with Egyptian Rag People are mysterious, where there is money to be made By turning linen into paper in the body-snatching trade The boats were sent across the sea for fifty years or more Shipping cargo over to the New England shore Filled with Egyptian Rag People are mysterious, and in the paper mills they thought There was something strange about these tons of cloth they were brought For they'd throw it on the floor and wonder at what they were seeing As the linen sprang into the shape of a human being And they called it Egyptian Rag People are mysterious, and we may never know All the many consequences of what we reap and what we sow But next time you hold a book printed in the nineteenth century If you believe there is a God, perhaps you want to pray for mercy For what they once called Egyptian Rag
Well it's another electoral cycle, time to look inventive Time to listen to your constituents and pretend to be attentive Time to say what they want to hear, make a job, raise a wage Then once the farce is over they can relax and turn the page And take the envelope of cash from some random corporation To subsidize their move to a sweatshop nation And on the off-chance a reporter asks what was that about Just make sure to call them a liberal unpatriotic lout Yes they'll talk about democracy and the good old USA Praise the Constitution and the American Way They'll listen to their electorate and then throw them under the bus 'Cause someone's got their ear, but it's not us They'll say they're environmentalists, it's very popular these days But that windmill manufacturer just ain't the one that pays The biggest envelope of cash comes from Chevron and from Shell Call it “energy independence” as we frack our way to hell They'll say that lower taxes is something they would not forsake But it's hard to keep your promises when you're on the take When GE needs your money to build a nuclear bomb Just say all those who oppose it don't love apple pie or mom 'Cause it's those envelopes of cash that keep it all so real Gotta make the campaign fund, gotta grease the wheel If someone says that it's corruption, just say that they are nuts You'd never confuse your paymaster with your honest American guts Just take that envelope of cash and give a toothy grin Ride a horse, go to church, say America will win Just wear a flag on your lapel and talk out of your ass And accuse all of your detractors of smoking grass
Henk 04:30
There are those who will tell stories of their youth so long ago They will talk of past adventures like a wild picture show They'll talk of comrades lost, and lovers found along the way They'll tell of how they almost didn't live to see today And then there are the many who never made it through Who leave their friends and family to wonder if they knew Who leave their friends and family to wonder if they knew And to always ask the questions about what they didn't do To always ask the question, why did they survive While others died to see the day that they would be alive For some the liberation was a great, heroic feat For others it's all much more bittersweet We didn't want another hero A noble struggle to employ We just want our lieve jongen We just want our boy Henk Streefkerk was born in Naarden, and as the story goes He went to work for Phillips to work on radios He lived through the Depression, next came the German tanks Friends joined with the Resistance, Henk also joined their ranks He lived an unassuming life beneath Holland's cloudy sky Working quietly at night, not to draw a German eye Henk Streefkerk was killed, that's how history is made Until this day no one knows how he was betrayed He was standing on the sidewalk, he was executed there Left lying on the pavement, blood spattered his blond hair Four days later the war was over, they say the Allies won Many people celebrated while the Streefkerks buried their only son It was more than sixty years after the occupation's awful toll Someone noticed Henk wasn't on the Honor Roll And on a wall somewhere perhaps now his name will be engraved They'll thank him for his courage and the families he saved He'll join the thousands of Nederlanders, and millions more All the lieve jongens killed in the world wars
Barack Obama 02:21
His first name is the last name of an Israeli Prime Minister His middle name's the last name of Saddam And his last name's middle syllable Quite conveniently is “bomb” Some people call him Mr. President, some people call him an elitist Some people call him Mr. Smart Bomb Some people call him Mr. Drone Strike, some people call him a wanker Ralph Nader calls him Uncle Tom But his name's Barack Obama, Barack Obama Barack Obama, Barack O-bomb-a Some people say it's wonderful, a black man in the white house And his kids are awful cute, he's got a feministic spouse But he's locking up his people, throwing away the key He could have skin as white as birch or as black as ebony He's still Barack Obama... They say he's in his second term now, he can show his true progressive side He can tax the rich, bring the troops home and fill his base with pride He can stop the frackers in their tracks, spend money on the schools He can stop all the evictions he can free all the whistleblowers he can triple the minimum wage he can take away the assault rifles he can jail corrupt bankers he can start building windmills he can shut down the dirty coal plants he can shut down Guantanamo he can at least start trying to do these things Or he can just keep playing us for fools I'm talking about Barack Obama...
American Rag 02:53
I drive on an American highway In my American car I watch American Idol I'm gonna be an American star Hey there's an American road sign This is an All-American town I like to eat American burgers That I buy from an American clown I live in an American house I have a great big American flag I'm such a proud American I blow my nose in an American rag I have an American iPhone Though it isn't quite American-made But at least my American machine gun is And my American switchblade My dad was an American soldier He fought in American wars Now he installs American locks To go on American doors I shop in an American supermarket Put my stuff in an American bag I'm such a proud American I blow my nose in an American rag I work for an American company They pay me in American bills I drink American lager I pop American pills I snort American cocaine I smoke American grass I use American toilet paper When I wipe my American ass Bury me in American graveyard A stone with an American tag He was such a proud American He blew his nose in an American rag
Flight 800 03:12
Flight 801 left Italy, got to New York town and then Expected to leave New York, go back to Italy again It was a normal evening at first at TWA The flight took off an hour late after a slight delay And it was wheels up, there was excitement in the air For some it was the first time they'd ever been up there But this time Flight 800 barely lifted off the ground Before it was shot down over Long Island Sound Scores of people saw it and they wondered why A light had left the Earth and arced into the sky They saw it hit the aircraft, saw the craft burst into flame People asked who fired the rocket, others asked the same And what was to be another flight over the Atlantic Sea Was a flight that wouldn't be Was it a Navy missile going where it wasn't supposed to go Or a terrorist attack, we may never know The CIA announced we understood the popular confusion What appeared to be a missile was an optical illusion And for some reason which we cannot explain There are 230 people dead, and dead they will remain
In the Sixties they were building lots of single-family homes The suburbs were the place to have your child, dog and cat Businessmen and housewives each had a swimming pool Prescription drugs, a big car and a generic welcome mat All the suburbs needed highways and they were being built In every state, from the east coast to the west But when in Boston, Massachusetts they came to build a highway At GM and DOT's behest In front of their bulldozers there in Jamaica Plain From all around, people came and stood They asked should we have commuters or community A highway or a neighborhood The governor said we hear you but you just don't understand It's the way things are, the order of the day Is that progress must go on, the economy must grow And this state needs another highway A whole bunch of people protested, a whole bunch were arrested The cops figured that was that But folks kept coming back, where the backhoes were supposed to dig That's just where people sat They asked would you have a fast lane here, with big trucks spewing diesel Or keep your homes of wood It was the Anti-Highway Movement, who said the national is local And the people of JP Against all of those in power, the biggest business interests Federal as well as state authority But perseverance won and the highway was abandoned The neighborhood remains Instead they built a subway line, a long, thin park Playgrounds and bicycle lanes The people had spoken, the question had been answered As one would think it should
Vasili 04:27
The Beach Boys were playing on the radio The Beatles were singing “Love Me Do” Lolita was playing in the cinemas It was October 1962 Ken Kesey published One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest John Glenn orbited the Earth Australia had just won the most gold medals At the Commonwealth Games in Perth The boomers were just getting into high school Dylan first sang “Blowin' In the Wind” The US Army had recently started their war To attempt to defeat the Viet Minh On the day Vasili saved the world “If I Had A Hammer” was in the Billboard charts An Air Force jet crashed into the sea The first Black student had been admitted To Ole Miss University Hewlett-Packard sold a Personal Computer But it wouldn't really take off for a while Jackie O had just come back from a trip to India Plunging necklines were the latest summer style Algeria had just won their independence Korea was rebuilding from the war The Russian River had just flooded A couple of weeks before On the day Vasili saved the world The CIA was running Operation Mongoose Killing Cubans in their factories and streets The US was making plans for an invasion Still smarting from the Bay of Pigs defeat The Soviets had sent missiles to Havana To protect themselves and their Cuban friends Then the US Navy blockaded Cuba's harbors And there was no telling how this thing would end Khruschev got on TV to make it very clear Cuba is a sovereign state And if our ships are attacked We will retaliate On the day Vasili saved the world Vice Admiral Vasili Arkhipov was standing at his post On a Soviet Navy submarine They were on patrol in international waters One actor in a terrifying scene They were out of radio contact, deep beneath the water When the sub began to shake and crack The Captain said “arm the nuclear torpedoes We're under attack” The Americans were bombing them, but in order to respond Three officers had to say “go” Two were in agreement But for some reason the Vice Admiral said “no” On the day Vasili saved the world
Bonobo Song 02:02
There are lots of different monkeys on this lovely planet Earth There are long ones, there are little ones, there are monkeys wide of girth There are monkeys that live in trees and those that live in mountain streams There are those that soak in hot springs, getting lost in their day dreams But then there are the monkeys who live the way I'd like to do And I want to be a bonobo with you There are monkeys who solve problems by forming gangs and swinging sticks Where the biggest, meanest male is the one the girl picks But then there are the monkeys who never find the need to fight Who find time only for affection and the occasional love bite Those are the monkeys who live the way I want to do And I want to be a bonobo with you Bonobos wake up in the morning, greet each other with a kiss Gather berries, make love and pursue a life of monkey bliss They only greet a stranger in the most welcoming way In every combination, that's how they meet the day Those are the monkeys who live the way I want to do And I want to be a bonobo with you
God bless all the Indians living in their reservations God bless all the strippers and their bodily gyrations God bless Trump Towers reaching up so high God bless the Blue Angels screaming through the sky God bless Appalachia, mountains and moonshine God bless the creeks, bulldozers and strip mines God bless the megachurches and all of those who speak in tongues God bless the corporate ladder, every single rung God bless the homeless families living under bridges God bless the golden valleys and the mountain ridges God bless the beaches and the swamps and the alligators God bless the NFL and the Oakland Raiders God bless the USA God bless the conspiracy theorists and the Jewish bankers God bless ExxonMobil and all their oil tankers God bless Clearchannel, Toby Keith and Taylor Swift God bless anorexia, lyposuction and facelifts God bless the mighty rivers and the nuclear reactors God bless Fox, Rupert Murdoch and X Factor God bless all the lobbyists and their envelopes of cash God bless Miley Cyrus and her birthday bash God bless the President and his very moving speeches God bless Idaho's potatoes and Georgia's peaches God bless Florida oranges and Wisconsin cheese God bless the internment camps and penitentiaries God bless Wyoming's rolling fields of hay God bless high school massacres and the NRA God bless each member of the Congress and all the oil billionaires God bless sodium thiopental and electric chairs God bless the open highways and the traffic jams God bless the Patriot Missiles and inboxes full of spam God bless the redwood forests and the paper mills God bless the plastic Jesuses sitting on the window sills God bless carpet bombing and men in uniform God bless the firefighters, the cops and Desert Storm God bless the immigrants and the I-C-E God bless the offshore oil rigs from sea to shining sea
I'm sitting on this stool, I can hear the punters talk I'm looking out the window and I think that I might walk The monitors don't work, and even if they would I could turn up the volume but it wouldn't do any good What am I doing here, I can hear the voices say Five thousand miles away from home There's a man in front of me, he is very drunk He might have been a sailor once but now his ship is sunk There are nineteen other people, some of them are looking at me I should sing another song now but I'd really rather flee What am I doing here at this gig that doesn't pay Five thousand miles away from home The last bus is at eleven, I hear someone complain Half of them get up and walk out in the rain The only woman in the room is filling up a jar Looking at the clock as she stands behind the bar What am I doing here, instead of where you lay Five thousand miles away from home


INTO A PRISM consists of 15 new songs, recorded live at Big Red Studio in Corbett, Oregon on July 1st, 2013. Ten of the songs were written during the course of my spring, 2013 tour of Europe. Two were written after I got back, and three of them were written at home in Portland last winter.


released July 2, 2013




David Rovics Portland, Oregon

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


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