Notes from a Failed State

by David Rovics

Precipice 02:15
Precipice On the edge of something – exactly what, nobody knows Whatever the future will bring, whichever way it goes Depends on how we get there, the scope of our demands Everything's up in the air – wherever we might land Welcome to the precipice On the edge of something, and you can't stand there for long Hear the church bells ring, another homecoming song As the state just pulled the rug, and left us to wonder why As the mass graves are dug for the essential workers sentenced to die On the edge of something, so many people say Things have got to change now, they can't stay this way Whatever lies ahead, it can't be the status quo Dog-eat-dog is dead – long may it be so
As I Watch Minneapolis Burn Are people still lynched in America – and what happens when they die When he begged for his mother to save him, was he resisting arrest when he cried And how does the lynch mob roam free, when we already know who they are The men who murdered George Floyd, and then drove off in their police cars To live with such savage injustice, with every new day the Earth turns I'm left with no reason to wonder, as I watch Minneapolis burn Are people still lynched in America – how many just in the past weeks From Georgia to Minnesota, as the pandemic spikes and peaks Did you see him pinned down for eight minutes, did you see the knee on his neck Did you see the police station on fire, did you smell the smoldering wreck As the National Guard marches in, watch the wheels of history churn In the land of Philando Castille, as we watch Minneapolis burn Are people still lynched in America – and do the poor still die of disease Are the prisons still full of debtors, do bodies still hang from the trees Do the workers still live by the highways, still struggle to come up with rent Do families still get evicted, when the last of their credit is spent Do you see all the people who just had to find out what might there be left to learn From the flames that rise from the Target, as we watch Minneapolis burn Are people still lynched in America – and what happens when they die When he begged for his mother to save him, was he resisting arrest when he cried
Essentially Expendable (The Death of Jason Hargrove) A pandemic is spreading, the health system's collapsing You can watch it all unfolding on the screen If you're afraid to go outside, enough groceries to hide It may have been weeks since you have seen Someone you can touch, and you miss it so much As you wonder what might happen next Like when your savings run out and the choice is all about What kind of help you might be able to expect Or perhaps when COVID arrived, while some struggled to survive You were what they call essential It didn't take long to see you got that wrong The word they really meant was “expendable” It did not take long to see, there was no emergency Plans in place for something which all the scientists knew Was just a matter of when, there'd be a pandemic again And the kleptocrats in power didn't have a clue Otherwise why Did Jason Hargrove die? Because he kept on keeping on, waking before dawn To do his part for society Jason drove his bus, he didn't even make a fuss At the time of the impropriety Somebody coughed, the virus was off Not two weeks later Jason would be dead What if he had protective gear, with sick passengers so near With no barrier to protect his head Stay home, flatten the curve they say, unless we need you to serve Food for us, or care for all the ill In that case we'll call you a hero, like the workers at Ground Zero Where one by one the cemetery filled Now in every bus and truck, the drivers try their luck Essentially told, thank you for your service If these were the front lines, no one put up any signs Did anyone sign up for this? Once the death rate peaks, in days or months or weeks With each one of the virus's waves Once we can take stock and recover from the shock Of the sight of all the mass graves Will this be the impetus, this driver on a bus Along with so many, many more The nurses and the prisoners, seafarers and farmworkers What will they all die for?
As I Walk On By Every time I leave the apartment, things change a little more The rug pulled out so many times, who knows where's the floor Folks look more ragged by the day, I can give 'em a few bucks Wonder what the future holds, wish them luck As I walk on by See the people on their porches, chairs out on a deck Sometimes you can tell which ones received their checks And which ones are still waiting after all these many weeks Wondering if this is what it smells like in Shit's Creek When my children ask me, I'm not quite sure what to say Why the playground's always empty where the kids all used to play Why the people cross the street now whenever we come near Where did all the people go, who used to be here I go out with my headphones on, like everybody else does Listening for news, suddenly relevant, because We all want to know how the virus might transform All of us still here, weathering this storm
Each Couch By the Street Each couch by the street has a story Some were brand new just last year It looks like days ago, someone had a door key And it was in a living room – not here Getting covered in leaves falling down Getting soaked each time it rains Did someone split quickly, head out of town Perhaps whoever left these coffee stains Each couch by the street has a story I wonder what this one may be Another one too dry to have been out for long It once was someone's property Did they leave their home and move into a car Or find a sofa to sleep on at a friend's place Did they stay near, or go away far Disappear with hardly a trace Each couch by the street has a story One that ended without a yard sale No one's buying much in the pandemic Most any such plans are derailed Along with the crashing economy All the people who just got the sack Could just be a time for society To have one another's back Each couch by the street has a story And those stories will soon multiply Once the ban on evictions is lifted Once thousands more people have died While we're here in a country that's failed When the moratorium is through When they come to evict your neighbors What will you do?
There's a suspension on evictions, stick to your convictions Don't pay the rent If at home we have to stay, then most of us can't pay, so Don't... Tell your landlord, sir, that mortgage can defer And if they start rattling their sabers, say I need to feed my neighbors It's time now to demand, One Big Union grand Neoliberalism is dead, it's time to raise your head Strike for the guarantee, a home for everybody Running water, housing, health care – all across this Earth we share Capitalism has failed, put the billionaires in jail We need a new world now, let me tell you how With mutual aid, a new world can be made From the ashes of the old, if we stop doing what we're told Solidarity with society Our lives matter a lot, the landlord's profits do not We can redefine what is theirs and ours and mine There's a suspension on evictions, stick to your convictions
Rent Party 02:53
Rent Party Bank is empty, card is full And no matter how hard I pull The car don't move, the rent is due I'm not sure what else to do Get a job, perhaps I should Pulling shots or hauling wood It's a bit too late right now for that So in the meantime, here's my hat 'Cause this world, I can't afford I'm throwing a party for my landlord My landlord is a company Which takes away all my money As well as that of half the town They're slumlords of great renown The Randall Group, the Group of Randall You can bet they don't need to panhandle They own my building, they might own yours Along with all of your mold spores 'Cause at that time the rent is due This is a red line for me, don't know about you Everything else just comes to a halt When you get thrown out onto the asphalt Call it funding from the crowd Sounds so nice, it rhymes with “cloud” Call it begging, I don't care Long as Randall gets their share
When the Students Took the Embassy Missile strikes in Baghdad, skies full of fighter jets The tension in the air, as thick as it gets Their talking points are loaded, at each press conference With what passes for an effort at historical reference They talk of things that happened over forty years before That they say now bring us to the edge of world war They talk about the hostages, so let us now rewind When the students took the embassy, just what did they find? When the students took the embassy, I was just a kid But I remember well, the first things they did Let all the women go, while collecting all the trash All the shredded documents that weren't yet turned to ash All the shredded documents that clearly showed The torture and corruption, how the power flowed The concept of a captured state was one the Shah defined When the students took the embassy, just what did they find? When the students took the embassy, they found the crimes of Savak Had the CIA hiding under every rock And that's where they had been, where the agents were based They had a staff of thousands there, from there they laid to waste The dreams held by so many for a free society Like the one they overthrew, back in 1953 Historic crimes exposed, in the shredder once consigned When the students took the embassy, just what did they find?
Ballad of Alvaro Luna Hernandez #FreeAlvaro Alvaro Luna Hernandez started life with a shorted hand Growing up in Texas, on occupied land His troubles with the law, and with the Sheriff of Alpine Resulted from a racist gang, crossing every line Of respect for human decency, vicious thugs in blue Who have ruled the hills of Texas since long before '52 In the middle of the twentieth, when Alvaro was born It wasn't long before the first time he was torn From the streets of Alpine, to a windowless cell When the cops kicked his head, til no one could tell If he'd live or die – and somehow, he was breathing still When the morning sun was shining in the Texas hills Alvaro Luna Hernandez grew up to lead the fight Against police corruption, and for human rights Falsely accused of murder, incessantly harassed A young life in constant danger, quickly flying past So on the day a cop came to his house, pointed his gun Alvaro knocked it out of the officer's hands, and he did run Alvaro Luna Hernandez hid out underground After the biggest manhunt in West Texas, they fired many rounds He managed to surrender, without being shot And that was the last breath out of prison that he ever got The trial was a sham, and he was given fifty years Sentenced by the machine, to be ground up in the gears Since 1996, a quarter century ago In solitary confinement they've kept our Alvaro He's now lived to be an old man, and whether he ever leaves Justice in the USA exists only for the thieves Who came and stole this country, declared it to be theirs Slavemasters in power, Chicanos in the crosshairs Alvaro Luna Hernandez started life with a shorted hand Growing up in Texas, on occupied land
The Pogroms of 1969 You could say it started long ago, or keep one lifetime in your sights People were marching for basic civil rights The marchers were attacked, the press made wild claims Anything that happened, Republicans were blamed The mood that was incited, quite intentionally All over the Six Counties in the Loyalist community Was an atmosphere of hatred, the kind that burns and kills If you live in the wrong house, or stand too close to the windowsill In the pogroms of 1969 With torches, pikes and guns, neighborhoods were attacked Supported by police, if anyone dared fight back And fight back people did, kept the Loyalist mobs at bay Far more homes would have been destroyed if not for the IRA Defensive lines were formed, as best as could be done Fifty buses hijacked and lit up in the summer sun Surrounding the burned-out shells of the houses of Ardoyne While just beyond them Orangemen sang “the Battle of the Boyne” Thousands fled the carnage, hundreds of homes burned down There was a refugee camp in Dundalk as big as any town The British Army invaded the North and starting building walls Separating ghettos, from the Bogside to the Falls If you want to understand the world you live in You have to peel back the layers and look beneath the skin If you do that you may find that so much of these Troubles began Half a century after the Black and Tans
And The Earth Spins Round Again One day you're working, the next you're not And what you have is what you got You lost the job you thought you'd keep You wake up at night, you can't sleep You got time now – time to dream Time to break down, cry and scream And the Earth spins round again Sometimes your goals of any size Just vanish in front of your eyes And all that's left is what you see Like the squirrel outside your window in that tree And on the man there on the screen Who wants us to try injecting Listerine The dice are up, no telling where They'll land when they come down from the air Everything can change and fall apart It can affect your lungs and your heart Assumptions thrown, they're in the breeze Who knows what they'll be, when we're done with this disease One day you're OK, things are alright then all of a sudden, overnight Foreclosed, evicted, living in cars Empty hotels and wine bars Wake up to learn our collective fate Depends on how we cooperate
Our Imagination It's at moments like these, everything is in the air The possibilities are nowhere and everywhere You got to break a bone to set it, and now all we are is broke A lot of folks are saying it's time to be woke And they're not talking about microaggressions, but the really big ones The basic assumptions, like planets circling suns But there are no natural laws that built your mansions or your tents These are creations of society – just like mortgages and rent It's a future of uncertainty, but our liberation Can only be as free as our imagination If you were born and raised to believe it sacrosanct That whoever has a whole lot of money in the bank Deserves to then live off the wealth from the houses that they own And if they raise your rent you can move or take out a loan Then how can you demand your human rights If you don't believe you have any, as if you deserve your plight But if things were hard before, now the system has flatlined Time for those basic rights to be redefined All these vaunted freedoms added to the Constitution As an afterthought, after Shays' Rebellion Did not include the right to land, or the right to eat Or the right for human beings not to be dying on the street It's moments like these, standing on the edge That we might catch the strongest breeze, to land furthest from the ledge We can fly, you know – all you need is wings We can house and feed each other – together, we can do anything


Since the pandemic hit and time sped up and slowed down at the same time, I've written a lot of songs. Two of them appear on a live album I put out in April called Viral Solidarity. Most of the songs on this album represent many of the other songs I wrote in April or May 2020. A few others were written in the months just prior to the pandemic's arrival in the US. Only one of them was written since the beginning of the uprising that began in Minneapolis.


released June 4, 2020

Original songs by David Rovics, recorded at Big Red Studio in Corbett, Oregon with Billy Oskay as producer and engineer, with Nicholas Decker assisting.

Cover art graphic by Alexander Elsaesser and Silvan Zurbriggen, repurposed by Kalindi Jackson.




David Rovics Portland, Oregon

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


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