Strangers & Friends

by David Rovics

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
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
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
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...
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
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
Jock 02:53
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)
Failed State 02:22
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
Oil Blockade 02:45
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
In Venezuela 02:08
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
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
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
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?
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


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

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


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