Letter to My Landlord

by David Rovics

/
1.
It’s a long way from Nairobi, travel across the country To an arid northern little border town If you leave early in the day you’ll still be on your way Long after the sun is going down It began as just a ride to the other side But then was interrupted by the sound Of the shattering of glass as the driver tried to pass The men with guns there on the dusty desert ground There were two already dead, another shot as she fled No question here whose lives were now at stake When all is said and done it is instances like this one When every move is one that just might make or break All passengers get out, men with guns began to shout You Christians now get up against the wall But then everyone stayed still, saying now do as you will You may leave, or you may kill us all It wasn’t far away, just over a year ago today When people were massacred exactly in this manner The pattern it was clear, all the Muslims here Would be safe if they just stood beside this banner Headscarves passed from hand to hand among this human band Live together or together fall And then nobody moved, showing each of them approved Of saying you may leave, or you may kill us all It wasn’t set in stone – there’s no way they could have known That this time this act of solidarity Would see the gunmen leave, goals left unachieved On the border there in Mandera County But sometimes you take a chance, then at a second glance You see you’ve changed the world with the passing of a shawl There are those who will remember those who on one day in December Said you may leave, or you may kill us all
2.
He was born a rich man, then he got richer still By bribing politicians on Capitol Hill By declaring bankruptcy, by working with the mob By causing lots of Americans to lose their union jobs By exporting industries to sweatshops overseas By acting like an idiot on national TV But now add to his accomplishments one more impressive trait He’s God’s gift to the Caliphate In between his beauty pageants and gambling casinos And pretending to be a self-made man in films and TV shows Donald Trump decided he should run for president For jihadi recruiters his campaign is heaven-sent It’s a war between religions, a civilizational fight That’s what Daesh says – and Donald Trump says “that’s right All you Muslims stay out of here – just go join Islamic State” He’s God’s gift to the Caliphate He’s not much for statistics, he doesn’t have the time Between harassing women and committing corporate crime But he’s a savvy gambler, he knows how to play the game He’s got a list of groups ready-made for him to blame He doesn’t just hate Muslims – he hates Mexicans as well And he’s prepared to win the contract for the wall he wants to sell But the terrorists around the world think he’s really great He’s God’s gift to the Caliphate The future of the world may be technically unknown But if the past is any indication then Trump has set the tone Along with 27 governors and Congresspeople by the score Who, if we turned the clock back to 1944 Would be turning back the refugees just like we did back then Hey that worked out so well, why not just do it all again Because what the world clearly needs is more bile, bombs and hate He’s God’s gift to the Caliphate
3.
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
4.
The clouds gather in your forests Drift to my desert town And I think of far-off places As the rain is coming down You’re bent down in the fields Picking fruit there from the vine And it ends up on my table As it moves on down the line The moon shines brightly in the night sky The river flows from south to north With the changing of the seasons The birds migrate back and forth But they say that you can’t come here Not in the light of day Somebody has got plans for you Starve at home or hide away Will we open up the borders Tear down the prison walls Declare that no one is illegal Watch the giant as it falls So much travels across these borders So much is bought and sold One way goes the gunships The other comes the gold Free trade is like a needle Drawing blood straight from your heart And the border’s like a prison Keeping friends apart Chorus Hear the stockholders cheering The world’s getting smaller Hear the drowning child crying “Why are the fences growing taller” Some whisper in the shadows While others count the dollars Some have suits and ties Others, chains and collars Chorus May the fortress walls come down May we meet our sisters and our brothers Stand arm and arm there in the daylight No longer fighting one another Will we stand together For therein lies our might Will we understand these words “Workers of the world unite” Chorus
5.
It’s a story everyone should know It happened a half century ago All across this sprawling nation The rising of a generation It started slow and then gained speed Nobody knew where it would lead First there were marches, then there were more Way too many to keep score They shut down classes, couldn’t learn Once they ascertained how napalm burned They had to find out how to defy People stood up because they couldn’t stand by There were parades held by the military brass There were cities filled with CS gas Real wars and war games Recruitment centers up in flames Light a match, then in a flash Draft cards turned to ash Thousands moved across the border Refusing military orders Every army base in the USA Had an antiwar cafe There are times when you just can’t comply Soldiers insisted on free will Put down their guns, refused to kill Newspapers of the underground Ubiquitously could be found Across the country, across the sea Throughout the ranks of the military Take a grenade, pull out the pin Praise be to Ho Chi Minh Another fragging every night A war that many refused to fight Bombs were falling, some asked why The ruling classes, with all their powers Shook inside their ivory towers They were brought to their knees back then That’s why we don’t have the draft again Even back then some of them knew They had to be careful, what they tried to do Rulers who miscalculate Lose control of their ship of state In order to govern you need consent And all of that just up and went In ’68 came the reply
6.
1492 05:29
In 1492 Colombo crossed the Ocean Only one of many horrors that would then be set in motion As his men cut limbs of Arawaks and burned children at the stake Plundering a continent for God’s sake In 1492 when King Ferdinand won Granada He passed a law known as the Edict of Alhambra It was as the landlords wanted, as his gracious God had willed That any Jew in Spain had three months to leave or else be killed And 800,000 Europeans became refugees And headed east across the Mediterranean Sea In 1492 they were starving and bereft The King said they’d be safe up until the time they left But Christian Europeans cut them open with their swords Searched their stomachs for gold and dumped them overboard Chorus In 1492 the Sultan sent his fleet To go rescue Sephardim after the Ottoman defeat Hundreds of thousands of people who knew their deaths were near Were rescued by Muslims and taken to Izmir In 1492 the Sultan said that’s fine If they’d impoverish their kingdom just to enrich mine The Sultan also passed an edict – he said “welcome home “Now treat your new neighbors as if they were your own” Chorus
7.
I don’t drive a car because they run on gas but if I did it’d run on biomass I ride a bike or sometimes a skateboard so fuck off all you drivers and your yuppie hordes sitting all day in the traffic queues I’m a better anarchist than you I don’t eat meat I just live on moldy chives or the donuts that I found in last week’s dumpster dives look at you people in that restaurant I think you are so sad when you coulda been eating bagels like the ones that i just had I think it is a shame all the bourgeois things you do I’m a better anarchist than you I don’t wear leather and I like my clothes in black and I made a really cool hammock from a moldy coffee sack I like to hop on freight trains I think that is so cool it’s so much funner doing this than being stuck in school I can’t believe you’re wearing those brand new shiny shoes I’m a better anarchist than you I don’t have sex and there will be no sequel because heterosexual relationships are inherently unequal I’ll just keep on moshing to Anti-Flag and Crass until there are no differences in gender, race or class all you brainwashed breeders you just haven’t got a clue I’m a better anarchist than you I don’t believe in leaders I think consensus is the key I don’t believe is stupid notions like representative democracy whether or not it works I know it is the case that only direct action can save the human race so when I see you in your voting booth then I know it’s true I’m a better anarchist than you I am not a pacifist I like throwing bricks and when the cops have caught me and i’ve taken a few licks I always feel lucky if I get a bloody nose because I feel so militant and everybody knows by the time the riot is all through I’m a better anarchist than you
8.
It's election time again and the battle's pretty tight On the left is Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump is on the right On the Democratic ticket there's a struggle for the base And Hillary is showing her most progressive face She says we know she's an outsider because she's female But if Clinton's a progressive then I'm a killer whale She'll take on the banks, she says, if we let her run the nation But this is the woman who voted for deregulation Now she says the TPP should be summarily aborted But every trade deal heretofore she's actively supported If she felt that way before then why wait so long to tell us? If Clinton's a progressive then I'm Wynton Marsalis Service to the people has always been her mission That's why she's always striven to send so many of them to prison She lobbied for the crime bill, she lobbied to gut welfare Now she emerges from her mansion to pretend she really cares I guess she figures if she lies enough folks will eventually believe her But if Clinton's a progressive then I'm a Golden Retriever If I were a gambler I'd bet you my John Thomas That this deceptive politician will go back on every promise I'd love to elect a woman, but not just anyone's daughter Though I'd happily vote for Cynthia McKinney or Maxine Waters But I'll be damned if I must choose between two more plutocrats If Clinton's a progressive then I am Bill the Cat
9.
Katharina Jacob, long before she took that name Was organizing workers in Hamburg just the same Organizing beneath the flag of deepest red A new dawn of peace and freedom clearly shining in her head Katharina Jacob first was sent to jail When the trappings of democracy all began to fail She was frequently arrested, in and out of custody While her first husband was in hiding from the Nazis Katharina Jacob was acquitted of a crime But the gestapo had the last word and they weren’t finished with her this time She was sent to Ravensbrück, a killing hunger at her side She heard of the execution, how her second husband died For Katharina Jacob the end was close at hand She was on a death march with a ragged, starving band Marching through a forest, being led by the SS What would happen hours later seemed impossible to guess When the sun rose the next morning, it was the first of May And they all sang the Internationale Katharina Jacob thought about her children And the friends and comrades taking care of them< Not knowing yet if any of them survived Not knowing that soon she’d see her daughters both alive Katharina Jacob watched the German soldiers fleeing Streaming from the east, that’s what she was seeing Allied bombers flew above them, she thought they all might die and then Soon there was the silence of all the SS men Chorus Katharina Jacob saw red flags flapping in the breeze Above the Russian tanks and she fell upon her knees And so many different voices in so many different tongues Sang the most beautiful song that could ever have been sung In German, Lithuanian, in Polish and in Dutch A myriad of melodies as never had been such In Russian and in Yiddish, Italian and French Emerging from the forests beneath a trench Chorus Völker, hört die Signale! Auf zum letzten Gefecht! Die Internationale erkämpft das Menschenrecht
10.
He got off the plane, looked at no one Walked down the tarmac in the direction of nowhere He followed the sun as it was setting Glad to be done with all the bloodletting There were no banners for the proud and the few Just workers in airports that do what they do Fuel up the planes, unload the bags Along with the coffins all covered in flags When Johnny came marching home The town he was from was a dead little place So he looked for a job somewhere off-base In this city of pawn shops and hotels and bars Gas stations, strip clubs, highways and cars He went to a dive, ordered a beer Said turn the music up loud so it’s all that I hear Try to rewind, turn back the years Stop the explosions between my ears When Johnny came marching home The jobs were all shit and the beer it was cheap And besides there was no other way he could sleep Still the screams and the guns would wake him at night And he was always on edge and ready to fight And when he closed his eyes he would just see the face Of a woman he killed in a far-away place Over and over, the white of her eye And her final and terrible terrified cry When Johnny came marching home After just a short time his health fell apart With an ache in the joints and such a thump in the heart And the doctor just told him it’s all in his head But he couldn’t stop drinking or get out of bed And with no place to go but the wrong way It was a shock to his ears when he heard himself say Over and over to anyone within range Hey mister, can you spare some change When Johnny came marching home
11.
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!
12.
Joe Hill 04:30
Joel Haglund came from Sweden Which was very far from Eden By the time he left most of his family died His sisters and his mother His father and his brothers So with one remaining sibling at his side He got a notion To sail across the ocean Where he heard the streets were paved with gold Not long after his arrival As he toiled for survival He realized the bill of goods that he’d been sold He got a whole lot wiser Became an organizer And he organized with artistry and skill He spoke up, raised his fist Got right on the blacklist That’s why he changed his name to Joe Hill He heard that it was best If he headed to the west Where the Industrial Workers of the World Were finding the solutions For making revolution With red songbook and red flag unfurled A hundred years ago the bard With the union card Proved his music was too powerful, too strong They couldn’t stand the sound They had to take him down Lest he organize the working class in song Soon as he paid his dues He tried hard to light the fuse Speaking, singing, writing lyrics and cartoons He sent off the whole mess To the Wobbly press And they sang his songs as they fought the goons He joined a singing movement That fought for improvement By abolishing wage-slavery worldwide He sang the Wobbly line Beseeching workers to combine Learn from Mr Block — the bosses lied (Chorus) His life would be cut short By a kangaroo court Eager to determine one man’s fate Evidence was circumstantial But that’s inconsequential When you’ve become an enemy of the state They put him up against the wall And that was all They gunned him down in 1915 He took all the bullets he could take There by the Salt Lake For being the best bard they’d ever seen (Chorus)
13.
He grew up in Jenin, where his neighbors lived and died With the things he’d seen, it was pretty cut and dried He could have been a fighter as so many others did He could have become a martyr like so many other kids Instead, he joined a circus troupe, to warm the aching hearts Sometimes a hula hoop is the best way to play your part His only crime was making children happy He grew up playing football and other things like that But outside his house’s walls he’d play with alley cats He would teach them tricks with passion and with purpose So no one was too surprised when he went and joined the circus Searched by soldiers every day just to do a show Under occupation that’s the way that you have to go His only crime was making children happy He grew up to be an artist – to perform and to inspire He got on a list – just living will draw the fire Of the occupation soldiers who took him in December Who now hold him in detention, because he is a member Of a troupe that has been trying to keep hope alive In a place of death and dying, juggling to survive His only crime was making children happy Artists are to be feared, every dictatorship knows Sometimes killed or disappeared or just banned from TV shows But with military rule there’s no explanation given They point a gun, you keep your cool, they take you off to prison In six months they decide whether to keep you or let you out At no point will they confide what the charges are about His only crime was making children happy
14.
For about a century, there was a prohibition Which put a heck of a lot of people in a difficult position Each year millions went to prison for planting the wrong seeds Imprisoned for the crime of smoking weed Imprisoned in their millions, especially those Black or brown or wearing long hair and hippie clothes But I stand here before you with quite a bit of pleasure To tell you all about a successful ballot measure It’s legal now, it’s legal now, take a bow, it’s legal now The politicians were useless, almost all the same Playing the Military-Industrial-Prison-Complex game But the regular people weren’t nearly as dumb So some folks took initiative and we passed a referendum Now people don’t have to risk arrest if they want to treat their ills With something other than pharmaceutical pills And if you just wanna take a hit because you like the feeling You can safely walk the streets or just stare up at the ceiling Chorus Now that pot’s legit, at least in large parts of the west We can get to work legalizing all the rest The poppies and the coca leaves and all the other plants Safer, regulated, will be the official stance The CIA will have to find another way to operate The FBI will need a new MO for their whole police state When we legalize it all from the west coast to the east Then we can say right here in the belly of the beast Chorus
15.
Sunset Laws 03:24
You wanna understand what happens today You gotta know how things got this way So let’s back up from the present date And examine the history of a state As with the rest of this stolen land Mass murder is how it began From the first days of the Territory Only white men could own property And to them the land was given for free From Wallowa to the Pacific Sea Taken by force and then handed out Leaving no room for the slightest doubt That a White Homeland was the intent And to make it certain just what that meant Signs were posted that clearly read Leave by dusk or end up dead Best get out of town before the sun goes down Because if you’re not white that’s probable cause Here in the land of the Sunset Laws The Oregon Territory’s Constitution Explained the methods of exclusion It wasn’t subtle – it was all too clear Nonwhite people not welcome here And when Oregon joined the USA It entered the union with laws this way Salem could fine and lash and kill To enforce the white land’s will Chorus After the war of gray and blue Exclusion Laws were passed anew They weren’t repealed for sixty more years After the Klansman rule of Walter Pierce It feels a lot like nothing’s changed Looks a lot like a firing range Who owns the land, who keeps the order From Portland to the California border Chorus
16.
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
17.
When we heard the news that we were to be arrested We had no doubt exactly what our fate would be We had hours to get out, only hours to be tested For five thousand people to cross the Baltic Sea We had to go at night in the cover of the darkness There’s no way I could exaggerate the threat We tried not to make a sound, wore nothing that would mark us But no one knew how far across we’d get, and I thank God for the fishermen who gave us a ride And took us over to the other side To find so many boats ready for the journey To find so many prepared to risk it all Not everyone could read the stars, not every boat was worthy Not everyone prepared to heed the call, but Chorus Some risked everything for free, accepting nothing but a handshake Some charged enough to live on for a year But such details don’t matter when so much is at stake When all that matters is a boat that you might steer We lived out the war in Sweden while so many others didn’t And most people now would easily agree To say we deserved asylum would simply be redundant In the boat lift of 1943 Chorus
18.
It was in the 1970’s, the fuel crisis had begun The choices were presented to us as if we had none Leaders of industry said they could solve the problem By mastering the power of the radioactive atom Some folks in western Jutland got a notion in their heads They thought there might be something they could offer up instead A few hundred people gathered in a little place called Tvind And declared their will to harness the power of the wind We’re gonna build the biggest windmill in the world (2x) There were many who said their science wasn’t sound That such a mighty windmill would simply topple to the ground Some of them were scientists, the vast majority were not But they knew with years of effort you could do a lot Word about the project spread far and wide A hundred thousand visitors came to help and to advise Until one day these windmill builders drove in with a crane And lifted up their giant wings with a mighty chain We’re gonna build the biggest windmill in the world (2x) When Tvindkraft was completed it reached up to the sky Its wings churned in the air at 54 meters high The critics all fell silent, no one now was jeering As even industry agreed this was some damn fine engineering The wind regaled Jutland from the north Atlantic sea As it was seamlessly converted into electricity It was power for the people, leukemia for none When they declared in Denmark just south of the midnight sun We’re gonna build the biggest windmill in the world (2x) They gave away the patents, they said knowledge should be free And their plans were copied by a new-born industry Soon Denmark would be known as the windmill-building nation And it all started with some hippies at the Tvindkraft power station Debates were held in parliament about which way things should go Build a nuclear reactor, the majority said no It could have gone quite differently — in much of the world it did Except for those in Ulfborg who said we’re getting off the grid We’re gonna build the biggest windmill in the world (2x)
19.
Wohin auch das Auge blicket. Moor und Heide nur ringsum. Vogelsang uns nicht erquicket. Eichen stehen kahl und krumm. Wir sind die Moorsoldaten und ziehen mit dem Spaten ins Moor. Hier in dieser öden Heide ist das Lager aufgebaut, wo wir fern von jeder Freude hinter Stacheldraht verstaut. (Chorus) Auf und nieder geh´n die Posten, keiner, keiner kann hindurch. Flucht wird nur das Leben kosten, vierfach ist umzäunt die Burg. (Chorus) Doch für uns gibt es kein Klagen, ewig kann nicht Winter sein, einmal werden froh wir sagen: Heimat du bist wieder mein. Dann zieh´n die Moorsoldaten nicht mehr mit dem Spaten ins Moor. Dann zieh´n die Moorsoldaten nicht mehr mit dem Spaten ins Moor
20.
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 Chorus We fought them in Matamoros While their volunteers were raping the nuns In Monterey and Cerro Gordo We fought on as Ireland’s sons We were the red-headed fighters for freedom Amidst these brown-skinned women and men Side by side we fought against tyranny And I daresay we’d do it again Chorus 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 Chorus

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This album is a live show recorded and edited by Charles Rosina at the Community Church of Boston on March 11th, 2016.

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released March 28, 2016

Album cover by Elona Planman.

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David Rovics Portland, Oregon

I'm a frequently touring singer/songwriter based in Portland, Oregon, a regular contributor to Counterpunch, and host of the podcast, This Week with David Rovics, among other things.

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