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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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
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 Chorus 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 Chorus Wake up in the morning
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 Chorus 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 Chorus 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 Chorus
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 Chorus 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 Chorus
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 Chorus 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 Chorus
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 Chorus 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 Chorus
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 Chorus 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 Chorus
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 Chorus 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 Chorus 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
Kobane 03:15
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 Kobane 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 Kobane 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 Kobane
Joe Hill 03:43
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 Chorus 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 Chorus
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
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 Chorus 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 Chorus 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 Chorus
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
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
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?” Chorus 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 Chorus
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 Chorus 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 Chorus


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

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


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