Strangers & Friends

by David Rovics



It’s another collection of original songs of mine, but it came out through a series of unusual circumstances, probably beginning with vocal lessons.

I’ve always been a massive fan of the human voice, as instruments go. Especially multiple voices together. When I first heard Lorna McKinnon’s choral arrangement of my song, “No One Is Illegal,” I started thinking about touring and recording together. In 2016 we toured around Scotland, England and Ireland. Tommy Sands helped me make arrangements to record our gig in his home town of Rostrevor, which became a live album.

When my friend Kamala Emanuel heard Lorna’s singing and choral arranging, she wanted to take singing lessons from her. One thing led to another, and the singing lessons became a collaborative effort involving making lots more choral arrangements to my songs.

When I ran into Pol Mac Adaim last summer and he mentioned that he occasionally records other artists at a home studio in Ireland, the plan fell into place. We made plans to meet up with Pol in Ireland, where we all spent the last week of October.

Along the way we all learned that Pol is a brilliant producer and engineer as well as multi-instrumentalist. Entering the project with no plans other than a lot of vocal harmonies, once Pol ascertained what many other producers have learned before him, that I can’t count very well, we spent a day laying down my vocal and guitar tracks, and the rest of a week recording layers of vocal harmonies.

In the weeks following, Pol recorded a glorious variety of parts of a number of songs, with whistles, pipes, a harmonica, and a bit of synth, mixed all the tracks and did other magic to them, to result in the collection of compositions we have here.


released December 16, 2019




David Rovics Portland, Oregon

"Absolutely brilliant. David Rovics says exactly what needs to be said."
Ian McMillan, BBC


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Track Name: Living on the Streets of LA
Living On The Streets of LA (It's 2019)

It's 2019, and looking around
At the tents and trash and excrement scattered on the ground
So many mansions overlooking the sea
Stretch limos, Rolls Royces and movie stars all over Los Angeles County

It's 2019, and one thing I know
Is most people wish we could rewind to a couple of decades ago
Before the rents tripled and folk began to move out
Into their cars, then into their tents, where drivers look on, however loudly you shout

It's 2019, but in a black and white photo
It could be 1929 wherever you go
In every single neighborhood, hungry people wonder why
Some make billions on a blockbuster, while so many are left out to die

It's 2019, where every eight hours
Someone is found cold on the sidewalk beneath the glass and steel towers
In the wealthiest nation in all of human history
So far from paradise, so close to Walt Disney

It's 2019, there's no dust bowl
Just real estate speculators and all the lives they stole
I don't know what to think when I hear the reporter say
A thousand people died last year, living on the streets of LA

It's 2019
Track Name: Just a Renter
Just A Renter

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
Track Name: So This Is What It's Like
So This Is What It's Like

So this is what it's like to live in such a place
Where kids with book bags and braces
Take the bus to school
And learn the Golden Rule

So this is what it's like to live in such a nation
Where people stay within their stations
Where the businessmen wear ties
They have a burger, Coke and fries

So this is what it's like to live in a country
Where kids go to the beach to party
Mowing lawns for summer wages
While other kids get put in cages

So this is what it's like when you learn to go ahead
Put your kids to bed
Try not to think, as you turn out the lamp
About the ones in our detention camps

So this is what it's like with the rule of law suspended
Society upended
You don't know what to do
They're taking away your neighbors, but they're not citizens like you

So this is what it's like
Track Name: When the Nazis Came to Rotherham
When the Nazis Came to Rotherham

When the Nazis came to Rotherham
Most people stayed indoors and closed their blinds
Let them have their Nazi rally Then try to leave the day behind
Then the Nazis came to Rotherham In 14 months they marched 14 times
Always accusing every Asian Of every unspeakable crime
Then the Nazis were there in Rotherham
When he was walking to the mosque to pray
Mushin Ahmed was beaten so savagely That he died that way
Then when the Nazis came back to Rotherham
This time the town was in the streets
So this time the cops kettled the march
And this time they forced the march to meet
The Nazis who hang out in Rotherham At a pub called the William Fry
Who were waiting for the kettled marchers
So they could attack them As they were passing by

And the police raid came at dawn Awakening everyone
I was there with my family Asking them what have I done

Attacked by the Nazis in Rotherham They had to act in self-defense
How could this possibly be A criminal offense?
The Nazis came to Rotherham And then the Crown charged 12 men
For defending children from racist attacks
As they were forced to walk by the pub when
The Nazis came to Rotherham And then prison hung over the heads
Of those who defended their children Instead of cowering under their beds

The Nazis came to Rotherham And the trial of the Rotherham 12
Was the consequence of Asian men Who dared to defend themselves
Those who fought the Nazis in Rotherham Could have gone to prison for years
But they were found not guilty By a jury of their mostly white working class peers
The Nazis came to Rotherham Some of them did time behind bars
Though the Rotherham 12 were acquitted The families are marked by the scars

When the police raid came at dawn...
Track Name: My Great Grandparents
My Great Grandparents

My great grandparents were refugees
That should be a normal thing to say
I was born in New York City
My people came from far away
They fled the generals and dictators
The warlords of Moscow and Budapest
You could be conscripted for the rest of your life Or you could head west

My great great grandparents were refugees, too
Just north and west of Brittany
Farmers in the hills somewhere On the starving side of the Irish Sea
They fled their colonial torturers They fled starvation, slavery
They fled across the Atlantic Along with millions of other refugees

My great grandparents were refugees But getting to the other side
Took such a toll it seems That my great grandfather died
So when his son was a little kid He grew up without a dad
And that's typical of the hard life So many other refugees had

My great grandparents were refugees Let me tell you what that means
They were escaping war-torn lands Ruled by tyrants, kings and queens
They did not come seeking fortune They were not pioneers
Leaving home, their hearts were broken
And all their cries fell on deaf ears

My great grandparents were refugees No one taught me that in school
It's dangerous information In the old game of divide and rule
My name is David Rovics And I know who my people are
They're on that raft upon the ocean They're in the trunk of that car
Track Name: Reality Winner
Reality Winner

She was born in 1991, she was raised beneath the southern sun
And since she was quite young she sought to find a way
To come up with solutions to the problems of the day
She learned lots of languages and lots of other things
Which Top Secret Clearance can bring

Many people say the truth will set you free
Tell that to Reality

She analyzed the intercepts from Al-Qaeda and IS
Did her best to ascertain the right address
To send in the drone strikes and fight the war
That she once believed in wholeheartedly before
She found the information she knew people had to know
As the prosecution's evidence shows

She saw proof that hackers tried hard to affect
Which presidential candidate US voters would elect
She thought this could not be secret, this we know is true
And she was convinced of what she had to do
Now she's held in solitary, in a Texas prison cell
It's another gaping hole in the Liberty Bell
Track Name: Jock

Jock Palfreeman traveled to see friends in Bulgaria
To spend Christmas in their homes, have a night out in Sofia
He was only planning to visit for a short stay
Thirteen years since then, he's never been away
The night that Jock went out with friends, walked past the metro station
The mood suddenly changed from one of celebration
To the sounds of Nazi football hooligans in the streets again
Shouting racist slurs at two Roma men

Most people would keep walking, or find a place to hide
While some among us have to take a side

Jock stood and faced the Nazis marching in the street
He flashed a blade to keep them back, they threw chunks of concrete
Jock fell to the ground, woke up handcuffed, splitting head
That's the time he learned one of his attackers was dead
No one knew quite what happened, but in the police report
They said these men attacked the Roma just like Jock said in the court
The CCTV footage disappeared and then
After it was found, it disappeared again (Chorus)

The forensics examiner said, of the man who lost his life
Clearly he was stabbed, but the wound didn't match the knife
Witness testimony wasn't deemed relevant to the case
In Bulgaria today, that's the justice you might face
Because these particular racists were the sons of the elite
Corruption in the form of a parliamentary seat
A kangaroo court conviction, every tell-tale sign
They plan to beat and starve him until 2029 (Chorus)
Track Name: Failed State
Failed State

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

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

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

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
Track Name: Oil Blockade
Oil Blockade

Standing here on this precipice, on the edge of a world at war
Such a stark resemblance to events of a century before
When you begin the story is how the story shall be defined
But to understand this history, we must start earlier, rewind (to)

Before the Pearl Harbor bombing raid
During the oil blockade

The conflict had been brewing for several decades at least
Increasing competition for control of the East
The fight for domination by the empires of the day
Came down to the Land of the Rising Sun and the USA

The Japanese Empire needed Indonesian oil
But then across the Pacific Ocean, so far from American soil
The US Navy made a stand to starve Japan of fuel
An act of war meant to provoke the next move in this duel

They still call it a sneak attack, as if it were unprovoked
History starts in Hawaii, the century prior – revoked
How we look back at the present, before the bombs began to burst
Will the histories of the future say the Ayatollah fired first

With imperial plans being made
In a new oil blockade

Standing here on this precipice, on the edge of a world at war
Track Name: In Venezuela
In Venezuela

Chavez was elected Like every time he ran
When his Socialists took power That's when the changes began
The opposition started Attacking every forward move
But reforms went ahead The people's welfare improved
A land of such riches That had always gone to so few
Was reaching places Ignored since 1492
In Venezuela

Millions poured into the streets To stop the coup back then
They got the man that they elected Back into power again
The Bolivarian Revolution Became famous worldwide
Soon other socialist governments Swept in in a red Latin tide
Between the Cuban doctors And the Venezuelan oil
Millions got medical care Millions tilled the soil

Bush began the sanctions Obama imposed more
A slow-burning, destabilizing Economic war
Following the formula Of the Chicago Boys team
Used in many places To make economies scream
Oil prices plummeted Foreign holdings locked
Invasions being planned Negotiations blocked

From the Haitian Revolution To Venezuela today
From the Seminoles To Salvador Allende
Look at their ankles You'll see the chains
Imperial vampires Open veins
Those who stand up To the business elite
Who cannot stand to see The workers in the driver's seat
Track Name: I Was A Stranger
I Was A Stranger

If you go to Pima County in the Sonoran Desert lands
You'll find the town of Ajo among the cactus stands
The only town you'll see, the only water, too
When someone is thirsty there's no question what you do

For well over a century, it was a normal thing
To have an extra jug of water that you might bring
In the harsh Sonoran Arizona summer heat
We'd rather give the vultures something else to eat

You didn't ask where I was going, nor where I had been
I was hungry, you gave me food
I was thirsty, you gave me drink
I was naked, you gave me clothes
I was a stranger, you let me in

I have this book here, a story I learned well
I always thought I understood the tale that it tells
It's spelled out very clearly in Matthew 25
What a good Christian does when a stranger arrives

Now there's a crackdown, with life and death on trial
The only place with water for a hundred miles
Facing twenty years in prison is a very mighty rod
Now all of us are forced to choose between Caesar and God
Track Name: The Time to Act
The Time To Act (Song for Will Van Spronsen)

When it's 2019, but it feels like 1933
When your eyes are open, when you know the history
When your parents lived through things that looked so much like this
All the indications, impossible to miss
When you've sought for your whole life to make the Earth a better place
And you once again see the rising of the Master Race
When you know that they are coming, when they announced it in advance
When you know for many people, this will be their last chance

Then you may ask the question, what can one person do
When the time to act is now, and now it's up to you

When it's 2019, but it feels like 1933
When indefinite detention is the new reality
For so many children to whom you did not give birth
When you see they're just as precious
As every other child on Earth
When they're opening the camps, not used since the war
Where families were imprisoned decades before
When Kristallnacht is coming, they announced it on the news
When the writing's on the wall, when you can see the fuse

When it's 2019, but it feels like 1933
When you know rallies are not helping and silence is complicity
When you know where the kids are kept, locked inside their cells
When you see approaching the future this foretells
When they're coming for your neighbors, when they've even said what day
They plan to put them all in buses and take them away
When you know where they keep the buses, you've been to the parking lot
Perhaps a whole lot of petrol bombs is the best move you got
Track Name: A Penny A Play
A Penny A Play

If each time a song were streamed, I received one cent
This is exactly what I'd need each month to pay the rent
I made that calculation looking at the stats
Must be a lot of other people wearing the same hat

The concept may not be perfect, but in the streaming age
If we want to form a movement, it could be the first stage
The idea is very simple – set up some ground rules
Otherwise Big Tech makes trillions, plays the rest of us for fools

Now I'm just dreaming about the day
That we might get a penny a play

It would not be a revolution, but as sure as the world is round
It'd be helpful to know how far you fall before you hit the ground
I'm a DIY musician, who knows for how long
What we need is union, so this is a union song

They say they're losing money – they'll say it to the end
But if you want to pay the landlord, you got to have it to spend
Your labor should be valued – no need to genuflect
A tiny fraction of a cent is not enough respect

These vulture capitalists in Stockholm and San Francisco
Play their shell games, and think that we don't know
That they are getting rich from the music that we made
At what point do we start getting paid?
Track Name: If There's A Tomorrow
If There's A Tomorrow

The death toll keeps mounting each time I turn on my phone
Another mass shooting, another free fire zone
The Failed States of America, white supremacist rule
A society riven with victims and tools

The fires keep burning, completely out of control
Makes you miss the old days of the Ozone Hole
The snow is all melting, the lakes of Greenland
The best hope that I have, I hold in my hand

If there's a tomorrow, then when yesterday's through
You have me, and I have you

We might have to leave town, or maybe we'll fall
Beneath a hail of bullets, at the shopping mall
Perhaps we'll be arrested, perhaps they'll pass us by
But wherever we might be, when we look up at the sky

They can call it natural, or made by humankind
We'd like it to be different, but this is the place we find
The one that we inherit, the one we're in right now
Whatever might come of the future – why, when, how

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