The Other Side

by David Rovics

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    This CD features Billy Oskay on violin. Songs include "I Can't Breathe," "Denmark, 1943" and "They All Sang the Internationale."

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You are very welcome to stream this album to your heart's content, for free.

If you like it, please share it in whatever ways you see fit (especially by sharing the link to my site here on Bandcamp).

If you can, please also consider donating here -- the money goes to me, the artist, and it's necessary in order for me to do this. If you're one of these more or less gainfully-employed types, please consider joining my CSA, either via the "subscription" button here on Bandcamp or via the "subscribe" button at

This album consists of 16 songs that I wrote between December, 2014 and early August, 2015.

Thanks to all my CSA members and people who donated toward my fundraising campaign to record the album, who made the album possible. Because of this support, I was able to make what might be my favorite album yet, with a great acoustic trio and a couple of kick-ass singers.

You'll find lyrics and audio to all of these songs on the "Songbook" tab on For many of the songs you'll also find videos and sheet music.

As with all of my albums, this one consists of a mix of mostly songs about recent events and notable historical events.

Songs about recent events include a lot of massacres, as they often do. North Carolina ("Angry White American Man"), South Carolina ("State House Lawn"), Suruc, Turkey ("Kobane"), and Paris ("Before the War Came Home"), as well as the murder of Eric Garner in New York ("I Can't Breathe").

The songs about historical events in this album include the song I wrote in anticipation of the 100th anniversary of the execution by firing squad of Swedish-American labor organizer, songwriter, and cartoonist Joe Hill.

Otherwise, the focus on this album is on various aspects of the Second World War.

Reflecting on the refugees dying in the Mediterranean, I wrote "Denmark, 1943," about the successful boat lift of the vast majority of the Jews of Denmark to Sweden.

After hearing the Japanese-American actor and activist George Takei speak in downtown Portland, I wrote "Liberty and Justice For All," about the internment of his and thousands of other Japanese and Japanese-American families in the US during the war.

The other two WWII-related songs are about two of my friend Katharina's grandparents, both of whom spent much of their lives between prison and concentration camps for being communists in a country taken over by fascists.

"Frieden und Freiheit" is about Katharina's grandfather, Franz Jacob, who was executed in 1944. "They All Sang the Internationale" is about Katharina's grandmother and namesake, who just barely managed to survive the war and live a full life afterward.


released August 31, 2015

The Other Side was recorded, mixed and mastered at Big Red Studio in Corbett, Oregon, with the studio's owner, Billy Oskay, at the helm as chief engineer and producer, with Eric Broestl, assistant engineer and Paul Troxel, studio intern.

Billy was also the one who played all those lovely violin and viola tracks. The folks singing harmonies are Portland-based musicians, Spank and Janice Hopkins. On upright bass is Arcellus Sykes, also of Portland.

David Rovics is playing all the guitar parts and lead vocals. Usually at the same time. He wrote all the songs, too, with the exception of "The Ball is Round," which was co-written by Kristian von Svensson of Malmo, Sweden.

Cover art made and donated by Alexander Elsaesser and Silvan Zurbriggen of Bern, Switzerland.




David Rovics Portland, Oregon

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


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Track Name: Waiting for the Hurricane
The economy is crashing for so many of us
Still riding in the back of the bus
More like being thrown under the wheels
If a light could be shown on how the other half feels
As they pillage and plunder, do the privileged few
Ever wonder what they're gonna do
When the people they're screwing can't take anymore
Will they be ruing the day they brought on the class war
Waiting – for the hurricane

The planet's not dying, it's being killed
Cancer rates rising with every tanker they build
It's epidemic, no turning around
The problem's systemic, we're nowhere-bound
But the perpetrators at the top
Will question later before they drop
Why they spent all their time just making a buck
'Cause it isn't a crime, not giving a fuck
Waiting – for the hurricane

Planes are crashing in the Empire State
Bombs are falling, but we shouldn't conflate
The war abroad with the war so near
The House of Saud with your home right here
Arab cities turned to dust from the bombs that dropped
Our country turned to rust with abandoned shops
Refugees dying as they try to escape
Parents crying behind police tape
Waiting – for the hurricane
Track Name: I Can't Breathe
Wake up in the morning, nowhere you can hide
Just another suspect as soon as you go outside
Just another suspect, one more man to fear
Best be deferential if an officer is near
Best be deferential, best wear a three-piece suit
Or find the wrong end of a truncheon or a combat boot
The wrong end of a truncheon or the barrel of a gun
Each day could be your last and final one

I can't breathe
I can't breathe

Wake up in the morning, try to make the rent
If you can't hustle up some money you'll be living in a tent
If you can't hustle up some money or get paid a living wage
The kids will be evicted and they'll put you in a cage
The kids will be evicted, living in the street
In line outside the mission to get some soup and bread to eat
In line outside the mission or just hope for the best
Go out and sell some loosies, feel your heart beat in your chest


Wake up in the morning, get up and roll the dice
Try not to look suspicious, hope they think you look nice
Try not to look suspicious, try not to raise alarm
If you want to see your family, don't want them to come to harm
If you want to see your family, you want to live another day
Watch out for the cops, hope they go away
Watch out for the cops or you'll be taking your last breath
The next one that you see might just choke you to death


Wake up in the morning
Track Name: Liberty and Justice For All
Do you often remember the day the soldiers came
When you became a number, not a child with a name
How oft do you recall that specific day
When they sold your family home and took you away

Banished to the desert to live in hot tar shacks
Having no idea if you'd be ever coming back
How oft do you recall walking to the school
Being taught about the glories of democratic rule

As you sat beneath the watchtower, surrounded by a wall
With liberty and justice for all

Do you often remember the young men allowed to leave
To go fight and die in Europe, their families left to grieve
In shacks there in the desert, locked behind a gate
As you went to class each morning in these United States


Do you often remember reciting those strange words
As you held your hand on heart did it all seem so absurd
One nation indivisible, one nation under God
Condemned to live behind the wire by a presidential nod


Do you often remember the day your family was set free
And you went back to the coast beside the Pacific sea
Without a home to go to, no soil left to till
When you'd recite the pledge each morning was it a bitter pill

Track Name: Before the War Came Home
Millions of people from the colonies
Were living in the far-away cities
Home of those who killed their country
Who tried for over a century
To bring Jesus back to Africa
From Mali to Algeria
And they fired into the protesters
Dumped them in the rivers

There were lots of folks getting along
Lots of folks feeling they'd been wronged
In the crowded Paris streets
In the patrol car's back seats
In the land of the catechism
In the land of secularism
Where the learned taught the learning
Where the cars were sometimes burning

Before the war came home
Before the war came home

There was rising real estate
Fear of the Caliphate
No question what it meant
When Le Pen got 25%
Fighter jets in flight
Lighting up the night
More enemies were made
When the armies of the west invaded

There were lots of talking heads
Quoting something someone said
There were blasphemous cartoons
Pouring salt upon the wounds
More countries to attack
Now Syria, now Iraq
Fighters returning
Who had seen the cities burning


There were people in the cafes
Having meetings, drinking au laits
There were tourists in the tower
There were girls picking flowers
There were Muslims praying
There were others saying
This is a secular nation
No room for religious demonstration

There were people talking about blowback
There were occasional attacks
There were many people asking
What kind of beer was brewing
There were ringing church bells
And Al-Qaeda sleeper cells
Passersby without a clue
What those masked men were about to do

Track Name: Denmark, 1943
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


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, and

Track Name: Angry White American Man
He was 46 years old, he had 2 parking places
He got angry if one of the residents took one of the visitor spaces
In the apartment complex that might provide one little clue
That this middle-aged man had accomplished little that he set out to do

He spewed anger at all of his neighbors and he hated religion so much
Maybe that's why he moved to the Bible Belt, because hatred is such a good crutch
He spewed anger about all religions with his back against the wall
Why stop at just hating one of them when you can just hate them all

Another angry white American man with a gun
Another angry white American man

He was 46 years old, he didn't live among his peers
Neighbors mostly younger by about 24 years
Neighbors from all over, some in religious dress
But what in hell the man was thinking, we can only try to guess


He was 46 years old, his neighbors had a meeting last year
To talk over what they might do about this man they feared
He carried a loaded pistol, no telling what might inspire
Him to pull it out one day and fire, fire, fire

Track Name: State House Lawn
He was listening to voices, talking in his head
If you grew up in America you know exactly what they said
And with every job we lose, however bad things get
There's a black man in the White House on the TV set
And we can blame it all on him and his entire race
Because they no longer know their place

You can hear the voices and by the early light of dawn
You can see the flag waving on the State House Lawn

He was listening to voices, you could say that he was crazy
For thinking certain people are just born to be lazy
He could see it on the cop shows, they don't know right from wrong
The race war is coming and now it won't be long
I promise it was not his original notion
If you want to start a war, first you have to set the war in motion


He was listening to voices who said the conflict's coming soon
And he walked into the church on the 17th of June
The very date of the rebellion that never was to be
For which 35 were hanged in that very city
For which the church was burned, for which the church was banned
For which there's been no atonement in a sick and troubled land

Track Name: They All Sang the Internationale
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
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


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


Völker, hört die Signale! Auf zum letzten Gefecht!
Die Internationale erkämpft das Menschenrecht
Völker, hört die Signale! Auf zum letzten Gefecht!
Die Internationale – erkämpft das Menschenrecht
Track Name: Kobane
Since the risings started there are many tales you could tell
One person's liberation may be another's prison cell
When authority collapses, many things can take its place
Sectarian nightmares and liberated space
Some are hunting for the heathens, set to form a Caliphate
Some are fighting for their survival, and for a socialist state
Such as in the north of Syria, just south of PKK
A city's name that's whispered in the wind

The town grew up with the railway from Baghdad to Berlin
Soon became a refuge for those fleeing the Sultan
In Syria they called it Land of the Arab Spring
No one knew what movements history would bring
A city full of Kurdish people divided from the rest
Cut off to the east, forsaken by the West
The only sensible thing to do was run away
But instead thousands stood and fought

Students met in Suruc, wise beyond their years
And the leaders of the world all shed crocodile tears
When the bombs went off they said this cannot stand
The same ones who kept the aid out from those who'd try to lend a hand
The same men who kept the aid out, the very same ones
Who didn't want the PYG to have ammo for their guns
As to the future of the city, no one alive can say
But its name sails across the borders
Track Name: Joe Hill
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


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

Track Name: Facebook Song
Once upon a time I read books and magazines
Then along came email, I thought that was pretty keen
I got on some good listservs, that was pretty neat
It was all so interactive, I was in the driver's seat
Then along came social media, that's when I lost my shit
Now there just wasn't time for anything else to fit

Facebook, Facebook, what else is there to do
Facebook, Facebook, sit and watch me spew

I feel like I've lost perspective, I don't know where I'm bound
I just gotta see what's happening when I hear the sound
Of somebody responding to my latest post
Maybe someone even shared it, then I'll have to post a toast
Hey that wee baby is the cutest little tyke
I'm gonna have to take a moment to click another “like”

Facebook, Facebook, I think I lost the plot
Facebook, Facebook, it's the only one I got

There's a drunk out in the alley, I think he's getting sick
The cat's playing with the garbage, I'll have to take a pic
My friends and I once met, drank coffee and ate scones
Now we meet at the cafe and stare down at our phones
We can stop to post a selfie to show we're all sitting there
If we talk we might miss out on something someone shares

Facebook, Facebook, just gimme my news feed
Facebook, Facebook, it's all the news I need

They say it's a revolution but I'm not sure that's so
I didn't use an app to find out what I needed to know
They didn't have the internet in 1848
When they rose up around the world without a single status update
Maybe that's a straw man, or maybe it is not
Maybe there are better tools than the ones we've got

Facebook, Facebook, I'll get up off this chair
Facebook, Facebook, just got one more post to share
Facebook, Facebook, I'm not trying to be crass
Facebook, Facebook, someday I'll get back off my ass
Track Name: Douglas MacLeod
MacLeod is a common name, though it used to be more common
Way across the ocean in Scotland
But then developers came and the MacLeods all had to leave
From the hills they call the Highlands
Lots of them came here to North America
There are some in Portland-town
And there's one named Douglas who seems intent
On tearing the whole city down

Yes Douglas MacLeod is a developer
He's developing his bank account
By destroying nice old houses and cutting down trees
In order to increase the amount
Of money flowing into his coffers
So can use it to buy more and more
He may think he's a real nice guy
But he's rotten to the core, because

Douglas MacLeod is a developer
And I don't like him one bit
He's buying up the city of Portland town
And turning it to shit

He got here in '99, it says so on his website
He came when there was money to be made
He came at a good time to buy low, sell high
A good time if you wanna get paid
A good time to make the most of your money
A good time to invest
A good time to buy a lot
And set your sights on buying the rest


He's got the City Council in his pocket
Progressive though they claim to be
They may be progressive on some things
But not when it comes to cutting down trees
That stand in the way of development
In the way of the bottom line
His company is called Blue Sky Property
Guess you gotta cut the trees down to let the sun shine


You won't find much about him on the web
Maybe he's a private kind of guy
Maybe he's just old, or maybe he's just worried
About getting a virtual black eye
Because if you poke around you'll find a lot of people
Who feel just like I do
Who think Douglas MacLeod is an idiot serving
The interests of the privileged few

Track Name: Frieden und Freiheit
Franz Jacob was a man, grandfather of a friend of yours
He became an adult in between the world wars
Some folks are born with silver spoons, they get an easy pass
Not people like Franz Jacob, who was of the working class
He was determined to change this since the time he was a kid
And he joined the leftwing youth groups like so many others did
He became an organizer as one would expect he might
Für eine neue Welt des Friedens und der Freiheit

He ran for City Council – he ran and then he won
Back in the Weimar years this kind of thing could be done
He pushed a red agenda from his City Council seat
While not far from the rathaus there was fighting in the street
And when Hitler rose to power -- he ruled with iron fists
The first ones to be arrested were the communists
Those who took the oath with the rising of the Right
Für eine neue Welt des Friedens und der Freiheit

He was sent to Sachsenhausen, tortured and deprived
After 7 years his release arrived
He joined up with the resistance, then went underground
Spending years beneath the air raids, always fearing to be found
Spending years beneath the air raids as he wrote and organized
Agitating opposition beneath the gestapo's eyes
The distant, red horizon -- always in his sight
Für eine neue Welt des Friedens und der Freiheit

Franz Jacob's day of reckoning was when his struggle ceased
As the tanks of liberation were rolling from the east
He was arrested for the last time, July, 1944
Decades later they'd look back and wonder what was that all for
As Franz Jacob faced his killers on his execution date
There in the dying moments of the fascist state
Who knows what he was thinking on his last September night
Für eine neue Welt des Friedens und der Freiheit
Track Name: Ballad of CeCe McDonald
There are a lot of white men in this world who turn out a lot like Dean
Schmitz – homophobic, racist, bigoted and mean
He grew up to be a hard man, did the things that hard men do
Picked fights, went to prison, got a swastika tattoo

CeCe McDonald is a child of creation
And she's black, and she's trans, an often deadly combination
She went out with friends one night as friends often do
Which is where she met the man with the swastika tattoo

CeCe McDonald wasn't looking for a fight
She was just out for the evening to have a drink, perhaps a bite
For Dean Schmitz the same thing was not true
That's how it is when you're a guy with a swastika tattoo

Dean said things to CeCe which I shall not repeat here
About her race, about her gender, about all things he thought queer
CeCe and her friends tried not to take the cue
Not so the man with the swastika tattoo

The first blow was from a bigot, a beer mug to the face
Which left CeCe bleeding all over the place
CeCe left the building but then the next thing that she knew
She was confronted by the man with the swastika tattoo

CeCe left the building, she didn't want to stay
She went out onto the sidewalk, she tried to get away
But when the Nazi came to get her she did what she had to do
And she stabbed him in his swastika tattoo

CeCe had no weapons but sometimes you can improvise
So she tried her sewing scissors on for size
Turned out they were sharp, turned out her aim was true
And it was the last day for the man with the swastika tattoo

CeCe called the cops and they took her off to jail
She was sentenced to 3 years but she lived to tell the tale
That's one more woman who's still breathing and one less Nazi who
Had upon his chest a swastika tattoo
Track Name: Christmas in a Tent
We wake up in the morning, get out of our warm bed
My daughter often asks me about something someone said
Often asking questions, why things are the way they are
Watching Portland passing by from the back seat of the car
As we drove across the bridge, saw the people underneath
She said “if they don't have a door, where do they put their wreath?”

I couldn't think of how to answer when she asked me if it's true
That Santa brings them presents, too

We always say hello to the people that we meet
Give a dollar to the man who asks can you spare something to eat
We marvel at the tree in the center of the city
“Look at all the lights,” she says, “so colorful and pretty
But those kids who live in tents, where do they put the cookie tray?
With a roof so thin, how can he land his sleigh?”


What if they've been good all year – what they were supposed to do, they did
What if they've been kind to all the other kids
What if they got good grades, A's on every test
Slept well through the night and let their parents rest
But where would they put their toys if they got them anyway
Maybe he could just give them a house on Christmas Day

Track Name: The Ball is Round
Every country in the world has a football team
With matches at home and away
That's how it is if you're a national squad
You travel and you play
But if you play for Palestine
You never can be sure
If you can make it out of your house
And into the one next door

If you can make it out of your house
And into the next one down
Then you still never know
If you can make it out of town
If you can make it past the checkpoints
If you can make it past the wall
If you might possibly be able to fly
To another port of call

But the ball is round
And you never know
Which way it's gonna go

Most professional football players
Needn't have to think
If I go to training today
Will I end up in the clink
If I go to training
Will I be surrounded by barbed wire
Will I find a football pitch
Encircled, under fire


It's just a little country
Maybe not a significant team
Ranked among the world
Not more than one-hundred-thirteen
But the very fact of their existence
Is a vision to behold
And the future is unwritten
I'm told


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