Live in Houston

by David Rovics

When I came to this country, left Scotland far behind Evicted from the highlands, told to go and find A new life in America across the Atlantic Sea Where I joined the millions of other refugees Who ended up at Ellis Island as the century began The wretched of the Earth from every foreign land When I came to this country, broken and bereft I quickly saw I'd have been no worse off if I'd never left Such awful deprivations as I'd never had to face Borne by Swedes and Russians, Africans and every other race Millions of people trying not to end up dead From cholera or blacklung or getting clubbed on the head When I came to this country, to have something on my fork It was obvious the first thing was to get out of New York I learned to hop the freight trains, some other stiffs and I Caught a westbound rattler to give Oregon a try Signed up for the logging camps, became a timber beast If I'd stayed there any longer I'd have surely been deceased When I came to this country, I worked the copper mines in Butte I was a gandy dancer in Spokane in a gandy dancer suit I heard the Rebel Girl speak one night in a railway yard I joined the union right away and got my first red card I became a hobo organizer for the One Big Union grand Preaching the Wobbly gospel across this starving land When I came to this country, I soon enough lost track Of the number of times I felt a billy club upon my back Or how many times I saw the tents with freezing kids Working in the mines instead of living on the skids How many times I heard the horrid crying from below Of those trapped there in the dungeons with nowhere left to go When I came to this country, it was a hopeful time of desperation The red flags flew all across the nation But when the war began in Europe we refused to die and kill We refused to fight a bosses' war and serve the bosses' will That's when they got the Legion to burn down our union halls All across the land, where there used to be four walls When I came to this country, I had no great expectations But I didn't think I'd end up back here awaiting deportation On a steamship on the Hudson, I watch the sunset fade With 20,000 others swept up in the Palmer Raids Counting myself lucky that I'm still alive Remembering the moment that I first arrived When I came to this country...
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 Jet fighters bombed the palace, we all watched it on TV The 11th of September, 1973
An old woman approached me just the other day “I lived in Washington, DC,” she began to say “They all sang 'We Shall Overcome' back in 1964 Where did that all go now that it's needed even more?” I thought I should have an answer – I think I should now, too But when I look around me now, I'm afraid I haven't a clue With the country and the world sinking ever deeper in the mire In this age of famine, flood and fire Walking on the ashes, through the toxic, hazy air Past the chimneys – the only things still standing there Now if we think ahead seven generations What little might remain of what we call civilization It was maybe damned to start with, but what a thing to comprehend That you and I and our grandchildren may be the ones who watch it end Now that it is past the time when it was only down to the wire In this age of famine, flood and fire I used to marvel at the people going out and having fun I'd wonder if they thought of all that which must be done Now it's too late to join them in the ignorance and bliss I'll just wonder as I watch them, might their children live like this? All the pot in California cannot numb the pain And sometimes I try to figure out, in the time that still remains How would I spend the rest of it just fulfilling my desire In this age of famine, flood and fire Perhaps a scientific breakthrough will allow us all to live Now that industry has robbed the Earth of all it had to give Maybe from the ashes, new life will arise That will not be burdened by what I've witnessed with these eyes Perhaps some global spring will be born out of the flood A great forest will grow up from somewhere beneath the mud But if I said I was an optimist then I would be a liar In this age of famine, flood and fire
Iceland is an island with half a million or so Vikings Mostly known for volcanoes, hot springs and fishing Known for its welfare state, for being good and socialistic Certainly not known for being corrupt or nepotistic But in the USA and Europe when they were deregulating banks Iceland's politicians took bribes and joined their ranks Soon you had a situation, one would think just couldn't be A bank whose debt was worth ten times the country's GDP When Wall Street imploded, sure enough it spread Banks all over the world were floating in the red All over the world, governments made the plan To cut spending and raise taxes on the working woman and working man The banks were bailed out while the people had to pay But in Iceland people thought there must be a better way And the Earth stood still a moment, fear was struck in every toff When Iceland told the bankers to fuck off Folks were in the streets in Reykjavik and just couldn't be ignored They said this is a debt we Icelanders can't afford Let's guarantee deposits of all our people, yes indeed But as for all the speculators motivated by their greed To make really dumb investments, to them Iceland said good luck Sorry for your losses but we don't really give a fuck The 1% all trembled when they took away the trough When Iceland told the bankers to fuck off The UK called them terrorists, said we cannot let this stand Who do these peacenik blonds think they are in Iceland They threatened isolation, an economy in flames But the Icelanders said sorry, but the banks can settle their own claims Though that might be harder for them now that they're under house arrest Or else they fled the country, as they were most unwelcome guests And now Reykjavik's recovery just makes the fatcats sputter and cough Since Iceland told the bankers to fuck off If you haven't heard of this example, perhaps there's a reason why The owners of the world don't want this kind of shit to fly They say we all must pay up in this shakedown by the mob If we can't afford to pay the rent 'cause we don't have a job They say it's not their problem if we're forever shackled by their debt We must save the 1% from the fate they should have met But there is an alternative, though it makes the fatcats scoff That Iceland told the bankers to fuck off
Give to me a moment, I'll tell you of a woman Who was a heroine of mine It's half a century since she's gone But her vision and her light still shines She was born in 1880 and she spent her life Speaking out against injustices she saw Traveling and writing and supporting tactics Both within and far outside the law Give to me a moment, I'll tell you of a member Of the Industrial Workers of the World Who responded to the critics who said she was a stooge For waving her red flag unfurled By saying how could she do otherwise and still call herself a feminist Or did they believe that women got a pass That women were not workers, subject to the bosses Just like every other member of their class Give to me a moment, I'll tell you of a comrade A celebrity, a thinker and a fighter Her weapons were her words and she used them as an expert As a touring speaker, as a writer When workers were on strike she beseeched the public To come out and support the union's stand She said there could be no future except in solidarity Every race, ability and gender hand in hand Give to me a moment, I'll tell you of a citizen Who spoke up against Wilson's war Who said it's best to go to prison than to go kill other people To settle some imperial score Without this voice of reason, this servant of the people The world surely wouldn't be the same So here's to a fearless warrior who could neither hear nor see Fellow Worker Helen Keller was her name Give to me a moment, I'll tell you of a woman Who was a heroine of mine
Failed State 02:37
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
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
The year was 1918, the place, 69 Jagtvej The unemployed and hungry gathered to ask why The bankers and stockbrokers lived like kings and queens While the ragged children starved behind the scenes Tens of thousands rallied for action to be taken For the state to show the poor had not been totally forsaken When no response was coming, plans began to be arranged For the taking over of the stock exchange The syndicalists at Folkets Huset were all well aware That undercover cops were everywhere Plans were kept secret so there wouldn't be a snag When the time came, follow the one wrapped in the red flag Thousands followed then, knowing not what lay in store Soon found themselves upon the exchange's floor Where such ostentatious wealth cried out to be estranged From the profiteers inside the stock exchange The stockbrokers were not harmed, but the cops were kept at bay As the floor was occupied for much of the day The Battle of the Borso would be a story to retell The protest and the prison time would be remembered well They didn't overthrow the bankers but the actions of the date Led directly to reforms of the Danish welfare state Working class prosperity no longer seemed so strange From the day the workers took the stock exchange The year was 1918, the place, 69 Jagtvej
I turned on my TV, though it was hard to see These men who'd be head of state What a great country, from sea to shining sea We watch the Republicans debate Newt stood with his third wife, and said you bet your life The president is a red He wants to tax the rich a lot and take your limo and your yacht He wants to have the bankers' heads And if he gets in again he'll paint the White House pink and then He'll hire Chavez as his VP Then we'll be right on track to give capitalism the sack Along with the insurance industry If only it were true, if only it were true I'd be so happy -- wouldn't you? If only it were true, if only it were true, if only it were true He'll give everyone food stamps and wheelchair ramps He'll subsidize windmills and maple syrup He'll cripple industries with eco-friendly policies And pretty soon we will be just like Europe He'll shut down oil wells and deliver solar cells To each home in Delaware and Illinois He'll ban logging in the parks, he'll send the works of Karl Marx To the homes of every American girl and boy He'll abolish pesticides, he'll be giving out free rides And free lunches, too, inside his high-speed trains He'll start lots of public works, full of union perks He'll fill all the cities up with bicycle lanes Chorus Watch out, his critics tell, this shall be our death knell He'll pull the troops out and end all of our wars He'll gut military spending, our empire will be ending And soon we'll be invaded by the Moors He'll legalize all drugs, give away beer mugs And hookas to every child -- and Korans He'll ban religions from the schools, give 40 acres and a mule To every person who makes less than 50 grand He'll shut down Guantanamo, to torture he'll say no He'll make us all drive electric cars He'll reinstate the Fairness Doctrine, take off that damn flag pin And he'll put Rupert Murdoch behind bars Chorus
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 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
I breathe the air that you do I drink the water just like you I eat the fruits of this land I hold the apple in my hand I am I feel the rain fall on my face Like the rest of the human race I hold my baby tightly when he cries I see him when I look into his eyes I am When I walk for miles in the summer heat Like you, I get blisters on my feet When I cut myself, with blood I will perspire When I try to climb over the wire I am
The President stood in front of the jet planes The rubble’s all settled and democracy reigns We’ve defeated their army and taken control We dropped thousands of bombs, now they’ve taken their toll The oil’s on fire, just like the blood Of a billion Muslims dragged through the mud And the world is safer with the dictator gone And their lot will improve with our corporate pawn The war is over, that’s what he said Go back to your business, we’ve buried the dead And the war is over Fatherless children have taken the street All that remains is the sting of defeat Homes are in ruins, cancer is rife For soldiers and newborns, the end of a life Kids grown up with just hunger and fear But lo, behold, the Yankees are here And now all you people are gonna be free ‘Cause this land was made for Chevron and me The war is over, that’s what he said Just turn on your TV, we’ve buried the dead And the war is over The government files are all up in flames His victims of terror, who remembers their names The past doesn’t matter but the future is bright As the Exxon refinery lights up the night History’s looted like the library’s shelves But we’ll fill them with Bibles and be proud of ourselves We’ll turn your schools into compounds and make room for us all If you’re missing your legs you can learn how to crawl The war is over, that’s what he said Forget it all happened, we’ve buried the dead And the war is over And the price was worth it, yes we’d do it again With bombs or with sanctions — kids, women and men ‘Cause we have national interests and they must be met We will enforce them by treaty or jet And when time has passed and you’ve had time to rest We’ll find a new villain ’cause that’s what we do best Maybe a sultan or a grandson of Mao But don’t trouble your conscience because as of now The war is over, that’s what he said Just put it behind you, we’ve buried the dead And the war is over
We could tackle the economy first – get rid of all the billionaires Set the system up so that instead of hoarding, people share Make housing, food, and health care basic human rights Around the world, for everyone is how we'd set our sights If we could get to that point I could say that then We could make the planet Earth great again With human rights around the world, there'd be no refugees No safeguarding your homeland from terrorists overseas No need for a border wall, no jobs to protect With a global basic income established, it's pretty simple and direct Free trade, fair trade, same damn thing – we get to that point, then We can make the planet Earth great again We could take on other issues, like the survival of our race By which I mean the bipeds on this floating rock in space The most invasive species anywhere around The one that keeps on burning everything that can be found The one that will get it together in the nick of time and then Make the planet Earth great again We can stop spending money on antiquated technology Such as tanks and missiles and most other things military We can use those vast resources to make us all safe and sound Windmills in the air, coal and oil in the ground We can be the envy of the rest of the galaxy when We make the planet Earth great again


Live recording made at an intimate show at the venerable Dan Electro's Guitar Bar in the grand megalopolis of Houston, Texas on March 30th, 2018.

If you download the album or Subscribe to me on Bandcamp or at, you'll also receive an MP3 download of the entire set, including all the talking, which was otherwise omitted from the album.


released April 13, 2018

Jeremy Rojas of Sugar Hill Recording Studios recorded and edited the show for this album. One song from my set was omitted from the recording because of a technical problem. (Shit happens. Jeremy and Sugar Hill still rock.)




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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